Helping handlebar: Citi Bike growing fleet with more bicycles, some battery-powered, and docks ahead of L-pocalypse

Blue bash: Citi Bike celebrates five years in Kings County with Prospect Park anniversary party
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

They’re wheel-y trying to improve what will be one L of a commute!

The city is giving straphangers who need to cross the East River during the impending closure of the L train’s Brooklyn–Manhattan tunnel more rental bicycles to hop on, some of which are equipped with batteries that will help power the two-wheelers when riders get fatigued, officials recently announced.

The additional human-powered and new pedal-assist-electric Citi Bikes will go a long way toward helping the roughly 250,000 L-train commuters who cross the river daily do so — with minimal pollution — when its underwater Canarsie Tube closes for 15 months of repairs in April 2019, a Williamsburg state pol said.

“When the L train tunnel shuts down next year, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers will have to find a new way to get back and forth between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Every mode of transportation, from buses to ferries to carpools, will be used,” said state Sen. Brian Kavanagh, a Democrat who also represents a swath of the distant isle. “Expanding bike-share options will not be a cure-all, but it will offer another greener option when getting around.”

Department of Transportation officials last week declared they are amping up their partnership with bike-sharing outfit Motivate, which runs the Citi Bike rental program, by bringing 1,250 more two-wheelers and 2,500 more individual docking slots to stations in Williamsburg and the outer borough before transit workers get to work fixing the superstorm Sandy–ravaged infrastructure.

The news came months after cycling advocates began hosting weekly group bike commutes across the Williamsburg Bridge to promote pedaling as a viable way to commute during the closure.

Motivate leaders will also debut a temporary “shuttle service” that includes a fleet of 1,000 new pedal-assist-electric bikes — which feature batteries that cyclists can turn on when they need help propelling across hillier ground — at a pair of to-be-determined docking stations in Williamsburg, and two others in Manhattan, Mayor DeBlasio said. The battery-powered bicycles, however, can only be picked up and dropped off at their four dedicated stations, not at other docking locations in the boroughs.

And during the tube’s closure, Motivate will also staff 10 of what it expects to be the most heavily used Citi Bike docking stations — some of which are in Williamsburg — with valets, who will corral bicycles and stock docks in an effort to keep the system’s gears spinning flawlessly.

Riders can hop on any of the two-wheelers for $3 a ride, or by enrolling in one of Citi Bike’s memberships, which include subscriptions offering unlimited rides annually for $169; within a three-day period for $24; and within a 24-hour period for $12.

Late last year, city transit leaders unveiled other plans to aid displaced L-train straphangers during the closure that included a dedicated ferry shuttle; increased service on some Brooklyn–Manhattan subways; amped up service on some bus routes; installing a high-occupancy vehicle lane on the Williamsburg Bridge; and new infrastructure — including so-called protected bike lanes running from the edge of Newtown Creek at Grand Street down to Driggs Avenue.

Hizzoner’s announcement that the newest fleet of Citi Bikes would be rolling in came weeks before a new citywide rule permitting cyclists to cruise local streets on pedal-assist-electric bikes that travel at speeds under 20-miles-per hour takes effect on July 28. Entirely electric bicycles that do not require any pedaling and can move faster than 20-miles-per hour, however, are forbidden by state law.

The city also tapped Motivate to bring 200 human-powered, dockless bicycles — rides available to rent via a cellphone app that can be found and parked at any standard rack or on sidewalks — to Coney Island later this summer in a scheme to gauge the feasibility of the dockless technology, which some residents panned claiming the area is crowded enough as it is.

Earlier this month, car-hailing company Lyft bought Motivate, following its competitor Uber’s April purchase of Brooklyn-based bike company Jump, which also hawks dockless and pedal-assist-electric models, and will be bringing both to the outer boroughs of Staten Island and the Bronx this summer as part of the same program the city is testing out in the People’s Playground.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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