Harlem leaders want Citibike to keep its cycle of gentrification out of their neighborhood.
“This bike-share is the gateway to gentrification,” community leader Martin Baez said at a town hall meeting Thursday. “We cannot continue to allow the Mayor’s office, the Governor’s office, or any other office to tell us what we should do. This is our community.”
The city Department of Transportation plans to expand its Citibike program into Harlem this year. About 50 people attended the Harlem town hall in the gymnasium at Taino Towers where residents debated the merits of having Citibike in their neighborhood.
Opponents have a variety of issues with the program. They say membership costs $150 per year, but renting the bikes requires a debit or credit card — which many Harlem residents don’t have. They also say bike-share stations and bike lanes take up too much space on sidewalks and along the streets.
Vendors who work on 125th St., like Muhammad Pullum, 48, fear Citibike will hurt their businesses, which they say are crucial to Harlem’s historic African-American culture.
“The street vendors are a landmark,” Pullum said. “You’ve got people who come from all over the world to buy from us. That’s the only way we make a living.”
Maria Cruz, manager of East Harlem’s Taino Towers, fears new bike stations and bike lanes will reduce the amount of available parking spaces, limiting her tenants’ ability to live and run their businesses.
“All the businesses around here, who is going to go there?” she said. Citibike riders “are going to take the bikes and ride to the Bronx and Riverside and other places, not go to the stores here. They’re taking this opportunity to push the community residents away from here.”
But Citibike said it’s main purpose was to make sure it served all New Yorkers as the program expands.
“This year as the program expanded deeper into Brooklyn and reached Queens for the first time, we partnered with community based organizations, hosted events in the community and attended community events from street fairs to Family Days at NYCHA developments to ensure we were inviting community members in to the program from the start,” said Dani Simons, director of Citibike’s external affairs.
“Discounted annual memberships are also available to every NYCHA resident and NYCID holder. Local support for expansion has been overwhelming, and we look forward to partnering with New Yorkers across the city to bring Citi Bike to scale,” Simons added.
Some Harlem leaders complained the city is forcing Harlemites to accept Citibike without their input.
The DOT launched the largely successful bike share program in May 2013. In July, DOT officials announced they would expand the program into the outer boroughs beginning this year, with plans to install at least 17 stations in Harlem.
During the fall, they hosted a series of community workshops for local residents to give their input on where to install the new bike stations.
Community activist Julius Tajiddin, founder of the group Preserve Harlem’s Legacy, attended some of the workshops, and said most of the people there were cycling enthusiasts who weren’t even from the neighborhood.
“I asked everyone from that meeting, ‘Where do you live?'” he said. “Only four people were from the neighborhood. Everyone else was from (elsewhere) and they were deciding on the Citibike program for Harlem.”
There were some supporters of the program.
Lifelong Harlemite Rose Seabrook, 57, who chairs the Upper Manhattan Activist Committee, said her parents couldn’t afford to buy bikes for her and her siblings when she was a child. She learned to ride one on her 50thbirthday.
“We’re talking about bicycles. It’s not some big demon,” she said. “It’s a great form of exercise. I don’t see any negatives to this.”
Troy A. Outlaw Jr., special assistant to City Councilwoman Inez E. Dickens, says whether or not Citibike is coming to Harlem is no longer up for debate.
“The community doesn’t want it, but as far as we know, it’s coming,” he said. “If we’re going to get it, there should be some concessions and negotiations as to where the stations will be put.”
Members of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Restoration Corporation said they initially had reservations too.
But their concerns faded when they saw the good the bikes brought to their streets.
“Bike share is a convenient and affordable transportation option, offering neighborhood connectivity accessible to households on a budget,” said Tracey Capers, the group’s executive vice president.
She noted that it bridges some public transportation gaps and helps promote a healthy lifestyle.
“Rates of obesity and related diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes disproportionately impact inner-city communities of color and bike share is a great way to provide opportunities for residents to live more active lives,” she said.
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