Scenes From Last Night’s Bike-Share Forum in Fort Greene

Last night, Council Member Tish James held a public forum after receiving complaints about bike-share stations in her district, covering Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. The event, held inside Sacred Heart Church on Clermont Avenue, attracted an audience of about 100, with a small majority there to show support for bike-share. For two hours, residents expressed support or vented frustration at the microphone, with James and NYC DOT Policy Director Jon Orcutt stepping in to provide information.

At the start of the meeting, James said she was saddened to see that bike-share stations had been defaced with posters. “You don’t have the right to deface public property,” she said.

Although the flyers glued onto stations focused heavily on corporate sponsorship and historic preservation, James dismissed this argument from the start. “Tonight’s meeting is not about corporate branding. Not going there,” she said. “Tonight’s meeting is not about, ‘Should this be in a landmarked district?’” Despite her ground rules, the issue came up repeatedly from audience members.

The issue that commanded the most discussion last night, however, was on-street parking.

First, some facts: There are 6,800 on-street parking spots in the area bounded by Classon Avenue, Fulton Street, Flatbush Avenue and Flushing Avenue. In that zone, 22 bike-share stations were installed, adding 600 public bike docks. Two-thirds of the stations are on the sidewalk, after community meetings revealed a preference for that type of installation. Stations that were installed in the roadbed took 35 parking spaces, Orcutt told the audience – one half of one percent of the total number of spaces in the neighborhood.

When one resident raised an objection, saying that the stations had disproportionate effects on some blocks, Orcutt pointed out that drivers rarely get to find a parking spot on the block of their choice, even under ideal conditions, and that bike-share would not change that reality. (To which one audience member shouted, “He’s arrogant!” For a while, it was that kind of night.)

Orcutt also explained the multi-year public consultation process that DOT undertook to determine station locations, working with community boards, business improvement districts, and community groups. “We co-sponsored a public workshop with Community Board 2, Council Member James, and other elected officials,” he said. “We had six different meetings.”

Speaking to the audience, CB 2 chair John Dew confirmed DOT’s outreach, but qualified his statements. “This was not Community Board 2′s decision. This was not a program that we voted on,” he said. “We certainly knew that there were many people who would not be familiar with the impacts of this program until it began, and that’s exactly what happened.”

But no matter how open and inclusive the planning process was, there’s no way to avoid the fact that it takes a few weeks to install the stations, and during that time, there’s going to be some confusion about what all the docks are for.

With the system set to launch within weeks, James said that she is not inclined to push to move stations around immediately. “[I will] take a position of wait-and-see before we make some changes,” she said.

One of the evening’s final speakers to complain about station siting encapsulated the anti-bike-share sentiment. “This all reeks of NIMBYism in terms of ‘not in my backyard,’” she said. “I’m not against the bike-share, I’m opposed to the locations.” She then requested that the station near her home be moved.