Whether it’s a totalitarian plot or the city’s most heinous aesthetic decision ever, we’ve heard a lot of reasons why Citi Bike is awful. The New York Post, for example, chose to highlight Citi Bike as “unfair” because the bikes have a loosely enforced weight limit. But grasping, vitriolic bike-share hatred aside, the Post may have hit on a salient point about the program’s fairness. New York City Housing Authority residents, for example, get a $60 discounted membership (as opposed to the full $95), but the stations are located far away from the bulk of public housing.
Here’s a map of Brooklyn and Manhattan’s public housing units:
And here’s a map of Citi Bike stations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, none of which break north of 61st Street:
Placement of the stations isn’t the only issue when it comes to making Citi Bike available to all New Yorkers. Last week, when New York Times columnist* Ginia Bellafante took Citi Bike out for a spin, she came across a scene she found particularly “dispiriting”: the long line for free bike helmets outside the Rutgers Houses, a public housing unit on the Lower East Side. “The idea was to get some sense of how low-income New Yorkers were responding to the bike-sharing program and how well it might serve them,” she wrote.
The line for helmets was very long, and yet few of the people I spoke to were actually residents of the Rutgers Houses or any of the neighboring public housing. I did, however, meet a svelte Argentine woman in running clothes who had come from the Upper East Side. There were also two young women who taught at Bard High School Early College and lived in brownstone Brooklyn, and a woman named Barbara Becker in the company of two sons who, she said when I inquired, attend Friends Seminary in Manhattan, where annual tuition is roughly 296 times the price of an expensive bike helmet (and 1,850 times the price of a helmet you can buy at Han’s Market, a convenience store next to the Clark Street kiosk that has quickly expanded its business from milk, soda and frozen foods to biking gear).
While the program is still in its infancy–and does have plans to expand–growing upwards and outward isn’t likely to happen soon without additional funding, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Journal also came across more “dispiriting” information when it looked at how the program was distributed across socio-economic lines. “The population of bike-share neighborhoods is 56% white, while the rest of the city is 30.6% white,” Ted Mann and Josh Barbanel wrote.
Citi Bike did not respond for comment on the distribution of stations.
We suppose there’d be more to gripe about if the bike-share was publicly funded–as Mayor Bloomberg likes to remind New Yorkers, the program is largely being funded by Citigroup’s $41 million contribution and Mastercard’s $6.5 million. Still, those “private” funds start to look a little different when you count the $476.2 billion Citigroup received in taxpayer bailout money during the financial crisis. It’d be nice if Citigroup decided to return the favor–you know, to everyone.
*The original version of this post misidentified Bellafante as a public housing reporter. To clarify, she’s an opinion columnist.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 10, 2013