Backpedaling! City delays rollout of dockless-bike plan in Coney

Better backpedal! Coney community board blasts city’s dockless bike-rental program
Photo by Steve Solomonson

They hit the brakes!

The city is delaying plans to bring a dockless rental-bike pilot program to Coney Island until later this year, the Department of Transportation recently announced, citing ongoing construction projects and the area’s large summer crowds.

The chairwoman of the local community board said she doesn’t want the bikes to ever come to the neighborhood, but that she is glad the city at least postponed its original plan to dump the two-wheelers in Coney later this month.

“I appreciate that the Department of Transportation listened to the community board and delayed the implementation of the bikes, and I hope we can sit down and discuss it,” Joann Weiss said following the July 3 announcement. “I would prefer that they not come at all, but at least now it’s delayed, so this gives us time to work on it.”

Reps from the transit agency initially told Coney Islanders that the city would place 200 bikes in the neighborhood’s “bike zone” — bounded by W. 31st Street, Neptune Avenue, and West End Avenue — this month as part of a trial program, and that it would then evaluate the success and safety of the scheme before working with local officials in the fall to determine whether or not to continue the program in the neighborhood.

The agency’s announcement of the delay came a day after this newspaper reported that members of Community Board 13 passed a unanimous motion opposing the plan at the panel’s June 27 general meeting.

And the day after that meeting, Weiss and District Manager Eddie Mark sent a letter to transit chief Polly Trottenberg, the agency’s borough commissioner Keith Bray, Mayor DeBlasio, Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island), and Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D–Sheepshead Bay) outlining the board’s strong opposition to the bike-share rollout, noting their particular concern about the impact the influx of two-wheelers would have on the recently landmarked Riegelmann Boardwalk, where many cyclists are unaware of — or simply ignore — the rule forbidding biking in the daytime from Memorial Day Weekend until Oct. 1.

One outspoken opponent rejoiced in the city’s decision to delay the rollout, saying that she wasn’t shocked that it caved to the opposition, since the full board was against the plan.

“We won!” said Brighton Beach activist Arlene Brenner. “Usually you would think the city is just going to do what it wants, but because we were 100 percent against [the bikes], they had to think twice, so I’m not completely surprised. It was a stupid idea.”

But Brenner added that, like Weiss, she never wants to see the bikes in the neighborhood, because she thinks the Boardwalk is a pedestrian walkway — not a bikeway — and cyclists will be more likely to ride recklessly if the bikes arrive in the fall, when biking is technically allowed on the Boardwalk at all hours, she added.

“There should be no bikes on the Boardwalk — period,” she said. “We understand that people want to come to a lovely place and get exercise, but there are too many bikes right now without the dockless bikes. Having bikes on the Boardwalk in October doesn’t make it any happier for us.”

Brenner’s fellow Brighton Beach activist Ida Sanoff agreed, saying that the postponement just gives her longer to stew until the bikes arrive.

“It’s just delaying the agony,” Sanoff said.

Bike-share company Motivate — the firm behind the citywide Citi Bike program, which it plans to expand with thousands of new two-wheelers, some battery-powered, and docks ahead of the shutdown of the L train’s East River–spanning tunnel next April — will supply the bikes to Coney Island, according to Transportation Department reps, who added that another company may also join in.

Cyclists will be able to find and unlock the dockless bikes via smartphone apps, and rent them for $1 or $2 per 30-minute ride, then leave them anywhere, according to the mayor’s office.

A rep for Motivate said that the bikes are equipped with locks on the wheels, but the bikes will only lock in place if riders choose to manually lock them at the end of their rides.

There will be no electronic system in place to prevent cyclists from leaving the established boundaries, according to Motivate.

Instead, the company says it will communicate information about how to lock the bikes and where to leave them in presentations to community groups and information distributed to locals both on-the-ground and electronically — the same ways it will tell riders when they’re not allowed to ride on the Boardwalk, the rep said.

And, just like the Citi Bike program, users of the dockless bikes will be liable for their own behavior and any injuries, according to the rep.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.