‘Yay’ to bike-sharing, ‘nay’ to Walmart

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  Starting next summer, cyclists Downtown and citywide will be able to rent bicycles at their leisure from racks installed at various locations around the city.

The bike-sharing program, initiated by the city Department of Transportation, will facilitate intercity travel and encourage the use of public transit, according to D.O.T. Policy Director Jon Orcutt, who presented the idea to Community Board 1 last week.

“We think this system will send a range of mass transit in the city, defeat barriers to bike use in the city… and that it’ll have a pretty strong demand,” Orcutt told the board’s planning and community infrastructure committee on Thursday, Oct. 6.

Up to 40 percent of cyclists that participate in bike sharing in other cities such as Washington, D.C. and Montreal use it in conjunction with another form of public transportation to arrive at their final destination, Orcutt said.

And, contrary to what some might believe, he added, the program has made cycling safer in metropolitan areas. “More bike lanes and cyclists have created a lot more riders, but the good news is that we’re not seeing a lot more crashes,” said Orcutt, noting lower rates of crashes among bike share users in London and Washington, D.C. than among the general cycling population. Part of the reason, he said, is that the bikes, which will be fitted with heavy, durable wheels, are being designed for safety and stability rather than for speed.

The D.O.T. will also be working with the operating company on a system to track the bikes in order to prevent thefts. “In the case of thefts, the company would have to replace them,” said Orcutt.

Installations of the racks, Orcutt said, will be quick and easy. They will be solar-powered and wireless, he said, and will require no digging or roadwork. The bike share operator will be responsible for monitoring the cleanliness of the racks and the upkeep of the bikes.

While the stations will have computerized systems with instructions in 20 different languages, the bikes themselves will be equipped with navigation devices and wireless systems to allow users with Smartphone applications to find nearby stations. A 24-hour service line will be established for bike users with additional questions.

The program, once fully launched, will make available 10,000 bikes at 600 stations situated on every couple of blocks in the city. “We’re now in the process of mapping what we think are qualified sites,” said Orcutt.

The initiative will also serve as a revenue generator: the D.O.T. anticipates the program will rake in a $26 million profit in the first five years alone, half of which will go to the operator; and the other half, to the city.

Annual passes will cost between $90 and $95; weeklong passes, $20-25; and day passes, between $8 and $10. The program will be up and running starting next July.

Keeping Walmart out of NYC
Representatives from Walmart Free NYC also appeared at the committee meeting to rail against the opening of the national chain in Lower Manhattan and elsewhere around the city out of fear that the stores will jeopardize the existence of local mom-and-pop shops. In the coming months, the group is hoping to start a “shop local” campaign Downtown and elsewhere to assist the local businesses.

“As the largest private retailer in suburban and rural markets, Walmart is desperate to expand into urban markets, and is definitely focused on marketing efforts in New York City,” according to Stephanie Yazgi, the organization’s director. “We need to prove to investors that they’re a growth company and not a mature stock, and that it constrains consumer choice when all the small business go out.”

The arrival of big box stores such as Walmart in New York could also create more pollution and traffic, according to Maritza Silva-Farrell, a senior organizer at the Alliance for a Greater New York.

“Our interest is in keeping local communities, jobs and the economy safe, with the goal of protecting the quality of life in New York City,” said Silva-Farrell.

Galloway said he doesn’t believe Downtown is particularly threatened by big box stores due to the relatively small size of its commercial spaces.

That said, Galloway pointed out the benefits of neighborhood shops and said he would share the coalition’s goal in limiting the invasion of Walmarts and even Duane Reades Downtown.

“One of the things that defines New York is the relatively small number of chain stores that you find and the diversity of the small mom-and-pop retailers,” said Galloway.

While Walmart and other chains might sell soap bars and other staple items for less money, Galloway said, “I think many of us would prefer a store you feel like is in your neighborhood.”