Whenever I leave my apartment for a stroll around my neighborhood, I walk past a former bus route. The B71 used to run, now and then when it felt like it, up and down Union St., and the CEMUSA shelter sits unused around the corner. Now, though, the city could find a use for these useless structures.
The bus shelters that are remaining on now-defunct bus lines are pretty much the pinnacle in useless infrastructure. Unless one believes the MTA is going to one day restore those bus lines — an unlikely proposition that would still be years off — the shelters serve only to satisfy an advertising agreement the city has signed with CEMUSA. They take up valuable sidewalk space, burn bright in the night sky and exist only to serve ads in high-traffic neighborhoods. What’s the point?
Today’s useless structures could have a purpose tomorrow for the city is starting a new initiative that could change the way we get around. The short of it is bike share. As Janette Sadik-Khan and city politicians announced yesterday, the city has signed an agreement with Alta Bicycle Share for an extensive bike share network. Included in this plan are 600 bike-share stations and 10,000 bikes. It would be, as Streetsblog noted, “a network of comparable size and density to bike-share systems in cities like London and Paris.”
The initial reaction from transportation advocates who have long fought for such a program focused on the integration of the bike network into the rest of the city’s public transit infrastructure. “Bike share will be the latest and greatest addition to New York’s menu of transportation choices,” Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, said in a statement. “A subway or bus trip is rarely door-to-door and New Yorkers make hundreds of thousands of short trips a day that could benefit from the convenience of a public bicycle. This affordable and practical transit choice will empower New Yorkers with a new freedom of mobility and will harness the potential of bicycling to make our lives easier.”
Kate Slevin, from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, issued a statement with a similar sentiment. “In cities like Washington, people use bike share to get to the train station, pick up the groceries, and visit that park or restaurant that was always a little too far of a walk,” she said. “Bike share will give New Yorkers another way to get around and improve everyone’s quality of life.”
The bike share, in other words, will complement the subways and buses, but how? To include the public as much as possible in the planning process, DOT has opened up a website asking for the public to request bike-share locations, and nearly every corner in Brooklyn and Manhattan seems to be claimed already. People clearly want access to bikes.
A clear answer came to me immediately, and I posted it to Twitter yesterday morning: “The obvious solution for bike share stations would be to use abandoned bus shelters along axed routes.” These shelters exist already, and many of them are along well-established routes. The city doesn’t have to use every bus shelter, but those, for instance, along Union St. would be ideal for cross-Brooklyn bicyclists. Reactivating wilting infrastructures whose only current purpose is to serve ads could do wonders for the streetscape.
Those responding to my plan questioned the location. It’s better to have bike share kiosks near major retail locations, of course, but the point of the bike share is to reach all neighborhoods. With 600 stations — that’s over 130 more than the number of subway stations in the city — DOT can blanket residential neighborhoods as well as key retail hubs, and the shelters, especially those at key intersections, provide them with a clear location.
As proponents have noted, the city will have to tred carefully over the next few months. The media is always skeptical of bike initiatives, and even though this bike share program will be paid for via private contributions and user fees, it’s going to arouse those who want to keep fighting the battle for city space between cars and everyone else. Once the fervor dies down, though, and the city begins to whittle down the list of bike share locations, they can look to former bus routes for guidance. The bikes can’t fill the holes left by the service cuts, but it’s a start.