By Madeleine Thompson
Citi Bike is the largest bike share program in the country, with nearly 70,000 rides taken on one October day this fall. Now it could become even bigger. By the end of 2017, Citi Bike aims to have 750 stations with 12,000 bikes throughout the city, compared to the current 600 stations and 10,000 bikes. At a City Council transportation committee hearing on Monday, elected officials grilled Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg for details on the program’s funding and plans for the coming year. According to Trottenberg, Phase Two will entail expanding Citi Bike in Manhattan up to 130th Street as well as into Astoria and parts of Brooklyn.
Council Members Carlos Menchaca and Deborah Rose, who represent parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, said they are still waiting for Citi Bike to reach their areas. A reasonable, affordable commute, they said, is crucial to elevating low-income New Yorkers. “It’s no secret that Citi Bike has become a symbol of gentrification,” Menchaca said. Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents much of Lower Manhattan, asked that Citi Bike’s discounted fare opportunities be more prominently publicized so that immigrant families and residents of public housing could more easily participate.
Trottenberg agreed that more marketing could be done on the part of the Transportation Department, but said getting stations to more “far flung” neighborhoods had proved challenging. Citi Bike aims, she said, to have a bike available for anyone in any part of the city at all times. In the furthest reaches of the network, stations tend not to be refilled as quickly.
But Citi Bike hasn’t always been welcome in the places it already exists. Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s constituents on the Upper West Side have rebelled against recent station installations in their area, citing concerns about pedestrian safety and adherence to traffic laws. Some also complained about what they saw as poor communication between the Department of Transportation and the people living near where the new stations would go. Trottenberg acknowledged that there is “certainly a phenomenon where not everyone is following everything we’re doing,” so it can seem like stations have appeared out of nowhere. However, she emphasized that her department was willing to work with community boards and council members if a station was causing problems.
The topic of funding Citi Bike also featured prominently in the committee’s discussion. Trottenberg described the current system as a public-private partnership, but without the public money. Citi Bike is exclusively funded by private sponsors, which is part of the reason the network has mostly expanded in affluent neighborhoods, but she said she hopes that can change. Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the committee, sounded eager for the City Council to contribute several million dollars so that more people could use the service. “I am setting a goal today that Citi Bike should be available in every community board in the city by the year 2020,” he said.
Rosenthal was less sure about expanding Citi Bike. “I would push back very strongly on the city dedicating funds to make this a more public model,” she said. “I have no indication that there’s 100 percent agreement that city funds should go into Citi Bike ... and at the same time I’m equally convinced that we have to get Citi Bike throughout all five boroughs.”
Though she sounded ready to accept a contribution from the City Council, Trottenberg conceded that it would be “up to this body and the mayor to determine what would be best.”
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org