Bike-Share Works Just Fine in Historic London, Boston, and DC Neighborhoods

Sumner Place in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has homes dating to the 19th century, luxury SUVs built in the early 21st century — and a bike-share station sponsored by a multi-national bank. Photo: Google Maps

While polls have shown that upwards of 70 percent of New Yorkers support bike-share and DOT engaged in a multi-year public process for station siting, a vocal minority in Fort Greene is objecting to public bike stations in the landmarked district. At least one extremist has gone so far as to tar newly-installed stations with wheatpaste posters decrying the Citibank-sponsored kiosks. In response to the neighborhood chatter, Council Member Tish James has scheduled a community meeting about bike-share for tonight.

The historic preservation arguments simply fail to hold any water. The Landmarks Preservation Commission has signed off on the stations. Take a stroll in Boston or Washington, and you’ll see that other cities have managed to introduce bike-share stations on historic residential streets without harming their architectural legacy. And a quick glance at historic Fort Greene will reveal that its residential streets and sidewalks already have commercial activity in the form of bus shelter advertisements, newspaper boxes, and ice cream trucks.

One of the arguments against the bike-share stations is that sponsorship from a multi-national corporation like Citi has no place in historic neighborhoods. This, of course, conveniently overlooks the Coca-Cola logo on a Fort Greene storefront or the brightly-colored cars with BMW and Volvo logos parked throughout the neighborhood, which have failed to attract the ire of the anti-bike crowd.

It also doesn’t account for Boston, a city full of historic neighborhoods where the Hubway system is sponsored by footwear manufacturer New Balance, and London, where the bike-share system is named for another financial giant, Barclays Capital.

In fact, some of London’s most historic neighborhoods, including pricey West End districts like Mayfair, Kensington, and Chelsea, have Barclays-sponsored bike-share stations on residential streets. When the stations were first installed in 2010, neighbors raised an array of bizarre objections, from bird droppings to human rights violations — and yes, historic preservation.

But as the system has rolled out and proven to be a big success, the objections have waned. As the later phases of the system have come online, elected officials who had accommodated the initial complaints by slowing implementation have been less likely to give serious attention to the dwindling NIMBYs. “The administration was considerably less sympathetic to concerns that were purely subjective and hampered the roll out in phase one,” London bike blogger Danny Williams told Streetsblog.

In Washington, DC, 37th Street NW is within a federally-designated historic district and contains a Capital Bikeshare station on a residential street. Photo: Google Maps

The irrational objections on display in NYC are best summed up by this account from WNYC of a woman watching a bike-share station installation from her third-floor window in Greenwich Village, another historic New York neighborhood. “This is going to ruin the block!” she shouted at the workers, over the sounds of a blaring car alarm.

If the experience of other bike-share cities is any guide, in the not-too-distant future, when bike-share isn’t so new anymore, the objectors will come around and realize that public bike stations are nothing to be afraid of. In the meantime, if you live in Fort Greene or Clinton Hill, the forum organized by Council Member James is happening tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Benjamin Banneker Academy, 71-77 Clinton Avenue.

UPDATE: The location of tonight’s meeting has changed to Sacred Heart Church, 30 Clermont Avenue. It will still start at 6:30 p.m.