Love ‘em or loathe, bikes and bike racks are here to stay.
The first may be great for the environment and your body. The second has been a serious economic complication. During the late unlamented pandemic winter, multiple restaurants such as The Seafire Grill and Deux Amis in Midtown were forced to close for months because DOT refused to relocate bikes blocking access to table-friendly street space.
And restaurants aren’t the only ones with bike problems. East Sider Florence Friedman says access to her building’s entrance has been impeded by Citi Bike’s cable connecting two series of racks. “Calls and letters to the Community Board, City Council, various reps, you name it, the cable stays put. Salt in the wound? DOT et al expect our building to find a solution.”
Neighborhoods have noticed.
“Clearly, bikes are useful and pleasant, but we need a rules change that protects our businesses,” says Dolores Marsh, president of the Turtle Bay Association. Charles Coutinho, President of the Sutton Area Community agrees. “In the future,” he says, “approximate vendors should have the ability to protest the placement of racks. And by ‘approximate,’ I mean within twenty-five feet or less.”
Council members Keith Powers and Carlina Rivera aim for compromise. “Outdoor dining has been a saving grace for restaurants and transformed our city’s landscape, so I’m hopeful DOT will find harmonious solutions moving forward that don’t impact businesses’ bottom lines,” says Powers. Right, says Rivera: “We should explore measures that ensure Citi Bike installations are distributed equitably across blocks and neighborhoods, ensuring efficiency for both the growing number of bike-share users and essential curbside access.”
Two candidates for Manhattan Borough President offer detailed proposals.
As State Senator, Brad Hoylman notes that he “worked closely with the DOT and City Council to move a problematic Citi Bike station in front of Gene’s Restaurant, one of the Village’s most beloved and historic institutions, because it blocked their potential to create outdoor dining space that would keep their business alive. But it took celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker raising the alarm on social media before anything got done. I call on the DOT to be more responsive to public officials, small business owners and every day New Yorkers about this problem. Small businesses are hanging by a thread - we need to do everything in our power to keep them afloat during this pandemic. If elected Borough President, I will create an Office of Public Space Management to streamline and more effectively deal with these types of issues and promote more common-sense outdoor space use.”
Council member Ben Kallos acknowledges that “the recent increase in bike ridership in New York City is good for the environment, for our commutes, and for our health, and Citi Bike has played a large role in that.” He also notes that DOT has held community input sessions with residents and community boards to identify the most convenient and least disruptive places for bike racks.”
Right now, Kallos invites any resident who is willing to help and offer guidance on where the stations should go to reach out to his office, concluding that while “nothing is perfect and there are going to be locations where there is disagreement, but our goal is to give the Department of Transportation the guidance they need to locate them in the best spots available.”
Nonetheless, even with summer’s warm weather uptick in outdoor dining right around the corner, DOT remains firmly planted in place, refusing to move the racks even temporarily and even if the restaurant or landlord offers to pays the cost.
Too bad the agency’s rules aren’t up for a vote in the June 22 primary.