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Going Places

The Keepers of Gramercy Park Do Not Like Their New Citi Bike Dock

There might be millions of Citi Bike riders, but there is only one Gramercy Park.

2:08 PM EDT on September 26, 2022

A view looking West on 21st Street, with Gramercy Park on the far left, and the Citi Bike rack sitting on 21st Street, with traffic in the bike lane.

The offending bike back. (Hell Gate)

This past Friday, the rarefied sanctum of historic Gramercy Park was defiled by the steely intrusion of plebeian transit infrastructure. Specifically, a Citi Bike dock was installed. The overseers of the private, two-acre park sprang into action.

"The decision to place this rack on 21st Street and Gramercy Park North was made without any community input or notification," wrote Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association, in an email blast. "We are extremely displeased both with the lack of community input/notification and with the completely inappropriate placement of the rack, which is in a landmarked area adjacent to the 21st & Lexington Avenue intersection that has chronic traffic issues that we have attempted to address with the DOT for years that will undoubtedly be made worse with the rack there."

Harrison noted that she had been "flooded with calls and emails" about the 44-bike dock, and that she had "reached out to other community organizations to see if any have been successful in fighting Citi Bike rack placements."

Lawsuits against Citi Bike dock placement were common during the Great Bike Backlash of 2013, but they largely fizzled out as New Yorkers adopted the program. Now, the main controversy around Citi Bike is how long it is taking to expand into communities outside of Manhattan and North Brooklyn.

A cyclist heading west on 21st Street right next to Gramercy Park (Hell Gate)

The bikeshare system has broken its daily ridership record—138,000 trips—several times this month, and Gramercy/NoMad has some of the most popular docks in the entire system, according to Lyft, which owns the bikeshare company. The neighborhood has seen 900,000 rides in 2022 so far; only Hells Kitchen, Williamsburg, Midtown East, and Chelsea have higher numbers this year.

This is why the DOT and Citi Bike, who jointly administer the system, came to Community Board 6 in January and told them about the need for this new dock (and several others). Minutes from the meetings do not capture any objections. A message to CB6 has not been returned. 

“Maintaining our Citi Bike station density is vital to ensure Manhattan residents have access to convenient and reliable service," DOT spokesperson Mona Bruno told Hell Gate in a statement. "Community input is a critical part of our decision-making process, and we appreciate the feedback, which we are reviewing.”

Harrison, who earns an annual salary of $119,000 as the Gramercy Park Block Association's president, and is known as the "mayor of Gramercy Park," did not respond to our request for comment.

This weekend, we stopped by the gated park to see the dock for ourselves. 

Looking east on 21st Street. (Hell Gate)

"I'm not very happy about it. It takes up a lot of much needed parking spaces. And there's not a lot of parking spaces here at Gramercy," said Bonnie, a resident of the neighborhood who was walking her dog Bella. 

Bonnie (who politely refused to provide her last name) said that she had seen Harrison's email about the racks, and agreed with her, but also shared that her husband and son frequently ride Citi Bikes.

"I don't know anything about it, to be honest. I don't live here permanently, it's a pied-à-terre for me, so. I think it's a nice thing to have Citi Bike, I just think this is a lot of Citi Bikes for a small area," she said. "It's not 5th Avenue where it's a business community. This is a small community of people." 

Would she fight to have the dock torn out? "No, I would not do anything to have them removed."

Looking north on Lexington Avenue as drivers try to get onto 21st Street. (Hell Gate)

Vincent and Helene Potter were trying to snag the last two bikes when we asked them about the dock. 

"I think it's good. We are French, and we think it's good to have bikes here," Vincent told us. "They're not noisy. It's friendly, it's clean."

The couple live near the UN, where they work, and said that Gramercy was probably their favorite neighborhood because of the restaurants and the quiet. But the car parking situation bothered them.

"We are trying to make photos and we can't take them because the cars are ruining our photos," Helene explained.

Inside Gramercy Park, where commoners may not tread. (Hell Gate)

Inevitably, when you interview people around Gramercy Park, the talk turns to why it's private in the first place, and how an ancient real estate deal keeps the public out of its pristine gardens.

"For a French mind, it's unbelievable," Vincent said, gesturing toward the gates.

A few minutes earlier, a couple and their grown son were taking a stroll around the park, and were eager to tell us their feelings about the dock and the park itself, if not their full names. "It's nice to have access to bikes," the mother said.

After we mentioned that "the mayor of Gramercy Park" objected to the dock, the father, whose name was Geoff, was quick to respond.

"If she's against it, I'm for it," he told us, as his son and wife literally dragged him away before he could expound much further.

"Tell her we should be allowed in."

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