CitiBike’s imminent arrival in neighborhoods on both sides of Central Park has residents packing local community boards to discuss the bike share program and individual docking stations whose locations are seen as problematic.
On the Upper West Side, where 37 CitiBike docks are set to be installed, Community Board 7 chair Elizabeth Caputo said the community has largely accepted that the bike share program will soon be a part of the streetscape, and is now focused on how best to implement it into Upper West Siders’ lives.
“We acknowledge that CitiBike is coming, I think the community has done its best to prepare for it,” said Caputo. “Our primary concern and focus is really making sure the CitiBike implementation is done in the safest and most effective way, and is rolled out in a way that accommodates both people who want to use CitiBike and residents who will be affected and impacted by it.”
Of the 37 proposed locations in the neighborhood, Caputo said there are five to six that need minor location tweaks, and another five to six that “the community was very opposed to.”
For example, she said, the proposed location on 100th Street between Columbus Avenue and Amsterdam Avenue won’t work because there’s currently sidewalk scaffolding at that site. Even police from the 24th Precinct, said Caputo, showed up to object to that particular location.
Another contentious location is proposed on West 81st Street near the Museum of Natural History, where Caputo said there is significant bus traffic and congestion. “That dock was a source of some deliberation,” she said.
And while balancing the interests of various community groups — small businesses, the elderly, bicyclists — can be challenging, residents are mostly accepting of the bike share program and its presence in the neighborhood, said Caputo.
“I think the community is generally supportive of this thing moving forward,” said Caputo. “Our primary concerns remain to be the safety and infrastructure issues, and we look forward to working with DOT to make the implementation as effective and safe as possible.”
CB7 also recently passed a resolution to add a bike lane on one of the northbound avenues to ease bicycle congestion and increase safety, said Caputo. She said the board prefers to have the bike lane installed on Amsterdam Avenue, but that the decision is ultimately up to the DOT.
“We want to do it on the safest avenue recommended by the DOT,” said Caputo. “We want it on the most feasible northbound lane.”
On the Upper East Side, Community Board 8’s transportation committee co-chair A. Scott Falk said residents are having similar discussions about the program and placement of certain docks.
“I think a lot of people on the Upper East Side have concerns about bicycles and bike riders,” he said. “Things seem to have gone well elsewhere in the city but there’s a lot of concern about the unknown, and in our neighborhood it’s an unknown.”
Although he said he doesn’t speak for the board, Falk said he’s personally in favor of CitiBike’s implementation and believes the program will actually have a calming effect on bicycle traffic on the Upper East Side.
“I actually think where CitiBikes have been added elsewhere in the city you have a lot more bike riders, but there’s a lot more traffic in the bike lane and could bring about a more predictable flow of bike riders,” said Falk, who noted that CitiBikes are heavy and not ideal for riding at high speeds.
But even though he’s personally in favor of the program, he understands concerns from some segments of the population like the elderly, who may see bicyclists as a threat to their health.
“We’ve had some problems with bicyclists’ behavior in the neighborhood…Wrong way cycling is a concern in the community,” Falk said. ““I think you do have an aging pop, and I think that is a factor that older adults often feel less safe around bicyclists.”
Rita Popper, a member of CB8’s transportation committee and a tenant leader in the Knickerbocker, a residential building in Yorkville that caters to the elderly, recently highlighted those concerns in relation to a proposed dock location at the southwest corner of 91st Street at 2nd Avenue.
Popper said the dock is slated to be installed in a bike lane and at the bottom of a steep hill, which is lined with benches used by tenants at the Knickerbocker, and that elderly disabled tenants will need to navigate around the dock to get into nearby Ruppert Park.
“These are heavy bikes and it’s going to take two benches from seniors. It makes no sense to put this dock at the bottom of a very steep hill, and they’re putting the dock in a bike lane,” said Popper in a recent interview. “It makes no sense.”
Popper suggested moving the dock to the east side of Third Avenue at either 90th Street or 91st Street, or to a nearby private plaza.
As for the mood among the elderly regarding CitiBike, she said seniors she spoke with at the Knickerbocker were “hysterical” about the proposed dock on East 91st Street and fearful in general about the service coming into their neighborhood.
“Do I love CitiBike? I don’t really care. I don’t ride a bike,” Popper said. “But there is no enforcement of any bikes, not just CitiBikes. And you only hear about serious injuries or deaths. I have a friend who broke his arm when an out of towner was riding the wrong way in Central Park, but you don’t hear about that.”
Popper said fears were recently rekindled after a 67-year-old woman was struck on June 9 crossing a bike lane at First Avenue and 86th Street to get to her car. The bicyclist fled the scene and the woman who was hit, Mary Grace Belfi, is currently in serious condition. The incident prompted more discussion around the proposed dock on East 91st Street, said Popper.
“If seniors get hit, it’s a life or death situation,” she said. “So we’re going to put bikes where senior citizens are sitting, can the DOT be that stupid?”
CB8 chair Jim Clynes said he wants CitiBike and the DOT to explore forming a partnership with parking garage owners on the Upper East Side to house docking stations in areas where there is the most opposition. “Plus I call for the DOT to consider installing speed bumps in bicycle lanes,” said Clynes.
Upper East Side Councilmember Ben Kallos reinforced the idea that the community has a certain measure of control over where docks are installed in their neighborhood.
“East Siders can expect a say in where CitiBike stations are located,” Kallos said. “I sponsored a program to give the community feedback on CitiBike maps and will keep working with residents so that the stations can be located in the best possible locations. I will keep working to ensure CitiBike is a benefit to the community.”
Real estate lawyer Steven Sladkus, who is known for fighting CitiBike in tony neighborhoods below Central Park, said the program’s northern migration has led to a slew of new inquiries regarding his services.
“I’ve been getting calls like crazy from building and people on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side that are unhappy with the proposed placement of the CitiBike docks,” said Sladkus.
Sladkus said he helped stop three CitiBike dock locations on behalf of co-op buildings in Midtown East, Midtown West and a residential building near Carnegie Hall.
“A lot of the gripes are safety-related. There are some proposed placements that are already in tremendously high traffic areas where it makes no sense at all to make matters worse by putting a bike dock there when there are suitable alternatives in the immediate vicinity that won’t add fuel to the traffic fire,” said Sladkus.
While he declined to get specific about new work on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, he did say he has “several” co-op boards as clients in both neighborhoods.
Sladkus said in many cases he examines the location in question and surrounding alternatives, gathers as much information as possible as to why the proposed placement is inappropriate, then tries to engage in a dialogue with the DOT. If that fails, “the building can always consider litigation,” he said.
“Reasonable people can typically find reasonable solutions and that’s always the hope,” said Sladkus.