Troubled Citi Bike station becomes political problem

July 9, 2014

When a construction site blocked a section of sidewalk along Kent Avenue in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, it spelled trouble for a Citi Bike station that also happened to be located on that same stretch. The station had to be moved and so was reinstalled a few weeks ago along a protected bike lane on South 11th Street that forms part of the bikeway near the Brooklyn waterfront. The new location is the only site near the Schaefer Landing ferry dock that could house the station and still meet the city’s siting guidelines, while remaining convenient for bikeshare-to-ferry commuters.

Citi Bike

A Citi Bike stop in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood has become controversial because it replaced 4 off-street parking spots. From Omar Rawlings.

It is not, however, convenient for drivers who lost four free parking spaces to the re-sited 27-dock Citi Bike station. Motivated motorists began phoning their elected officials, with congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, council member Steve Levin, and assembly member Joe Lentol all reportedly receiving calls about the four lost parking spots.

“We have received a couple complaints and have reached out to DOT,” Edward Baker, a spokesman for Lentol, told the press. “DOT is looking at ways to free up some additional parking in the immediate area to offset the spaces lost to the bikeshare station.”

Neither Citi Bike nor New York’s DOT has responded to the complaints, but users of the station don’t seem pleased by its potential relocation. In fact, for some residents, the new site proved a selling point in their decision to relocate to Williamsburg. “It was one of the draws to moving here,” said Sam Ferguson, who moved to an apartment around the corner from the station with his girlfriend. “We’re a little bit from the subway line, and the bike path is great.”

He and his girlfriend own a car and haven’t encountered parking issues in the neighborhood. “We’ve driven here a half-dozen times, and it’s never been a problem,” said Ferguson.

Indeed, there’s a surfeit of parking. Looking at the 27-dock bike station, Ferguson noted, “This is parking for thirty. It just happens to be bikes.”

Because contented users rarely call their elected officials, it’s unclear whether policymakers and regulators will take viewpoints like those expressed by Ferguson into account. The kerfuffle in Williamsburg is minor compared to the larger problems faced by the Citi Bike program, which continues to grapple with its finances.

In May, NYC Bike Share, a subsidiary of Alta Bicycle Share, which runs New York’s program, received a bill for $1 million from the city due to a provision in its contract with New York that allows the city to charge the company for revenue lost from public parking spaces replaced by bike parking.

NYC Bike Share is discussing with city officials the clause’s removal, but Alta Bicycle Share is seeking a bigger solution to its problems. It’s currently in talks with REQX, an investment firm created by the Equinox gym chain and its owner Related Companies, which is considering purchasing at least a 51 percent share of company.

The sale would allow REQX to raise annual membership fees for New York’s bikeshare program without approval from the city. (Those fees are widely thought to be too low.) REQX would also receive control over other programs in multiple cities across the U.S. and abroad.

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Category: No Parking, Regulations

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