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Residents Say Bike-Share Site Near UN Creates Safety Risk

By Mary Johnson | June 18, 2012 7:44am
Dag Hammarskjold Plaza is the site of many demonstrations and rallies throughout the year.
Dag Hammarskjold Plaza is the site of many demonstrations and rallies throughout the year.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

MANHATTAN — A plan to bring 74 Citi Bikes to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza this summer as part of the city-wide bike-share program is being fought by residents concerned about traffic accidents and even terror threats.

Dag Hammarskjold Plaza is located directly across from the United Nations. The proximity has prompted fears that placing sizable bike-share docking stations near the plaza could be risky.

In addition, the plaza is also the site of hundreds of protests throughout the year, and many more visitors come for the weekly farmers’ market, the seasonal café and the open space in an area with little to spare.

“It’s a great idea to have bicycles,” said Sherrill Kazan, president of Friends of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, an organization that works to maintain the park.

“But can you imagine having bicycle hubs on this street with everything else?”

“We cannot afford to have this with the activity that we have in this area,” Kazan added. “We are the gateway to the United Nations.”

The city has proposed setting up two separate docking stations — among 53 total stations planned for the East Side of Manhattan between East 60th and 13th streets —  on the northern side of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, which is situated along East 47th Street between First and Second avenues.

The bike-share program will begin rolling out across Manhattan and Brooklyn next month, and those two stations are scheduled to hold a total of 74 bikes.

Cyclists and transportation advocates have long supported the idea of bringing bike share to the Big Apple.

Even the UN’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently spoke out in support of the program.

“[Department of Transportation] Commissioner Sadik-Khan, you and Mayor Bloomberg are making the city that never sleeps the city that always bikes,” the secretary general said at an event on June 8.

“I am very happy to know that when your new bike-share system is launched next month, there will be bike stations here in our neighborhood.”

But that enthusiasm has not been universal.

Fred Arcaro, chair of the Community Board 6 transportation committee, said that the board has received complaints about 15 or 16 proposed bike-share locations. But the site at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza has drawn the most negative feedback by far.

People are concerned about riders veering off into the plaza, which is reserved for pedestrians only, he explained, and about the potential for accidents between cars and bikes, and bikes and pedestrians.

Those problems would be exacerbated when the United Nations is in session, the peak time for protests in and around Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, he added.

“It really is inappropriate to have it there,” Arcaro said. “To have that there really takes away the character of the park, and I think there are better places that are more appropriate.”

In addition to those concerns, Dr. David Gootnik, who lives near East 43rd and Second Avenue, said the area is vulnerable because it is home to not only the United Nations but also dozens of international missions and embassies.

At a recent Community Board 6 meeting, Gootnik, who runs a management training and development firm with his wife, referenced a 2008 terrorist attack that took place in Jaipur, India, during which the attackers used bicycles to house their explosives.

Fifty-six people died in the incident, and 84 were wounded, according to reports.

“Why do I share this horrific true story?” Gootnik said during his presentation to the community board.

“Because it appears that bombs inserted on or in bike parts could become a tool of global terrorists in our city under a citywide massive bike program.”

A spokesman for the Department of Transportation said the agency had not heard this particular concern.

“Bikes have been available to the general public for the last century and a half, so it’s unclear why this would come up today,” he added.

A police source said the 17th Precinct has filed a request through the NYPD’s chain of command to survey the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza site and determine whether it is an appropriate place to house a bike-share location. 

It was not clear whether that request was prompted by potential security problems or general traffic safety concerns.

Mark Thompson, chair of Community Board 6, said the board had been in touch with the NYPD and was waiting to hear its response regarding the viability of the site.

“If it’s a real safety concern, we can’t support having the rack in that location, and we’ll find a nearby location for it,” Thompson said.

Arcaro agreed, noting that one of the key features of the bike-share program is its mobility.

“These stations are designed to be portable,” Arcaro said.

“Let’s try it out, see how it goes,” he added. “If there is a clear danger or a clear risk, then we’ll have to mitigate it.”