Last night, City Councilmember Letitia James convened a public hearing for residents of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill to talk about their opinions on the suddenly controversial bike share program, and it was slightly tense, as anything dealing with bikes is. People for and against the stations used “think of the children” as an argument, like a bunch of Helen Lovejoys, there were moments of booing and shouting and there was even a smattering of applause when James mentioned the vandalism of one of the bike stations, because we’re all reasonable adults here.
The biggest news to come out of the meeting though, turned out to be a boon for opponents of the program and a warning to supporters: if Citibike isn’t profitable, the city won’t be subsidizing it. So if it doesn’t make money for Citi and Alta Bicycle Share, the city will quietly shunt it off to the same scrap heap that houses all those unsold E.T. Atari cartridges.
If the bike share program doesn’t turn out to be a profitable business investment for Citi and Alta, the operating company in charge of it, and they want out, the city won’t be subsidizing the program, according to DOT policy director Jon Orcutt. When Citibike launches in May, the Department of Transportation will be studying the profitability of the program monthly to keep tabs on how it’s doing.
Otherwise, the meeting was about an evenly distributed mix of people in favor of the bike share station placement who urged patience and talked about how excited they were for the program and opponents of the placement of the stations. Things were more or less civil, outside of applause when James brought up the vandalism of the bike share station. There was only one totally reasonable call to “rise up and don’t let this happen” and a bizarre segue by one bike share supporter who, in trying to explain why bikes should be more integrated into society called opposition to cycling a form of segregation against cyclists.The rest of his point was lost in a howl of boos and an irony vortex that swallowed him up for using “segregation” as an argument in front of a solidly black audience.
No one came out as an opponent of the whole program itself, instead claiming that they were shut out of the planning process for where to place the stations. While Orcutt and Community Board 2 chairman John Dew pointed to the two-year planning process and public meetings on the matter, a common complaint from residents was that information on the meetings was not heavily distributed outside of the internet and not included in media that served the black community in the neighborhood, such as Our Time Press.
While Dew said that the plan was for the program to launch and then for the DOT to get a public assessment of it, Orcutt said the program won’t see huge changes even in light of the concerns that people brought up last night.
“Why should anybody trust the Department of Transportation after the way they failed to involve the community?” asked Ed Gold, a longtime resident of Fort Greene, who also predicted the program would be used mostly by tourists.
Another resident, identifying himself as Jeff, was more optimistic the department would move at least some of the stations because public complaints would be so loud it would force the D.O.T to do something.
So if you’re in support of bike share, vote with your dollars, no matter how much of a queasy and awful neo-liberal idea that is.