As New Yorkers increasingly turn to cycling, the city’s plan to bring 1,000 dockless bikes to all of Staten Island remains adrift.
Cycling has emerged as a popular way to commute while maintaining social distancing, and Staten Island bike shop owners say sales are up. And while overall bike share use is down from last year, likely due to the city’s lockdown, data from Citi Bike shows that ridership began picking up significantly in May.
Despite all this, Staten Island remains the only borough without bike share.
After a pre-pandemic spring deadline passed, the city Department of Transportation and London-based operator, Beryl, have no timeline to bring bike share back to the borough, according to a DOT spokesperson.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, bicycling rates have exploded here on Staten Island and across the U.S. in response to the safest way to commute during the pandemic and it’s sure to play a substantial role in our recovery during the following weeks and months,” said Rose Uscianowski, a Staten Island organizer and advocate for Transportation Alternatives.
The lack of service comes as New York City moves towards fully reopening and as Staten Island’s public transportation options remain reduced.
The Staten Island Railway — the borough’s only train line, which runs along part of the North Shore and the East Shore — is only operating hourly from 8 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. on weekdays and 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekends. The schedule is in sync with the Staten Island Ferry, which is running fewer trips during the pandemic.
Nearly two out of three Staten Islanders get to work by car, but access to motor vehicles varies throughout the borough. While more than 90% of Mid-Island and South Shore residents have at least one car available to them, 12.5% of North Shore residents have none.
“It’s egregious that Staten Island remains the only borough in New York City without bicycle share, a disparity that could be rectified by public investment in bicycle share by the City of New York,” Uscianowski said.
‘Secession Is the Only Option’
From July 2018 through December 2019, riders took over 136,000 trips on dockless bikes before the DOT announced that it would pull Lime and Uber-owned JUMP bikes off North Shore streets late last year.
The agency then selected U.K. firm Beryl to bring dockless bike share to the entire borough by spring 2020. Beryl uses a network of physically marked “bays” where bikes must be parked in order to prevent street clutter and provide reliable spots from where to begin a trip.
But in February, the agency began presenting a scaled-down launch to community boards where bike-share would only be available in the East and North Shore — and didn’t provide a timeline for when Mid-Island and South Shore neighborhoods would have access to the bikes. None of the bikes materialized as the city went into lockdown.
“I’m not surprised,” City Councilmember Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) told THE CITY in a statement, before listing several other projects in his district managed by DOT without a timeline, such as widening Arthur Kill Road and purchasing land for a “park and ride” facility in Pleasant Plains.
He added, “But when it comes to speed cameras, they’re gangbusters! Staten Island needs control of its own DOT and secession is the only option.”
A spokesperson for Councilmember Debi Rose (D-Staten Island) didn’t return a request for comment.
A Long Wait
Bike share has been growing across New York City this past decade. Citi Bike launched in Manhattan and Brooklyn back in May 2013 and recently moved ahead with expansion to Upper Manhattan and The Bronx. The company, owned by ride-share giant Lyft, is also moving deeper into Queens and Brooklyn.
The DOT created dockless bike share programs in The Bronx’s Fordham area and the Rockaways as well as Staten Island’s North Shore.
Staten Islanders were initially supposed to receive access to borough-wide dockless bikes in July 2019, but for months the agency remained locked in negotiations with Uber, which threatened to pull its bikes off the streets by Labor Day. POLITICO New York reported that Uber wanted the de Blasio administration to limit riders’ ability to sue the company.
The DOT ended up choosing Beryl over three other companies: Uber, Gotcha and Lime, which Uber is now a leading investor in.
But unlike JUMP and Lime bikes, Beryl’s bikes aren’t outfitted with e-pedal assist technology — which would help in a borough that includes the highest natural point in the city and where several neighborhoods are named after their steep hills.
Staten Island elected officials decried the lack of e-pedal boost in November, including Rose, who said, “The loss of pedal-assist bikes on the North Shore will be a disappointment to my constituents who enjoyed the extra boost, especially on our many North Shore hills.”
Beryl hasn’t made a commitment to provide e-bikes on Staten Island, but the operator has begun pledging to bring them to areas in England that initially only had pedal-powered bicycles, including 100 in the town of Watford and unspecified number in Norwich.