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Citibike lags in public housing

NYCHA residents get discount bike share memberships – and the few who use them couldn't be happier

Large numbers define New York City’s bike share program.

More than 4.1 million miles traveled to date. Almost 70,000 annual members. Close to two million trips.

But one number remains small.

Since the program’s launch earlier this summer, only 500 discounted annual memberships have been sold as of mid-July, when the total number of annual members stood at 58,000.

The Department of Transportation and Citibike gave away free helmets in the courtyard of the Jacob Riis Houses. Photo: Claire Moses

The Department of Transportation and Citibike gave away free helmets in the courtyard of the Jacob Riis Houses. Photo: Claire Moses

Discounted memberships are available to New York City Housing Authority residents and members of some community development credit unions. The discounted price is $60 a year, rather than the usual $95.

It seems, however, that only a small share of NYCHA residents is taking advantage of the deal. A Department of Transportation spokeswoman did not specify how many of the 500 memberships were purchased by NYCHA residents and how many by credit union members, and was not available to comment on the membership numbers.

More than 400,000 residents live in NYCHA’s 334 housing developments across the five boroughs. Roughly 55,000 of them live in the area of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn where Citibikes are readily available in the street.

Sherri Bradford, a resident of the Jacob Riis Houses in the Lower East Side, said she drives a truck and described the Citibike program for her personally as a “waste of money.”

She added that presence of a Citibike docking station in the courtyard of the housing project Houses at Avenue D and East 12th Street isn’t a good idea.

“This is the wrong place,” said Bradford. She said that when people don’t lock the bikes into the docks properly, people will take them out and go for rides.

“The other day they broke some piece off,” Bradford said. “They do it all the time.”

She said that she had seen her neighbors share memberships and pass along their Citibike key chains in return for cash from other residents. Citibike memberships are non-transferrable, according to the program’s website.

The Citibike dock at Jacob Riis Houses on the Lower East Side during a recent free bike helmet giveaway. Photo: Claire Moses.

The Citibike dock at Jacob Riis Houses on the Lower East Side during a recent free bike helmet giveaway. Photo: Claire Moses.

Bradford, 30, together with other residents of the Jacob Riis Houses, was among hundreds of New Yorkers who attended a recent helmet giveaway organized by the city’s Department of Transportation and Citibike.

A long, steadily growing line started before the event officially began at 4 p.m., and didn’t end for another two and a half hours.

Kuni Mikami, a 58-year-old New Yorker who lives on the West Side and purchased the $95 annual membership, had taken a Citibike all the way to Avenue D to get a free helmet, after he hadn’t been able to attend a helmet give away closer to his apartment.  

Like dozens of others, he strapped the shiny green helmet to his head, and took another bike out of the station after picking up the new headgear.

While the free helmet events are well established at the Department of Transportation, which has given out tens of thousands of helmets over the past couple of years, the launch of Citibike has made the giveaways a hot scene, with between 500 and 700 distributed a session.

According to Citibike data, more than 18 million trips have been made since the program’s Memorial Day launch, totaling more than 4.1 million miles traveled.

Melanie Torres, one of the roughly 3,000 residents of the Jacob Riis Houses, stumbled upon the recent helmet give away when she left her apartment. She said she was planning to get a helmet for her son. Torres doesn’t use Citibikes, she added, because she doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle.

For Juan Morales, a three-year resident of the Lower East Side housing project, it’s a different story. Morales, 37, said that while he owns his own bike, he still got the discounted membership and uses it on average six times a day.

“It’s perfect,” he said. He added that two of his neighbors had also gotten the memberships to commute to work.

Citibike employees also attended the event recently and provided some curious residents with information about the discounted membership. By the end of the afternoon, however, no new members had signed up.

Correction: a previous version of this article misrepresented the total miles traveled on Citibikes.