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BY DAVID GRUBER and COREY JOHNSON | Let’s start with the obvious: We support the bike-share program. Our respective community boards wrote resolutions that said just that. There was outreach, but it was not done well and there wasn’t enough of it.
Most residents did not know about the details of the program or maybe didn’t focus on the public meetings that took place more than a year ago. Many people went to the see the sample bike docks in wide-open areas, like Washington Square Park and Matthew Palmer Playground, and saw a four- or five-bike installation and likely left saying, “This seems O.K.”
This lack of true understanding is both a discredit to the residents of New York City’s hundreds of neighborhoods as well as the New York City Department of Transportation itself. Folks were left completely unprepared for the size and bulk of the racks — 30, 40 or 50 in a solid wall. They were unimaginably placed with almost total disregard for any other city operational needs in many instances.
The location of these large stations are already having detrimental and potentially dangerous consequences — such as blocking essential services for garbage collection, building entries and Access-A-Ride services. They create impossible situations for moving vans and delivery vehicles, creating dangerous turning radii by extending the dock corner-to-corner on narrow blocks. In one location docks were put in a designated spot held by another city agency for an outdoor arts program.
The stations have been placed on small, historic Village streets that don’t even allow car parking, or on very intense commercials streets, where bikes must be extracted from the docks directly into heavy traffic. We can go on ad nauseam except we are getting nauseous.
The Department of Transportation has trumpeted the reaction in London, saying that residents will “hate you for six months and then they will love the program.” Maybe that’s true, maybe not. Perhaps in London they were more sensitive and flexible in their dock-station placements from the start. That statement is very insulting to local residents and neighborhoods. It says, ignore the criticism because it is simply NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard).
We don’t know how well they positioned the bike racks in London or Paris or Amsterdam or Montreal, but those cities have seemingly integrated their respective bike-share programs into the fabric of each city.
Additionally, many of these cities have a real “stop for red lights and pedestrians” culture, and we would wager that the vast majority of cyclists in these cities obey traffic rules, which still isn’t the norm in New York.
D.O.T. is saying, let the stations be in place for six months and then let’s evaluate the effects. While a few of the docks have been removed, there has been, for the most part, a refusal to respond to many legitimate complaints voiced by community leaders, elected officials and everyday New Yorkers. It feels like the program has been driven to be implemented — good, bad or dangerous — since the stations starting popping up on our blocks.
Six months won’t remedy a poor placement decision — it will just make a bad situation six months worse.
And here is the kicker. With a little juggling and tweaking all the docking stations (in the critical-mass numbers needed to have a successful program) could be placed in locations that actually make sense. Almost everyone at the very well-attended recent Community Board 2 forum said, “I support bike-share,” and then followed up by pleading for the city to work with them to achieve smarter, more nimble and appropriate locations. Not everybody is a NIMBYist. Some New Yorkers are just smart, concerned citizens who simply want their government to listen and really hear them — you know, it’s called participatory democracy.
As the New York City garment industry proverb goes: Measure 10 times, then cut just once. Evaluation and greater community engagement must occur each step along the way. We welcome this innovative program to the streets of New York, but D.O.T. must listen to affected communities, give residents a voice in shaping the implementation, and not worry about an artificial legacy timetable.
We are told the bike-share program has been designed to be easily moved and adjusted, so let’s do just that. Let’s work together to ensure that this program is integrated into our neighborhoods appropriately. Only then will it become right-sized and a win-win for New York City.
Gruber is chairperson, Community Board 2; Johnson is chairperson, Community Board 4