Traffic, access, and historic district aesthetics at issue
By Robert Abruzzese and Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Walk up to any of the new Citi Bike stations throughout Brooklyn and there is no doubt a small group stopping to check it out. For the most part the flashy new bike sharing docks are met with excitement. There are some installations, however – especially in historic districts -- which have residents and businesses upset and feeling left out of the planning process.
Residents in areas like Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO and Washington Park in Fort Greene, and Tribeca, in Manhattan have complained about the logo-covered bike stations’ aesthetic intrusion on their neighborhoods and have expressed concerns about their impact on traffic safety and truck access.
The residents of 150 Joralemon Street in the historic Brooklyn Heights neighborhood are one of the groups upset with the station installed in front of their building this past Monday.
"It's very inappropriate to have a bike share station in front of our building," fumed resident Kenneth Wasserman. “This is a very busy block during the day and it's a very quiet block at night. To have 25 docks out there without anybody notifying us beforehand really pisses us off."
The Department of Transportation (DOT) points to the nearly 400 meetings over the past two years of planning as evidence that it made an effort. But some who attended those meetings say DOT disregarded their objections and refused to make the final station locations public until late in the process.
The station in front of 150 Joralemon, which is more specifically on Clinton Street at the corner of Joralemon Street, wasn’t on initial maps. DOT says, however, that they reached out as far back as last summer.
“We first got word last August or September that this could possibly going in front of our building,” Wasserman said. “I spoke with (DOT Policy Director Jon Orcutt) in September or October and then it stalled because it was postponed and we planned on getting active again in the spring.”
Wasserman admits that his building made a mistake in letting up in their opposition when the Citi Bike program was delayed with computer issues last summer and then again in the fall because of Superstorm Sandy.
The tenants of 150 Joralemon Street picked up the fight again in February through talks with Councilman Stephen Levin. However, when the building held its board meeting on April 10 and invited both Councilman Levin and a representative from the DOT, he said they had no idea that the bike racks would be installed the following Monday.
“If you don’t give people notice you are starting off so much on the wrong foot. That’s the problem that they don’t understand. It makes us feel like a target,” Wasserman said. “Now it’s just a reality of having a 24/7 bike store outside of building with no supervision. For everything they say about this being for the public good, the bottom line is that this is a business.”
Contractor Anthony Torres points out that while the docks are not in the street taking up parking spots, they do restrict access to the sidewalk.
“I have been doing work in this building for nearly 10 years now,” Torres explained. “Now with these docks on the sidewalk I can’t open the doors to my truck. It’s a real problem because now I have to park away from the building and I’m often carrying heavy objects. There are other public spots in the area, I don’t understand why they don’t just put them there.”
The issue of having Citibank logos in their historic neighborhood has also been an issue raised. “We’re one of the few art deco buildings around,” Wasserman said. “Aesthetically it really riled us up because it doesn’t belong there.”
While enthusiasm for the Citi Bikes runs high in trendy DUMBO, many of the same objections have been raised.
A 30-bike station was installed Monday on Front Street near Washington Street, in front of DUMBO Hardware. Eugene Perepada, owner of DUMBO Hardware, told the Brooklyn Eagle that he wasn’t asked about where the bike stations should go, but thought bike sharing was a great idea. “It will attract more people into the DUMBO area. I’m in favor of the system because I love DUMBO,” he said.
Perepada said, however, that no one consulted his business neighbors on Front Street about the racks before they were installed. “I spoke to Foragers, the eye glass place across the street [Eyedrop Optique], Front Street Pizza, everybody.” The bike stations “just showed up yesterday.”
Another 27-bike station was installed around the corner from the Front Street station, on York Street near the subway station. Erica Tyler, the optician at the Eyedrop Optique, confirmed that she had not been consulted. “No one asked. They came in yesterday and informed us.
“To me it’s a wait and see situation,” she said. “Parking is already at a premium in DUMBO. They could have been put across [York] street – there’s no parking on that side.”
Tyler said she also had concerns about the Front Street location. “I’m wondering what it will do to the traffic flow. Along Front Street there aren’t any stoplights and people don’t pay attention. There’s lots of pedestrian traffic as the weather gets warmer, and sometimes at night people hot rod.”
Tyler also pointed to the large number of eating and drinking establishments in the neighborhood, the large population of children and the cobblestone streets as complicating factors. “Is this setting us up for some kind of hazard?” she asked.
The DUMBO BID, which represents neighborhood property owners, businesses and cultural organizations, refused to comment on the placement of the bike stations.
Doreen Gallo of the preservation group DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance (DNA), however, told this paper that the placement of a 24-bike station on Pearl Street, next to the colorfully-painted Pearl Street Triangle, was problematic. “Citi Bikes shouldn’t be anywhere on Pearl Street. The whole Plaza proposal hasn’t been vetted yet.”
Gallo said that the bike station’s location is within the $20 million DUMBO Streetscape plan.
“DOT never contacted us and never brought it through Landmarks. It’s more visual clutter in the wrong spot,” she said. “That’s a great open space and it should be an open piazza; but they keep adding more and more crap. It’s an inappropriate use of this great municipal space.”
“Bike racks in historic districts should not be advertising vehicles for the sponsor,” writes the administrator of the Tribeca Commons blog.
“Few people are against bike sharing per se: the issue is placement of the racks, their size, and the overbright logos and solar-lit 24/7 Citibank kiosks within the historic districts, all happening with a planning process that has featured little to no targeted consultation with residents…”
Because the bike kiosks are not considered “permanent,” however, the Landmarks Preservation Commission is letting them slide.
Elisabeth de Bourbon, spokesperson for Landmarks, told the Eagle on Tuesday, “We’ve approved a plan for installing bike share stations in historic districts throughout the city.”
The Brooklyn Heights Association points out that the neighborhood’s locations were agreed upon with the DOT last spring and that part of the agreement was that once the program was up and running, DOT would be responsive to any problems that might arise including quality of life problems.
“The BHA does hope they and the rest of the community will wait on any definite conclusions about the program or specific sites until we've had a chance to live with them for a while,” said Patrick Killackey, the first vice president of the BHA.
The tenants of 150 Joralemon Street may not wait that long and say they are looking into filing a lawsuit because, they say, at this point that it may be the only way to get anyone to listen to them.
Council Member Steve Levin told the Eagle he was very excited about the bike racks, “which will provide New Yorkers a fun and healthy way to get around the city.” He added, “With any new program there are going to be some kinks that need to be worked out.”
“There was a lengthy community process where many individuals, businesses, and organizations voiced their concerns to make sure the program would be implemented in the best way possible,” he said. “I will continue to work with the community and DOT to make sure the bike racks are located in the best possible positions that optimize their usage and are friendly to businesses in the area.”