Bike Share Hits Memorial Speed Bump

Christopher Peak PhotoWhat’s the purpose of a war memorial in a shopping district? To honor history? To protest future conflicts? To shade shoppers? Or to serve as the launch point for a bike ride home?

Members of the City Plan Commission said they aren’t exactly sure. But that uncertainty led them this week to table plans for a proposed bike-share station and accompanying ad panel near the Civil War Memorial on Broadway and to call on alders to take another look at the program before it expands deeper into six neighborhoods.

The commissioners said that they still strongly back Bike New Haven’s mission to provide alternative forms of transit. But they said they hadn’t initially realized what was coming along with it when they approved the first set of stations.

Now that they’d seen the eight-foot-by-five-foot, double-sided advertisements for fast food and beer on sidewalks around the Elm City, they said they felt uncomfortable giving away more public space without having decision-makers revisit whether the program’s worth it for New Haven.

“It’s not a problem with the bike share,” said Commissioner Leslie Redcliffe, a Hill resident who chaired the meeting. “It’s those doggone ad panels and what goes on them.”

“It’s one of those classic trade-offs,” said Michael Piscitelli, the city’s deputy economic development administrator.

“But what I think we’re realizing is that we’re not comfortable with those trade-offs anymore,” Radcliffe said. “We saw what those tradeoffs could be. The onus is on us: we didn’t take that into consideration initially.”

The commissioners technically don’t have power to halt the expansion, because the city doesn’t need their approval to build in the public right-of-way. And the city itself exchanged rights to public ad space for a subsidy-free bike share, according to the terms of a five-year contract alders approved in May 2017 with a subsidiary of P3 Global Management (P3GM), the New York-based company that runs the program.

In back-to-back unanimous decisions at the meeting Wednesday night at City Hall, the City Plan Commission voted to table site plan approvals for two proposed downtown bike-share stations and to approve 13 other docking ports. Commissioners also agreed to send a detailed memo recommending that the Board of Alders City Services & Environmental Policy Committee review the program, its siting process and its roll-out.

The two stations and ad panels that the commission put on hold were planned for 296 Elm St., on the median across from the old Trailblazer store, and 160 Temple St., adjacent to the plaza between Temple Grill and Pitaziki Mediterranean Grill.

Two more stations and one ad panel will finish up the original round of 30 installations:

  • 8 Park St., across from Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital.
  • 15 Church St., between Gateway Community College and the Knights of Columbus headquarters.
  • 50 Union Ave., near the train station.

A planned expansion to 10 additional stations will bring bikes farther from the city center:

  • To the Hill, 695 Washington Ave., outside of Truman School.
  • To West River, 35 Sherman Ave. and 467 Legion Ave., both near the edge of a stretch demolished a half-century ago during urban renewal for Route 34.
  • To Edgewood, 1471 Chapel St., across from Yale-New Haven Hospital’s St. Raphael Campus, and 468 Whalley Ave., by the Sherwin-Williams Paint Store and Walgreens.
  • To Beaver Hills, 501 Crescent St., on Southern Connecticut State University’s campus.
  • To Newhallville, 714 Dixwell Ave., near Visels Pharmacy close to the Farmington Canal.
  • To Fair Haven, 163 Chapel St., about a block from Fairhaven Furniture, and 470 James St., on private property at the District technology park, paid for by the owners.

Designs that were planned for 351 Long Wharf Dr., by the pier, and 927 Whalley Ave., by a Westville parking lot, were both pulled before the meeting, said Matthew Finelli, P3GM’s operations manager.

Those stations were picked through a combination of user input and data, including proximity to activity and employment hubs, transportation connections and usage and census figures.

At each dock, users can log into a mobile app to check out bikes for 45 minutes on a per-ride, daily, monthly, or annual basis. They can ride to their destination and relock the bike at a new station.

So far, six months in, users have made over 8,600 trips, cycling over 4,700 miles across the city.

Currently, 2,300 users have made an account that gives them a chance to buy single rides. Over 440 multi-use passes have been sold, including 41 annual passes, 90 monthly passes and 25 discounted memberships. The company said it did not have statistics on the number of unique users who’ve taken a ride so far.

Bike New Haven’s team is most proud of the results from a survey of roughly 160 riders, in which one-quarter said they would have made the trip by car without a bike share, said Carolyn Lusch, the program manager.

No one took issue with those numbers, but five residents, including a neighbor who wasn’t notified and one active bike-share user, all testified that they just can’t look past the signs. They said that the public is ceding its walkways to an “advertising company with bicycles,” as Dick Lyons phrased it.

“We’re talking about the long-term lease of public space to private, commercial interests,” added Lucile Bruce, who’s organized local opposition to the ad panels. “That is not something that we should take lightly.”

Bruce and others took exception to the company’s decision to move a planned station across Broadway. The other side of the street, between Barnes & Noble and Patagonia, is too crowded, so the company planned to put it near the 1905 memorial to Connecticut regiments that had fought in the Civil War.

Plopping an ad panel on the corner, squarely facing the monument, “would cheapen this memorial site” and “effectively block this park from view,” Bruce argued. She added that it might impair drivers from noticing pedestrians at the curb.

“Why are we even considering doing damage to this restoration and the public investment of time and resources that it represents? Many U.S. cities are doing the opposite, delving into their histories and installing new signage to commemorate the past,” Bruce said. “We should be joining this movement, inviting resident visitors to think about the past and its impact on the present-day, rather than obscuring places of historic value behind large commercial advertising signs.”

Anstress Farwell, president of the Urban Design League, added that it was unclear what made one side of Broadway so much busier than the other, requiring the station to be placed so close to the monument.

That points to a larger problem, she said, with a lack of clarity around the guidelines for where stations should be placed.

“There aren’t clear standards,” Farwell said. “How do you judge busyness? How do you judge the impact on one commercial establishment versus the public interest in a beautiful park? And which businesses have more of a role? If you have McDonalds advertised in front of Lalibella’s, is that fair?”

The commissioners agreed that the city should reevaluate the program, now that its initial rollout is almost complete.

City Plan Commissioner and Westville Alder Adam Marchand, who serves on the City Services & Environmental Policy Committee that originally vetted the program, said that he’d been shocked by the actual size of the ad panels once they were installed, even though the company had presented documents in hearings.

Now that decision-makers had that life-size view, he said, they can better judge how to proceed with the bike share.

“I think we have learned something that we didn’t quite know before,” Marchand said. “We had a few ads on buses and trash-cans; it’s not like the public right of way is completely devoid of commercial information. It’s there, but it’s not like the Strip in Vegas.

“I do think we need to know where that line is, how clear or cluttered we want our streetscapes and our walkways,” he added. “I think this issue has really been instructive, because at the time I was excited to approve this program — and I still am for its benefits for what it brings to the city — but those ad panels do look a lot bigger in life than in a schematic.”

Marchand suggested tabling the station near the war memorial, saying that was the most concerning to him, while letting alders know about their thoughts on the process overall.

He said he wasn’t sure what could be done at this point, whether the alders could amend the five-year contract with P3GM — if that’s what the committee would even want to do.

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posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on August 17, 2018  9:59am

Not gonna get into it about the ads, but excited to see bike share expanding to new neighborhoods. Now that it’s coming to Edgewood, I can finally start using it! Or encourage others who are visiting to come use it. It’s a great option rather than taking the bus when the weather looks unsettled and about the same price, rather than leave my own bike out in the rain. Thanks for finally expanding this program outside of Downtown and to a few select other neighborhoods.

posted by: Esbey on August 17, 2018  11:02am

Get a grip, folks. The memorial is totally surrounded by speeding cars and trucks—-belching pollution and horns blaring—-all day long. Large commercial signs, advertising capitalist enterprise, are on nearly every building. Garish street signs are everywhere. But a bike rack with an ad is going to disrespect it. Oh yeah, the bike rack is the problem here. God forbid someone have cheap access to a bike, let’s organize to stop this horror now.   

This reminds me of the hysterical reaction to CitiBike in NYC. The bikes were going to destroy the aesthetics of the city! Bright blue bikes with ads! “Hundreds would die in car crashes! It was 100% status quo bias: humans hate change. The Citibikes came, they blended into the city and quickly became invisible in the background, part of the new status quo. Problem solved. 

We are going to give up bike share because folks are offended by ads?  Or is the proposal to raise my taxes so you don’t have to look at ads? Has anyone ever been to NYC or Paris, where bike share is largely funded by ads?

I say: I want the bikes and I want them funded by the ads that make us look like NYC and Paris.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on August 17, 2018  11:19am

On average, 40 rides per day?

posted by: NHNative on August 17, 2018  2:26pm

I think I have a grip on your feelings.  You care more about looking like New York than honoring my great great grandfather who was killed fighting for freedom and the Union.

posted by: NHPLEB on August 17, 2018  5:59pm

The ignorant populace will become more ignorant as every monument to the past is blocked by garish ads to consumerism and materialism and constant “fun”.

NHNative— sorry but no one cares anymore about your ancestor’s death. It’s part of an America that many want to destroy in favor of a third world retelling of the story.  Was his sacrifice in vain?  Seems like maybe it was,  now that we see the sorry state the Union is in. If he could see what his death helped to create, he might not have been so willing to go die. 
  I deplore this slap in the face to our history.  They could have put the bike stand ANYWHERE but they had to choose just this spot,  right.  Coincidence?  I think not.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 17, 2018  7:03pm

I bet take back New Haven Doug Hausladen along with his bike zealots are pushing this. These bike stations take from one non-rich group (middle class car owners) and give to another (middle class non-car owners). People Wake up.The city is taking every thing they can from you for hipsters tourists rich developers and rich people who want your home .

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on August 17, 2018  8:12pm

This Civil War Memorial space should remain free from any advertising bike racks.
We already have enough of those in the downtown area already. People who want a bike know where they can go to get one.
Many of us find these huge signs a tremendous eyesore!
Speaking of signs, have residents begun to notice how many signs there are on ALL of our streets, downtown and in every residential area!
We are over-signed! This detracts from the beauty of our neighborhoods!!!
Count the number of signs on an average block in New Haven, and you too will be appalled!
More of these bike stations will only add to the problem of the New Haven sign pollution!

posted by: Esbey on August 17, 2018  10:16pm

Please, bikes don’t dishonor a monument which is already a literal traffic island in the middle of a retail complex.

posted by: southwest on August 18, 2018  8:21am

The bike trails take up to much room on the streets especially when people drive reckless ..Traffic back up on some routes because you can’t make right hand turns that’s desnated plus big truck when passing comes over the divider lane and creates danger for head-on collisions ..With all theses bike stations is their a weekly tally or daily one on how many people actually ride them before you start destroying more streets like you did Long Wharf Drive,which in my opinion is a tragedy waiting to happen one can barely drive thur there without crossing into the incoming lane.. Plus where is the monies going to and coming from for creating these bicycles stations..Don’t the city have a money problem and theses funds could be utilized in a more sensible way?? Just asking !

posted by: wendy1 on August 18, 2018  10:53am

Thank you Esbey—I love your comment and agree mightily.

@NHNative——I bet your great great great grandaddy would have preferred a bike ride to fighting in the Civil War which actually achieved very little in long run.  If you’re such a history buff, try not repeating it.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on August 18, 2018  11:21am

“The commissioners technically don’t have power to halt the expansion…” The commissioners actually do not have the power to halt the expansion, period. As that sentence continues to say, the city doesn’t need their approval to build in the public right-of-way. And the city signed a contract that includes the expansion. I have no investment in this or any other specific ad panel site. But unless the city wants to breach the contract and pay the resulting damages, the additional ad panels are coming.

posted by: Esbey on August 18, 2018  11:52am

Mr. Paine is literally acting out my point. He sees new signs: “OMG I hate them”. But then he looks around and notices that the city is already drenched in garishly-colored signs, many of them the traffic signs that make it possible for automobiles to overrun the city and take precedence over all else. Other large signs, on almost every downtown building, loudly advertise for-profit businesses. But for some reason he never thought much about those signs until the new signs got him upset. It is 100% status-quo bias. The existing infrastructure disappears, while the new thing is upsetting. Status quo bias makes it very difficult to move forward as a society. In this case we accept the existing garish and overwhelming automobile infrastructure and reject the new, actually much more discreet, biking infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the planet boils and we are talking about the big problem of ad-supported biking infrastructure.

posted by: omgreally1977 on August 18, 2018  4:23pm

Great advertising is persuasive.  It’s like getting 40 free billboard locations by calling a billboard and bike rental company a “bike share.”  As someone that drives in New Haven for a living I have only seen 3 people using one of these bikes since February.  Who you gonna believe, the honest advertising company or your lyin’ eyes?  Only a fool would disagree that bike riding reduces climate changing pollution, reduces traffic congestion, increases tourism, and makes people healthy – our unrented Bikes Are Making Us Great Again! BAMUGA! Let’s get hats.  We just don’t have enough locations.  But in 20 years when we have 400 or 500 billboard locations everyone will be renting bikes.

posted by: robn on August 18, 2018  4:59pm

WENDY,

Sure right. The end of slavery in the US is just a tiny footnote. Why did we fight that war anyway? Oh I forgot, it was a war of northern aggression against genteel southern culture.

posted by: TheMadcap on August 19, 2018  10:10am

“Plus where is the monies going to and coming from for creating these bicycles stations”

The company that runs the bike share?

“one can barely drive thur there without crossing into the incoming lane”

You an drive fine through there if you actually slow the hell down, which is in fact the purpose of all these bump outs, bike lanes, and street tables

posted by: wendy1 on August 19, 2018  2:07pm

Robn,  slavery exists in New Haven.  It’s called Yale.

Years ago a batch of HS science students and a teacher determined that the little Civil War Monument triangle on B’way had the worst air pollution reading of all the sites tested.  What a coincidence.

posted by: HewNaven on August 21, 2018  12:46pm

Esbey,

You’re really smart. Please teach us more!

In what other ways does New Haven compare to NYC and Paris?

posted by: nhresident30 on August 21, 2018  3:22pm

How come no Bike Share near East Shore Park.  It would be wonderful to ride along the shore line down to Lighthouse!