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Citi Bike Action Plan Aims to Beat Winter Storms

By Colby Hamilton | December 9, 2013 7:20am | Updated on December 9, 2013 9:23am
 Citi Bikes sit in their docking stations, dusted with snow, on December 8, 2013.
Citi Bikes sit in their docking stations, dusted with snow, on December 8, 2013.
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DNAinfo/Nicole Bode

CIVIC CENTER — It's a plan to beat the weather cycle.

Citi Bike operators have drawn up a blueprint for how to move thousands of bikes from docking stations when heavy winter storms hit, according to the Department of Transportation.

And, in an effort not to lose the blue bikes under a mountain of snow and ice, dozens of workers will be handed shovels and told to get digging so commuters don't have to wait for the first thaws of spring to get back in the saddle.

As soon as heavy snow hits, thousands of bikes will be moved from docking stations in the street and placed in those on sidewalks and plazas, according to the Department of Transportation.

Workers from operator NYC Bike Share — which has exclusive responsibility for the system — will then shovel out the racks to get it back in operation as quickly as possible.

The DOT and NYCBS will be in communication when it appears the city’s preparing for a significant amount of snow, officials said.

“NYCBS will relocate bikes from major streets to sidewalk and plaza stations and workers will shovel out stations promptly,” Department of Transportation spokesman Seth Solomonow said in a statement.

“If conditions make biking unsafe, the stations can be temporarily locked down but service will be restored as quickly as possible once conditions permit."

The bike share company may also install flags on street racks to make them more visible in the snow, Solomonow said.

Representatives from NYC Bike Share declined repeated requests for comment. But similar bike share programs run in cities including St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN as well as in the Canadian cities of Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Of these, only the Toronto system stays open year round.

Daniel Egan, the manager of the Cycling Infrastructure and Programs in Toronto's transportation department, said in an email that their system, known as Bixi, can remotely be locked down and the bicycles remain in place during big storms.

"In the first winter we had some stations located on the roadway and these were removed by end of November due to concerns they could be damaged by snow plows," Egan said, adding that once the stations were moved off of streets, they were never returned to the earlier locations.

Toronto's system has been in place for two years now, Egan said, and it wasn't until last year that the city experienced heavy snow fall. He said the city and the vendor had a plan in place ahead of wintry weather last year and "there were no problems of note."

New York City bikers and city residents have wondered what will happen to their ubiquitous blue bikes — which have quickly become fixtures on the city's sidewalks and streets — when it snows.

Of particular concern was how snow plows would avoid buried docking stations. There are 330 located below 59th Street in Manhattan and in downtown Brooklyn, according to the Citi Bike website.

"You won't even know they're there in ice and snow,” said Harry Nespoli, head of the city's sanitation workers union, who said docking stations on narrow streets were a major concern of his members.

“They're going to be covered and when this plow has to come down the street, there is definitely a possibility of damage."

He said his members haven’t received any special instructions or information about the new plow hazards.

"I was never against the bicycles. Bicycles are, I think, a good idea," he said.

"I'm against the way they've placed them."

A Department of Transportation official said the agency did "not believe that [docking stations] pose any different a challenge than the millions of cars, planters, scaffolds, construction sites, barriers, benches and other routine parts of the streetscape already do.”