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Citi Bike Docks Will Charge E-Bikes — But They’re Only on the Sidewalk (For Now)

Officials unveiled New York City's first two Citi Bike stations capable of recharging e-bike batteries on Monday.

Photo: David Meyer

Officials unveiled the first two Citi Bike stations capable of recharging e-bike batteries thanks to a connection to the power grid — but the chargers will take pedestrian space until the city sorts out a permitting process for bringing electricity to the roadbed.

The inaugural electrification effort consists of three docks on the sidewalk at West 35th Street and Ninth Avenue in Manhattan — even though the rest of the docking station is on the street — plus an entire electrified station, also on the sidewalk, at Meserole and Manhattan avenues in Greenpoint.

The Department of Transportation and Citi Bike operator Lyft hope to scale up to around 20 percent of the 2,200 stations in the system with chargers on both sidewalks and in the roadbed — but neither has announced a timeline or funding to accomplish that goal.

"As we're working through permitting and process, we haven't figured out all the details to get these on the asphalt part of the road yet," DOT Bike Share and Shared Mobility Executive Director John Frost told Streetsblog.

"DOT issues the permits. It's a novel use, honestly. There's nothing like this. There are no electrified infrastructures that sit on the asphalt. We need to review and check off all the safety-related qualifications these might require," he added.

Electric Citi Bikes can recharge at W. 35th Street and Ninth Avenue thanks to this bad boy and the ConEd electric grid below.Photo: David Meyer

Like the city's electric car charging infrastructure, e-bike chargers connect to the electrical grid from the sidewalk. Lyft will eventually be able to cable the sidewalk power sources to docks in the street.

"ConEd trenches from their manhole, and puts a new box in the sidewalk. Lyft has to come in and pull that ConEd power into their infrastructure," Frost explained. "The charging cabin for the electric bikes has to be fixed down in place, and then that feeds the bikes."

Electrified docks allow e-bikes to recharge in place, reducing the need for Citi Bike workers to manually swap in fresh batteries. Electrifying just one-fifth of stations, with a focus on ones with heavy use, will reduce manual battery swaps by 90 percent, Lyft officials said.

"If an e-bike is getting ridden 10 times a day, it's very likely to pass through one of those stations that's charged ... so then we can lock it at that station once it gets up to a certain level, and then release it back out there," said Lyft/Citi Bike spokesperson Jordan Levine.

"The idea is, 'Let's give it a little bit more juice.' It doesn't have to go to 100 percent, but let's just get it enough so it can get until the end of the day and then, overnight, that's when we can do that limited bit of swapping the batteries."

Officials hope to get federal money for the larger, as-yet-unplanned expansion. Lyft funded the first two electrified Citi Bike stations.

Company officials first announced plans to electrify Citi Bike stations back in 2021. At the time, the fleet contained just 4,000 e-bikes.

Citi Bike more than tripled the number of e-bikes in its system in the years since, and now claims to be the largest "station-based" electric bike-share provider in the world.

New Yorkers have taken seven million e-Citi Bike rides so far this year, according to Lyft.

DOT's rollout of electric charging for Citi Bike has moved much slower than its efforts to install electric charging for cars. The city installed 100 curbside charging ports three years ago, effectively claiming for cars that portion of public street space adjacent to the charger. The agency plans to add 10,000 more in the coming years.

Representatives from the city, Lyft and ConEdison cut the ribbon on New York's first electrified Citi Bike docks.Photo: David Meyer

Manhattan pedestrian advocate Christine Berthet, who served as transportation chair of Community Board 4, said DOT can and should figure out a way to put charging infrastructure in the street instead of taking up precious sidewalk space. Expanding sidewalks with concrete could accomplish that goal.

"It's true that it's not an option in their books right now. They don't install anything on the roadway," Berthet said. "I think they should figure out a way. When they want to do it, they do it."

"I'm nervous. The EV chargers, they did a test, they put it on the sidewalk, and now they are doing a [request for proposals] for 10,000 to put on the sidewalk."

Frost suggested he was optimistic that future electric Citi Bike docks would be more or less like the existing docks.

"The goal is for them to be in any place that a Citi Bike station is now, so some of them would be on the sidewalk, some of them would be on the street," Frost said. "As we learn a little more, we certainly want to get in the roadbed ones."

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