New York NIMBYs fight against new cycle share scheme

The Guardian, New York

Tue, May 07, 2013 - Page 7

New Yorkers are a famously argumentative bunch. As former mayor Ed Koch used to say, voicing the sentiment of millions of his constituents: “You punch me, I punch back.”

However, even in this rambunctious community, the current round of acrimony rippling through the city is pretty impressive. And it is all over something as benign as the bicycle.

This month, a bike-share scheme will be put into effect in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. It’s a fairly standard system that residents of London, Paris and Barcelona — among many global cities — would find very familiar: about 6,000 bikes will be available to be borrowed for a fee and returned to any of 330 stations.

However, the imminent arrival of the Citi Bike has put many New Yorkers in a stew. Last week, about 300 residents of the West Village packed into a public meeting to vent their collective spleen about bike stations that have recently been located outside their apartment blocks. Condoms were passed around with a note saying: “We’ve been screwed. Don’t let this happen to you — be prepared!”

Locals complained that bike stations will become dog urinals, and that they will put lives in danger by preventing access by fire trucks. And what about the poor doormen? Won’t they have to clean up the mess?

“I don’t care what they do in Paris,” shouted one speaker, getting the loudest cheer of the night. “I live in New York City!”

In neighborhoods like West Village, Battery City Park and Brooklyn’s Fort Greene, the same rallying cries can be heard as locals object to the bikes and their imposing, gunmetal grey stands.

Bike kiosks have been defaced with posters deriding the US$41 million sponsorship of the scheme, by Citibank. In Fort Greene, leaflets saying “residential landmark blocks are not for advertising or commercial activity” were slapped over the kiosks.

Citi Bike’s operators have even been accused of being discriminatory against obese people, after it was noticed that a clause in the scheme’s small print prohibited riders weighing more than 260lbs (118kg) from participating.

Last week, the first of what could be many lawsuits against the bike stands was lodged in court by a housing co-op in Bank Street, also in the West Village. The residents of the building fear the value of their property will decline thanks to marauding cyclists riding on the sidewalk.

As an olive branch, the city agreed to remove a four-bike segment from the rack, directly in front of the co-op entrance.

With all the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) noise surrounding Citi Bike, an underlying truth is in danger of being lost: that the scheme is overwhelmingly supported by New Yorkers. Polls suggest more than 70 percent approval across the city.

Advocates of the city’s cycling revolution, who were out in force in Sunday’s Five Borough bike tour, the biggest bike ride in the US, have come up with their own slogan to express their positive feelings: “YIMBY.”