Citi Bike: is it the "fun, efficient and convenient" new transportation option the city envisions it to be? The worst thing that's ever happened to New York? Well-intentioned but poorly executed? None of those things? It's tough to say definitively, as the program hasn't actually launched yet, but already, people are upset.
Pissed, even! Granted, they seem to be a significant minority—most people assume we can all find to make this work, and pro-Citi Bike demonstrators actually showed up outside last night's heated forum—but, still, some people are pissed, and they are vocal. Not necessarily for the same reasons, though. Since we can't be outside riding city-provided bikes in the sun (yet), let's take a quick look at who hates these nice new bikes, and why.
Maybe the most organized resistance against the new Citi Bike stations, the Soho Alliance released a very strongly worded press release, essentially accusing the Department of Transportation (and Citibank, which is sponsoring the program) of sneakily installing stations in Petrosino Square in the dead of night, all in the name of destroying "public art:"
Formerly a refuge for homeless and derelicts, the park recently underwent a beautiful restoration via a $2 million grant that the residents fought hard for and won. As part of the beautification of the park, one area at the tip of the park was specifically dedicated to public art shows. Several works have been exhibited.
However, fearful of a planned demonstration and civil disobedience by local artists and activists, last Friday at midnight a DOT crew furtively installed one of the largest CitiBike stations in New York City in the parkland specifically reserved for public art exhibitions.
Friends of Petrosino Square's founder also said, "Sneaky midnight raids by CitiBank and DOT to destroy public art is an obscenity. This CitiBike scheme seems like it was concocted at a dinner party in Bloomberg's townhouse. We want our art space, not advertising for Citibank." Yeesh.
At meetings that have been held so far, a lot of reasonable logistical questions have been raised—will the racks impede access to building entrances and crosswalks for the handicapped and the elderly? Make it more difficult for firemen to access buildings? These seem like smart things to work out ahead of time. Also, one person bringing these issues up at last night's Soho community meeting reportedly snapped at the crowd, "I don't care what they do in Paris, I live in New York City." Perfect.
Armchair historians have been making sort of a fuss (sometimes in the form of fliers) about stations set up in landmark areas, both as a source of excess traffic and an aesthetic blight. But, as Ginia Bellafante pointed out in an excellent column last weekend, the uh, deskchair historians over at the Landmark Preservation Commission have long since approved the plan, making it sort of a tough corner to fight.
Significant overlap with the last group, if one were to make a venn diagram. One storeowner complained of new racks on Bank Street, "They shouldn't be on these little, quaint residential streets." Streets where cars also park, because this is New York, in 2013.
There hasn't necessarily been a ton of backlash here, and DOT representatives have assured the public that the stated 260-pound limit for riders won't really be enforced, on the assumption that "people will be self-selecting, practical, and safe." Still, with soda ban rage still fresh in our collective memory, this policy isn't necessarily the best PR. Arguably stranger? The 17-pound limit set on items that can be stored in the bike's "cargo carrier." Seems reasonable enough, until you need to carry beer, or a dog.
Last month, a group of downtown street vendors held a protest in Zucotti Park against the bike racks, claiming that they'll lose business if forced to move. "What people don’t really know is how few streets are allowed for vendors,” she one protester. "It’s not always going to be possible to move around the corner. Restricted streets are more common than open streets."
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.