Bike dock placements rile Heights

May 18, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Eli MacKinnon

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Brooklyn Heights residents complained last week about the placement of bike-share stations on their residential blocks — even as some of the same people heaped praise on the program as a whole.

Ted Wolff, a resident of Henry Street between Joralemon and State streets — an entirely residential block where the Department of Transporation (DOT) plans to install 31 bike docks — said that the DOT misled the public into believing that bike-share stations would be exclusively positioned in highly trafficked public areas. 

“The sites that [the DOT] is choosing in historic Brownstone Brooklyn look nothing like the marketing materials that the city has posted,” he told a meeting of the Community Board 2 Transportation Committee. “[The materials] show wide-open lanes, commercial districts and parks.”

If the DOT’s plan is instituted in its current form, Wolff said, his block would be overwhelmed by the commercial installation.

“Placing bright-blue, commercial bike-vending concessions in front of historic Brooklyn Heights residences is completely incongruous,” he said.

All of the city’s planned 600 bike-share stations and 10,000 bicycles will feature advertising for Citi, the program’s lead sponsor for its first five years, in exchange for the banking giant’s payment of $41 million.

Kate Fillin-Yeh, who represented the DOT at the CB2 meeting, said a 39-dock installation — like the ones planned on Clinton Street near State Street and on Montague Street near Clinton Street — would take up 100 feet, or about five parking spaces. The DOT’s eight planned bicycle terminals in Brooklyn Heights would, on average, have slots for 30 bikes. Along with the Heights, Community District 2 covers Downtown, Boerum Hill, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and DUMBO.

Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Judy Stanton expressed concern that a 23-dock station near the Brooklyn Heights Promenade would encourage illegal cycling on the Promenade. She was also skeptical about how popular the program would be, and suggested that the DOT reduce the number of planned bike stations in Brooklyn Heights until it has more data on how frequently they will be used. 

If you build them, they will come, countered Brooklyn Heights resident Peter Kaufman. 

“If we had no baseball fields or soccer fields, I’m sure people would say, ‘No one plays baseball, why do we need to build ball fields or parks? No one uses them.’ But if you put a park, kids come out, and if you put a bike station, people will use these things. And if they aren’t used, they’re very easy to take away.”

Fillin-Yeh said that the city’s bike-share stations have a 45-minute assembly time and can be easily transported on the back of a flat-bed truck. She suggested that the “incredibly modular” stations, which are wireless and solar-powered, would be just as easy to disassemble if their placement turned out to be unpopular.

“If a station is too big or too small, we have a fair deal of flexibility in terms of moving them around and really fine-tuning and adjusting the plan,” she said.

For many at the CB2 meeting, concerns about the bike-share program seemed to hinge on a belief that four-wheeled vehicles have an implicit sovereignty over street space, and that half a block of prime Brooklyn-Heights curbside real estate might be too valuable a thing to give over to a row of subscription bicycles.

Brigit Pinnell, executive director of the Montague Street Business Improvement District, worried that a planned 39-dock station at the corner of Montague and Clinton streets would take away business along with the five parking spaces Fillen-Yeh says the 100-foot station would edge out. Others pointed out that in losing five motorists, the commercial corridor could gain a rotating roster of 39 cycle-borne consumers.

And Pinnell herself, doffing her business-advocacy cap and speaking as a Clinton Hill resident, praised what she saw as the program’s overall virtue.

“I’m delighted by the bike-share program,” she said. “It makes the city more livable; with fewer trips by vehicle, it causes less pollution, which impacts the asthma rates in our children; it’s cheaper [than auto use], which makes it equitable for all of our residents in the city; and it actually will make it safer in the city for all cyclists. If we have more cyclists riding on the streets, we’ll have fewer accidents.”

Eventually, interest at the meeting turned to the question of just how big a 39-bike station really is. As a rule, DOT promotional material shows bike-share stations with only a handful of docked bicycles, and attendees were struggling to conceptualize what a 100-foot, double-digit dock would feel like to an on-the-ground pedestrian.

Kenn Lowy, owner of Brooklyn Heights Cinema, estimated that, assuming a bike-share cycle’s handlebars are about the same width as the chairs in the Founders Hall auditorium at St. Francis College, where the meeting took place, a 39-dock station would be about the same width as the entire 300-seat concert hall.

“That’s not five parking spots!” he said. The insinuation that the DOT might be low-balling sparked a rising murmur in the crowd.

“Can we not make this a free-for-all please?” asked Hemalee Patel, chairwoman of CB 2’s transportation committee. 

But it was too late. Everyone was already sharing.

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