REDAC Committee, February 26th, 2020

At RIOC: Bikes, Citi Bikes and More

David Stone
At RIOC: Bikes, Citi Bikes and More

At RIOC, Bikes, Citi Bikes and a pleasant surprise highlighted a Real Estate Development Advisory Committee meeting on Wednesday night. The meeting was preparation for a full board of directors in March. Plenty of interest and some controversy.

Coming Soon: Citi Bike Pilot

Assistant vice president Jonna Carmona-Graf led off, presenting a tentative agreement with Citi Bike she'll ask RIOC's board to approve in March. If approved, Roosevelt Island will finally get the two-wheelers that have been popular in the much of the city for several years. Docks are proposed for four locations.

Always the bigger view: Roosevelt Island News

The move, eagerly awaited by some and dreaded by others, opened when Lyft, after taking ownership of Citi Bike, dropped a requirement for RIOC to invest heavily in setting up on the Island.

At RIOC's insistence, first up will be a pilot, a chance to assess interest. President Susan Rosenthal explained that it's unclear if Roosevelt Islanders "are going to love it or hate it."

Considering mixed -- and passionate -- signals from residents, Rosenthal demanded a pilot, rather than a firm agreement.

The four proposed locations, all subject to change...

  • An undeveloped gravel plot between The Prow and The Sanctuary, roughly a hundred yards south of The Octagon
  • Underneath the Roosevelt Island Bridge Helix
  • Adjacent to Firefighters' Field, between the Tram and NYC Ferry
  • At the entrance to Southpoint Park

72 total bikes will be available. Each station holds up to 36 and will be stocked at 50%, allowing for a mix of use among locations.

Board members David Kapell and Jeff Escobar objected to the location nearest The Octagon.

"It's not a destination," Kapell said and not likely to attract riders.

The site, he added, is "200 yards" from The Octagon and not near any attraction.

Both Kapell and Escobar urged consideration of a location closer to the Octagon Red Bus stop, making bikes more available for residents and closer to the expanded Lighthouse Park and Coler Hospital.

If an agreement is reached at the next board meeting, Citi Bike plans to install the pilot locations during the spring.

Bike Ramp and Bike Lane Update

Pegged at a total cost of over $10 million, with 80% of it covered by State grants, a combined bike ramp and connecting lane sends cyclists from the Roosevelt Island Bridge down the East Promenade as far as Cornell Tech. RIOC envisions a future in which dedicated bike lanes complete a circle around Roosevelt Island.

The Roosevelt Island Daily is on record objecting the the project, calling it a "landmark waste of taxpayer money," a sort of Palace of Versailles indulgence for a very small number of potential users.

But in RIOC's view, according to Carmona-Graf, bicycling will grow to become a preferred form of travel. 

Historian and activist Judith Berdy objected.

"This is bad," she said.

Roosevelt Island Bridge Helix, aerial view shows trees and green space RIOC's bike ramp will destroy.
Roosevelt Island Bridge Helix, aerial view shows trees and green space RIOC's bike ramp will destroy.
Photo courtesy: Roosevelt Island Historical Society

Berdy's objections aren't so much against the idea as its implementation.

A "preferred alternative" arrived at in the grant development process creates a ramp circling down within the center of the helix, separated from car and truck traffic, and winding out onto the Promenade.

But as Berdy pointed out, that requires destroying more Island green space, including mature cherry trees.

Once recognized as "Tree City USA," Roosevelt Island is hardly that anymore with a large number of healthy trees chopped down to allow for free parking at PS/IS 217 and for other unfathomable reasons by RIOC.

"Why don't they (bicyclists) just coast down through the parking garage?" Berdy asked, instead of forcing a loss of trees and green space, if the helix is too dangerous.

"They don't," Carmona-Graf said, reflecting what The Daily considers an ongoing laxity in bike safety.

(Correction: An earlier version of this article said there was no record of bicycle accident on the helix, but reader Joyce Short reported witnessing two, both involving broken bones with bikes heading up the helix.)

RIOC's board and executives appeared unswayed and ready to move ahead in spite of resident concerns.

Carmona-Graf detailed some issues with "pinch points" where the planned bike line needs solutions for negotiating narrow spaces near Firefighters' Field and the NYC Ferry Landing. She's hoping to expedite the granting process and reach closure within two years.

So long neglected, just a power wash would be a huge improvement, but RIOC board member David Kapell has bigger ideas.
So long neglected, just a power wash would be a huge improvement, but RIOC board member David Kapell has bigger ideas.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Rescuing the Motorgate Atrium

As new business, Kapell called attention to what attracted him to board membership after four years here. He's pondered “the mystery of Main Street.”

That is, why is it riddled with empty storefronts and struggling businesses?

"What’s the defect?" he wondered. “Why can’t we support a modest size business district? What can we do that would change things?"

Calling on his experience in revitalizing Greenport's business district, he set his focus on the badly neglected Motorgate Atrium, Roosevelt Island's most neglected asset.

“Why aren’t we paying more attention to the face we show Queens?"

Kapell's idea is to not just restore the Atrium, but to grow it in recognition of its potential. He suggested a design competition among architects to see what ideas come up for reinvigorating the space.

With Rosenthal backing the idea, we may soon see an upgrade that will leave us wondering why nobody thought of it before -- and a positive boon to Main Street retail.

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