By Sabina Mollot
Last week, the Department of Transportation announced that bike ridership in New York City had reached a record high. This spike in cycling is due to, in large part, the arrival of Citi Bike as well as the addition of many new miles of bike lanes during the Mayor Bloomberg administration. However, this news likely didn’t come as a surprise to residents of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village who, for the past few months, have been finding their Citi Bike racks empty when hoping to ride to work in the mornings.
“They take (the bikes) away at night and they bring them back in the morning but they stop at a certain time,” said Christopher Simonetti, a frustrated Citi Bike member told us recently.
Simonetti, who heads straight for the rack near his Stuyvesant Town building on East 20th Street each morning, said it’s always empty from 9-10:15 a.m.
He’s been calling the bike share service regularly throughout the summer about this issue and has also asked for more racks.
“It’s the forgotten area of Citi Bikes,” he said. “This area is not being serviced.”
Simonetti added that the canned response to his complaints is that customers are not guaranteed a bike. To this, his own consistent response has been, “I’m pretty much guaranteed 100 percent not to have one in the mornings from Monday to Friday.”
So instead what would be a five minute bike ride from the east side of the complex to the 23rd Street subway station becomes a 15 minute walk. He doesn’t even consider the M23 an option. “I can walk faster than that bus, even with limited stops.”
And Simonetti’s not alone in this view. According to Council Member Dan Garodnick, “too many” neighbors have been experiencing the same thing, based on a survey his office conducted on local racks. Checks on four weekdays last week confirmed that bikes around Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village were just too hard to get in the mornings, having just one or no bikes when racks were checked at random points between 9 and 10 a.m. on weekdays.
On Thursday, July 27 and on Monday, July 31, four out of five racks had no bikes, with the other rack having just one. On Tuesday, August 1, three out of five racks had no bikes, with the other two having one. On Wednesday, August 2, there were no bikes at any racks.
On Wednesday, August 2, Garodnick sent a letter to Jay Walder, the CEO of Motivate, the company that runs Citi Bike in New York City asking for additional bike racks and for the existing ones to be replenished more frequently.
“I appreciate the efforts made by Motivate to improve accessibility of Citi Bike’s service throughout New York. Unfortunately, around Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, too many constituents are finding no bikes available on weekday mornings, when they are most desperately needed.”
Town & Village also contacted Motivate prior to this to relay Simonetti’s concerns, only to learn that apparently this is a fairly common problem during the summer.
“As peak riding season gets into full swing rebalancing is one of our team’s biggest challenges,” said spokesperson Dani Simons, via email. “We reposition bikes throughout the day with box trucks, vans, and ‘bike trains’,” she added. Bike trains are pedal-powered bike trailers that can haul up to 12 bikes at a time.
For even busier neighborhoods, Citi Bike will also provide “bike valets” and Citi Bike is also attempting to grow its “Citi Bike Angels” campaign, which is aimed at encouraging riders to voluntarily make trips to stations that need bikes and replenish them with bikes from crowded racks.
“Through these tactics we’ve been able to continue to increase the availability of bikes and docks and continue to increase ridership both overall and on a per capita basis,” Simons said.
As for the local racks, it’s unclear if there have been improvements throughout the summer based on the aforementioned initiatives.
According to Simonetti, the situation hasn’t changed.
“I don’t know why they won’t put up more racks,” he said. “This area is so underserved by public transportation.”