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Upper East Side of Manhattan to Citibike: Not in My Backyard!

Citibike will cause pediatric cancer.

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This is just one of the startling things I learned at Community Board 8 last night. Along with other facts such as that Citibike

  • Is a conspiracy by a cabal of real estate developers.
  • Will increase traffic and congestion in the city.
  • Is in league with the people constructing the garbage transfer station adjacent to Asphalt Green.

I also learned the proposed locations of the Citibike stations on Manhattan’s Upper Eastside. Which was the ostensible purpose of the meeting.

To be clear: I am all for real estate cabals. I see them everywhere. And, yes, they run the city. But they’re probably not involved in Citibike. Just saying.

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Citibike is operated by NYC Bike Share (NYCBS). They are division of a private company called Motivate, which runs bike-share programs worldwide. New York City’s program has been sponsored by Citi Bank, to the tune of over $100 million. The whole operation is termed a public-private partnership because NYCBS works with the city and Department of Transportation to do things like deploy bike stations on public streets and sidewalks.

The system has had problems. There were a bunch of kinks at the start in getting a credit card swipe to release a waiting bike. Later, there were problems replenishing bikes at empty stations. Finally, too much revenue is coming from the people who pay for annual membership. They ride the bikes so much, maintenance costs have spiked.

In summary: The success of the bike-share program is causing its problems. A projected fee increase will take an annual membership from $95 to $149.

Took a break just now to quickly price a few city-appropriate commuter bicycles: $500 and up.

The line to enter Trinity Church’s hall for the 6:30 meeting stretched through the garden and out onto 88th street. I assumed everyone was just excited to get a first look at the locations of our shiny new Citibike stations. I’ve been jealous for years of those mid-town folks who can grab a nearby bike, cycle to work, and drop it off on the other end.

The public-comment session was, instead, a bordello of bombastic baby boomers bellowing “not in my back yard!” Boy were they stubborn. And creative. One woman had a scheme of mini stations, four bikes to a set, all up and down First Avenue, occupying one parking space per block. Which could work, I guess, if you totally redesigned the physical infrastructure of the docking stations and your ultimate goal was to provide bikes to residents of First Avenue.

Another woman went on for what seemed like ten minutes about how the plaza at Hunter College could host legions of Citibikes, eliminating, really, the need to have them anywhere else. She had the Hunter College site mapped out in in detail.

Sadly, her efforts were for naught. The DOT representative, a woman with superhuman reserves of patience, explained that the Hunter College plaza was private property and couldn’t be unilaterally  commandeered by the city.

A man in my row had a lot to say. He shouted that he wanted to speak. The Community Board President told him not to interrupt. He shouted again. And so that interchange devolved into who had the right to interrupt whom.

Of course, where there’s this much passion and anger, there is fear and pain underneath it all. It wasn’t hard to see where that was coming from.

Cars.

For sure, Citibike stations will take up street parking spaces. Bikers and bike lanes make it harder for cars to get around.

Hate to the break the news: That’s the point. The city, and frankly the planet, can no longer sustain the number of private cars we drive, nor the traffic and pollution they produce.

Getting back to the pediatric cancer argument, that woman linked bikes to clogged streets, to children walking nearby, to…you get the idea.

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Recently, at a private meeting of VC and Angel investors, one fellow who concentrated on innovation advanced the following opinion:

At some point in the next century, we will see a large-scale elimination of private-car ownership. Services like Uber will become so ubiquitous, fast, and cheap that people will wonder, “Why on earth do I need a car?”

Most cars spend 80% of their time idle, sitting in a garage when you’re at home and in a parking lot when you’re at work. That’s inefficient. The goal of technology has always been to wring inefficiency out of systems it confronts. What if you could summon up an Uber, any time anywhere, with five minute’s notice, with 100% reliability for a modest subscription fee, say $100 per month? Would you still choose to shoulder a car payment, repair bill and insurance? On two cars? Three? Four?

New York has terrific public transportation. We have the largest subway system in the world. It’s cheap and good and fast. So are the buses. Suburban commuter rail gets you to Connecticut, Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey. Taxis and Ubers appear at your smallest whim. The passionate defense of cars, parking cars, and driving cars makes no sense.

We’ve got a long way to go to compare with Amsterdam. But by 2017, city-wide, we will be able to zip around on some 20,000 Citibikes. Hooray!

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