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Grief and Praise for Citi Bike in Brooklyn Mark Public Debate in Park Slope

By Nikhita Venugopal | October 21, 2016 9:50am
 Brooklyn residents packed a public hearing on Citi Bike held by Community Board 6's transportation committee on Thursday night.
Brooklyn residents packed a public hearing on Citi Bike held by Community Board 6's transportation committee on Thursday night.
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DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal

PARK SLOPE — Fans and critics of Citi Bike packed a meeting in Park Slope on Thursday night to feud over loss of parking, safety concerns and who has more right to the road — car owners or bicyclists — less than two months after the bike share system rolled into nearby neighborhoods.

More than 100 residents arrived for a public hearing organized by Brooklyn Community Board 6 to air grievances or shout praise for Citi Bike's recent arrival in their neighborhood. More than 70 stations have been planned for the district expansion, which includes Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Red Hook and Gowanus.

For car owners, the biggest gripe was Citi Bike's occupation of already hard-to-find parking spaces.

 A Citi Bike rider rolls past a station at Henry and Degraw streets in Carroll Gardens.
A Citi Bike rider rolls past a station at Henry and Degraw streets in Carroll Gardens.
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DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal

"It just seems like it was done at the expense of a segment of society," Robert Krakovski, a longtime Park Slope resident and car owner said during his testimony Thursday evening. "It feels like it was a deliberate slap in the face."

Yet others argued that Citi Bike had not greatly affected the lack of parking in their neighborhood.

"I've had the problem of finding parking for 10 years," said 20-year Park Sloper Emilie Seif. "We live in New York City. It's the reality of the situation."

The meeting was organized after a CB6 meeting last month took an ugly turn when an 80-year-old man began to shout at board members because of Citi Bike frustrations. A group of residents protested the expansion at that meeting and board chair Sayar Lonial promised to hold a public hearing to gather input.

The Department of Transportation declined to attend the hearing. CB6 officials criticized the department for its snub and sent a letter to the agency commissioner and shared it with the press. DOT instead asked the board to send them a report with specific problem stations.

The meeting was so packed that at least two dozen locals, CB6 committee members and reporters were initially not allowed up to the fourth floor of the 78th Precinct, where the meeting was held. Councilman Brad Lander began streaming the session live on Facebook for those stuck outside. 

Many car owners explained that while they bike regularly, car ownership was necessary because of elderly parents, small children or commutes to work. 

"I take exception to, number one, that anyone who owns a car in the neighborhood is doing so out of self-indulgent choice," said Krakovski, adding that garages are either full or unaffordable.

Citi Bike has taken away about 150 to 200 parking spaces in Community Board 6, which has roughly 25,000 to 30,000 spots throughout the district, according to stats released by Councilman Lander. An unofficial count by CB6 transportation chair Eric McClure found that about 77 spots had been lost in Park Slope.

Some questioned the safety of dock placement on the street and questioned why they could not be moved to curbs, wide sidewalks or city property. On top of that, bikers often fail to follow traffic rules, many said.

Several others pointed to the sheer density of stations placed just a few blocks away from each other.

"Couldn't we agree to reduce the number of docks?" asked Robert Nelson, of Cobble Hill, who has been monitoring stations near his home and said some appear less used. “We can’t avoid the conclusion that there are too many docks.”  

But Citi Bike supporters as well as CB6's McClure pointed out that bike share systems require that empty docks be available for riders at all times.

"Without density, the whole project fails," said Carroll Gardens local Lily Geller, who uses Citi Bike multiple times a day.

Citi Bike defenders pointed to the system as an affordable and convenient way to get around. It is also environmentally friendly and encourages exercise.

"I just feel more connected to the neighborhood," local Chris Toth said.

Though the city had held public meetings over the past year to discuss Citi Bike's expansion into Brooklyn, many residents said they felt blindsided by the arrival of stations on their blocks.