Citi Bike is Bronx-bound

Citi Bike, which was launched in other boroughs four years ago, is planned for Bronx streets next year. Photo collage: Carmen Rios-Nuñez

Locations being sought for new bike docks

Bronx bicyclists may soon have reason to rejoice, because the city’s popular bike-sharing program could be making its next stop here in the near future. Citi Bike, with its blue bikes and gray docking stations now omnipresent in other parts of the city, could become a fixture on local streets as early as next year.

Citi Bike was launched in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens in 2013. The program’s parent company, Motivate, recently told the city it would pay for an additional 6,000 bicycles, 4,000 of them in the Bronx, Staten Island and neighborhoods in the other three boroughs not currently served by the program.

Advocates and elected officials who have been pushing to bring Citi Bike to the South Bronx, say it’s about time.

“It’s really about transportation equity,” said Michael Brady, executive director of the Third Avenue Business Improvement District. “Most importantly, the South Bronx, where we have one of the highest rates of obesity, heart disease and asthma throughout New York State” will reap benefits from the program, he said.

In 2016, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said he was “shocked when Citi Bike announced that they had expanded to, of all places, Jersey City”—but not to the Boogie-Down.

While more bikes could translate into fewer cars, improved air quality and healthier residents, some say their chief interest is simply in landing a cheaper, faster way of getting around the area’s crowded streets.

“People will have another means of transportation, just like in Manhattan,” said Isaias Martinez, 20, in Spanish. Martinez rides his own bike regularly to visit family in the neighborhood. “Instead of paying for a taxi or train fare to go short distances, why not take a bike?”

Memberships costs $163 annually, or $14.95 monthly, including unlimited 45-minute rides. NYCHA residents, however, pay only $5 monthly, or $60 annually.

Though the city’s transportation department has yet to decide where new docking stations will be located, residents can help determine new locations by clicking on the DOT’s request tool to submit suggestions. Hatuey Ramos-Fermin, co-founder of Boogie Down Rides, a local bicycling and arts project, hopes residents will keep an open mind about bike-sharing, and will comment thoughtfully.

“There needs to be a conversation around this myth that Citi Bike is a sign of gentrification – to demystify the idea that people of color don’t bike,” he said. “I think it’s important to think of this as an access issue, as an equity issue that people can benefit from regardless of their income, race or socioeconomic status. And it’s fun!”

Despite their excitement about the prospects, backers of the expansion say that safety is a concern. Brady calls the Hub, “one of the least friendly areas for bike travel.” The BID has been working with the DOT to ensure that bike lanes are in future repaving plans. According to a Motivate spokesperson, bicycling can be made safer by increasing funding for bike lanes and traffic-calming infrastructure, and by enforcing existing laws.

Though the mayor and City Council have said that they support the 5-Borough Bike Share Plan, planning for it in the Bronx is a work in progress, advocates contend. Caroline Samponaro, deputy director of the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives, which promotes bicycling, walking, and public transportation over cars, said they are counting on the mayor to ensure Citi Bike’s accessible for all.

Diaz Jr. said that the city can encourage investor buy-in in the project by financing similar initiatives.

“A commitment from the city would undoubtedly lead to an even greater commitment from private partners,” Diaz said.

Although other bike-share programs are trying to crack the New York City market, Bronxites should have the best program available, said Brady.

“Part of that equity that we’re pushing for in the South Bronx is also equity in terms of quality,” he said. “We want to have the same quality bike program that’s being offered to our Manhattan and Brooklyn counterparts.”