Question submitted by Mining the Gap reader Pat Lee of San Francisco, CA.
Earlier this week, a reader of my previous post about the upcoming launch of NYC's [biggest in the country!] bikeshare program posed an astute question (reproduced at left). I thought Alta/NYC bikeshare might like to respond, so I emailed the customer service address on CitiBike's website, inviting someone to Mine the Gap with us. But it seems they have enough gaps of their own in anticipation of the big launch on Memorial Day! So...
The short A to Pat's Q is:
No--personal bicycles will not be accommodated on CitiBike racks.
Though I will of course experiment with this once the docks are activated, my hunch is only CitiBike wheels will trigger the locking system.
But the longer answer requires asking a BIG Important Question:
What is the point of CitiBike?
And closely related:
Is there a market for on-street, secure bike parking in NYC?
Certainly, facilities targeting multi-modal (transit-riding + bike) commuters like the Long Beach Bikestation are toeing towards that segment of the market.
Per NYCDOT's 2010 Request for Proposals, the point of NYC bikeshare/CitiBike is to spur the use of CitiBikes, and be financially self-sustaining within 5 years. And so, to demonstrate success, Alta needs people to use them! Though an obvious correlate, the use of CitiBike stations for personal bicycle parking has been built neither into the pricing structure nor [perhaps most important] into the data + tracking architecture of NYC bikeshare. And during this fragile, 5-year long psychogeographic and geopolitical moment of disruptive infrastructure network building, if you can't track it, you can't prove its success.
On the surface, it looks simple and straightforward enough to incorporate private bike parking into the semi-public network of CitiBike stations--and coule be an additional step towards the system's financial sustainability. Add a few personal use spaces at each station, sell access to them as part of a bikeshare "plus" membership (which comes with a chip or some such to be attached to personal bikes, which would in turn trigger the smart rack), and voila! you've got a bikeshare system that induces overall use of bikes, and perhaps solves a few other public space allocation problems.
Even if they'd set up the program to increase bicycle use overall, and so support personal bike parking *and* CitiBikes, a municipally-contracted firm like Alta would have to sort out a bunch of liability issues. Off the top of my head:
For now it seems, these aren't worth asking and answering by CitiBike because they multiply the potential for kinks in the new program, in turn multiplying the potential for public doubt. Perceptions that a new infrastructure isn't safe or secure can imperil widespread adoption and mean the difference between fast success and fast failure. So, while I haven't been told all the reasons NYC bikeshare will launch with a simple fleet-prioritizing agenda instead of one that rewards existing bike commuters, I do know that it will. Still, CitiBike is an incredibly important start to City-supported cycling in New York. For now, leaving personal bikes out of the system leaves the market Pat points out wiiiiiide open. Any takers??
Manhattan and Brooklyn, NY
With the tulips and daffodils, cherry blossoms and bright green leaves unfurling from planters and tree pits these early spring weeks, brand new street furniture has also sprung up. Rows of Citi Bike docking stations are taking root along the curbs--and sometimes on sidewalks--of Manhattan's and Brooklyn's highest density neighborhoods. Watching this progress from my usual perch--Violeta's saddle--is a bit like watching two summers ago as DOT summarily exiled curb-parked automobiles, block-by-block, up First Avenue on Manhattan's East side. First there'd be some cones and a harmless looking DOT crew of two or so surveying the inside lane, then some spray paint... And before we knew it, a parking-protected green bike lane.
Citi Bike station, Barrow and Hudson Street, West Village. (Jen Petersen, 5/4/2013)
And like the green protected lanes, NYC Bikeshare is poised to transform how New Yorkers maneuver in the city's core. From what time we leave our homes to the neighborhoods we comfortably reach and with whom we travel en route, Citi Bike will multiply the possimobilites for those who make use of it. Crain's New York Business today reported on the anticipation in the business community, while the New York Post warned of the legal battles set to play out as neighbors who withheld comment from the 100s of community meetings where station/kiosk location suggestions were submitted and vetted, now step forward in protest.
Anytime you do anything systematic with streets, you change the way people access everything they connect. And given that New York City has the nation's lowest rate of car ownership per capita, serving the predominant scale of movement--the human scale--is a long-overdue systematic change. More people circulating on bikes instead of in cabs, on transit or private automobiles, means more slow-moving, money-spending people. And it also means more free-thinking people--people who are the engines behind the city's growing creative services and technology industries. And when they don't have to hunt for parking (car or bike) or tote their lock or swipe their metrocards again to fit in this or that errand or social event or productive meander, we can imagine that bikeshare will enable more people to do more things. And of course, each time a car doesn't start but a Citi Bike is instead undocked, the air we all breath gets a bit cleaner. And each additional bike on the street is an additional obstacle to slow speeding motorists.
But of course, prioritizing the human scale (as I've written about elsewhere--see especially Chapters 5 and 6), is also a zero-sum game. On streets that still preserve a lot of space for the automobile to park, bikeshare stations instead of parking spaces are the latest challengers to a whole bunch of comfy arrangements for those who can afford to own cars in the core--busy, powerful people used to having their way, place to park, pass to speed on the public's dime.
While many of my car owning friends love safe, walkable, *valuable* streets and don't expect that the streets serve their cars more than their bodies, other do, and don't see the conflict in their dueling desires. For empathy'sake, I've joined some of the latter group behind the windshield but it's not particularly illuminating. It seems that, when slowed up or ejected from easy curbside parking, they are hard-wired simply to react to the discomfort of their automomarginalization, and then pull at the strings they can reach. It's a class impulse, really. As when they sit stewing and cursing at the stupid motorists clogging their passage from Friday afternoon into a weekend at the Cape, they do not see themselves as part of the problem, nor with a choice about how to go, or the importance of demanding systematic investment in infrastructure to support higher quality of life transport. These have for so long enjoyed at-will access to distance--urban escapism--alongside the freshest fruits of density's offerings, that they imagine that this is the best possible scenario. But it isn't--in terms of their own health and the health of their neighborhoods, nor their creativity, nor the growth of their investments in NYC. Is there a way to gently challenge their thinking about what their tax dollars actually pay for in the public domain, and whether their cars are really worth defending among the possible recipients?
As New York's privately funded but publicly championed bikeshare network gets up and running, we have an opportunity to invite conflicted motorists into a new kind of circulation with themselves. My goal this spring is to find and make friends, and then ride with at least 2 such motorists, to get them meditating on their own mortality and the ways riding lower and slower in the saddle is worth their support--even at the cost of their car's free ride.
NYCDOT and Alta Bike Share, Citi Bike's operator, have chosen to launch bikeshare from core neighborhoods where cycling is already popular and will have the strongest chance of widespread adoption. And to those neighbors in the West Village and Brooklyn Heights already spending money to shoo Citi Bike stations from their blocks, I say: Let them be left behind. I hope that if after a few months of monitoring NYCDOT discovers under-utilized stations, they will relocate them to areas of highest demand and highest need. I'd start with all of South Brooklyn--Red Hook to Park Slope and Bay Ridge to Sheepshead Bay--plus Long Island City to Jackson Heights, Queens. In its next iteration, bike share will be a way to meaningfully incorporate transit-poor low income communities into new, human scaled growth and the economic and physical health that it can support. If wealthy motorists don't want these conditions sustained in their own neighborhoods, let them have car parking lots.
Door of a roofless warehouse in North Corktown.
In the last couple weeks of my Fall/Winter sojourn to the City formerly known as "Motor," I began a conversation with an executive on the City side of the Detroit Works Project (DWP), the city's privately-funded strategic planning process underway since 2010. We talked about how to take the findings of the as-yet unreleased report--to their next stage of experimental implementation in support of resilient growth. The work of mainly outside consultants overseen by Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) and the DWP Steering Committee, when released in January the report will suggest routes to growth informed by the City's assets and liabilities (as reported from a series of community "listening" forums, a comprehensive inventory of taxable lands, and the state of social institutions and infrastructure needed to stitch it all together). "What an exciting time in Detroit!" was my general response as I listened to and later read about what could come next.
The DEGC VP who shared all of this with me asked that I put together a plan for segueing from report findings to pilot implementation, as part of my application for a longer-term role in the new "skunkworks" -type office that would organize and lead these pilots. I gladly obliged, drawing on what knowledge I'd gained by closely studying, writing about, and helping formulate infrastructure pilot projects in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I distilled the lessons in a preamble on the nature of pilot projects, a reflection worth reproducing here:
"First, successful pilot projects put something good in the ground fast, rapidly disrupting a status quo that isn’t yielding good results. They are not business as usual. They shouldn’t be perfect or very expensive, or require extravagant administrative apparatuses to prop them up—they should be NOW. A private sector tool, they are born of contexts where product improvement is driven by a profit imperative, and where managers and staff are held accountable to demonstrate possible roads to [usually] single column, bottom line growth. Pilot projects do not often interact in the general market—either for procurement or sales. Good pilots know what outcomes they mean to spur and what they’re trying to test, but are also patient, holding aside deep evaluation and fine-tuning for a specified time, when adequate data has been gathered and analyzed.
"When centrally led in cities, the speed and boundary blurring required to accomplish them can grate against existing departments’ processes. But if you take up and defend them for what good they will accomplish for a city, the same grating is a major source of their magic. Still, some obvious adjustments are required for context suitability. For instance, rather than a single (financial) bottom line imperative, municipal pilot projects should be informed by social, environmental, and fiscal health indicators. Accordingly, when setting up pilot projects that would aim for “healthier” outcomes, we set goals from all three categories, and evaluate their progress along each. Secondly, in cities we have to grapple a little differently with what it means and costs to “disrupt the status quo,” because we’re usually carrying a lot of overhead to reproduce it (see union-protected job descriptions, long-term procurement contracts, complacency, etc.). And so, pilot projects in the public sector can be met with resistance by people who are afraid of losing something they value—their sense of place even—if change happens NOW. Sadly, resistance can form even when many agree that change is needed. In our case of abundant, verifiable evidence that the status quo isn’t working, attempts to forge bold new ways shouldn’t encounter protests they can’t quiet with the resonant and simple: “We’re trying to build a resilient Detroit, for the future,” moral high ground-type response. But in the demonstration period we also need to plot steps—chiefly in staffing, procurement, and constituency engagement—to protect experiments from such pitfalls. Sometimes this means finding meaningful roles for would-be resistors, bringing them into the heart of the process. Finally, and related, in the absence of profit-sharing as a motivator for innovation, project leadership should have a previously-demonstrated commitment to pioneering, demonstrating, and/or defending innovative city-fixing strategies. And accordingly, they should have acolytes/fans/a chorus of followers. Each project should have a likable personality, create buzz, be as closely watched as petri dishes in a 2nd grade science project. Seriously!"
Photo: The Brooklyn Paper (Rogers Marvel Architects).
In the last weeks, national housing developer Toll Brothers released the condo designs for its 159-unit + 200-room hotel development adjacent to Brooklyn Bridge Park. In exchange for a 98-year lease on the site, Toll Brothers' project must contribute $3.3 million to the Park's annual maintenance budget--by now a well-rehearsed strategy for sharing the costs and benefits of building waterfront parks in Brooklyn. Toll, best known for single family suburban projects, was chosen out of a competition juried by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation (BBPC), NYCEDC, and Parks Commission. The site plans were drafted by Manhattan-based Rogers Marvel Architects, whose recent public-scale New York City projects include the renovation of McCarren Park Pool and The Elevate Acre. The firm has also designed several other Downtown Brooklyn residential projects.
But the plans for Toll's Pier 1 project, according to The Brooklyn Paper, have a glaring problem. The portion of condos that will sit at grade along three blocks of Old Fulton Street have fenced off backyards. And this, park champions charge, literally flies in the face of the park's purpose. The article quotes a few critics who say the backyards diminish space that would otherwise be seen as public--if not actually--at least in spirit. But since the backyards are within the development's lot lines and don't appear to violate any zoning terms, their charge isn't quite striking a chord. But should Toll Brothers take them seriously? I think yes, but for much more material reasons than preserving "the spirit of the park".
Without access to Toll's development pro forma, I can only speculate that its long-term obligation to park maintenance fees, combined with the overall steep project costs threaten to squeeze Toll's margin. And since private space-starved New Yorkers will pay a premium for exclusive access to the outdoors, it makes sense to offer a combination of terraces and backyards to prospective buyers. And practically, backyards along Old Fulton will buffer Toll's high-priced homes from the exhausting sounds of tour buses, wedding limos, and merry pedestrian park goers. And they will also afford residents private, outdoor "tailgating"-type spaces, where they and their friends can warm up to or cool down from a park visit.
But the Pier 1 development's rival, One Brooklyn Bridge Park, another luxury condo building at the south end of the park with a similar maintenance fee arrangement, takes a different tack. The building's current website scrolls with attractive, black-and-white pictures of residents playing in the park, set against the enormous building. The accompanying taglines claim the blurred line between public and private as a singularly attractive form of exclusivity:
"Our kids' friends love to visit the game lounge, movie theater, and our 85 acre backyard," and
"There's only one place where luxury living meets the great outdoors: my place."
I'd love to hear from Toll how it imagines its own condos' designs relate to their prospective buyers' sense of park ownership.
Though the proposed Backyards at Pier 1 don't extend beyond the development's property lines or try and sub-in for sidewalk improvements Toll is obligated to build, they could take residents out of park circulation. These backyards, much like the coveted views enjoyed by Brooklyn Heights' townhome-owners just up the road, might prime new residents to see their own propertied interests as distinct from park visitors, and particularly as the park's final phases are complete. And this would be a sad loss--of level-headed consideration for the highest and best park uses going forward, and conversely the positive spillover of park improvements on private property values.
The case of Prospect Park West's 2010-2012 reconfiguration by the NYCDOT comes to mind: the loss of some parking in exchange for protected bike lanes was seen by PPW's motoring residents as an inconvenience and even a grievous assault. But to pedaling, walking, and running park goers, it was a boon--extending the safety and accessibility of the park nearer to the neighborhood. Curiously and in spite of abundant evidence in dense New York City about the significantly positive effect of park proximity on property values, no homeowner decrying the new bike lanes was talking about how they might cost out in the long run. Even more curious, these residents were usually reluctant to audibly proclaim the real reason for their concerns--which is to say their private interest in parkingease. Instead, in news articles and at public hearings, the most outspoken couched their protests in terms of safety, even disputing findings of the DOT's traffic studies and crash rates before and after the road diet. (StreetsblogNYC provided excellent, ongoing coverage of the insider politicking behind the PPW uproar and lawsuit, which can be found here.)
Well-tended public parks are a hugely important part of attracting and retaining resilient investment in cities. And so it makes sense for park stewardship to be a matter of public and private investment, creating shared value for their sustainability. But in order for this public/private toolset to work successfully, it must plan to align the interests of developers and their homebuyers, City agencies and the park-going public, and not only at the moment the deal is made. Over time, homeowners will literally have the highest stake in the neighborhood--in the form of private property values and the park maintenance bill they help to pay. The park's boundless publics need homeowners to stay close to the park--in all seasons--to need it for their own recreational, exercise, meditation uses, and so to see as near as possible how the general public values this asset. Looking down from above or peering over a backyard fence are insufficient.
Backyards abutting Brooklyn Bridge Park will no doubt be a popular feature of Toll's Pier 1 condos. But they could also take some of the park's potential best long-term friends out of circulation, much like backyards do for parks in land-rich Los Angeles. And if that occurs, condo residents' interests will shortly shift to concerns well within their property lines, and very probably within the confines of personal proclivity. And it is here where the NIMBY takes root, safely beyond reach of pleasant encounters with the stranger, the laughing child, the pedaling velodrome pilgrim. Backyards are bad for the business of public interest.
be the city you wish to see. ask me how!