The Citi Bike discount for public housing residents is next to useless

maps of Citi Bike vs. NYCHA
CC BY 3.0 Margaret Badore

Despite discounts offered public housing residents, New York's bike share is not functionally available to the lower income areas of the city. Compare a Citi Bike station map to the locations of New York's public housing, and you will see just how much New York's bike share program is profit-driven.

The map on the left shows New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings in red. The map on the left shows Citi Bike stations in blue. You can see the NYCHA map in greater detail here and the Citi Bike station locations here.

One map is the converse of the other. There are no bike stations in Harlem, Queens or the Bronx, where most public housing is concentrated, with the exception of the lower east side. The line of blue station bubbles cuts starkly across Manhattan, then flows across the the three major bridges into the areas of Brooklyn that are experiencing a rapid influx of higher income earners.

new york bike share map detailCiti Bike/Screen capture
A bike share program has a high potential for public good, as a clean-energy form of transportation in areas under served by subways and buses. Of course, Citi Bank is not really interested in public good, it's interested in public relations. It's the idea of discounted Citi Bike memberships to residents in public housing that's important to them, not actual benefits to the community.

Henry Grabar writes for The Atlantic Cities blog that distance is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome for the urban poor, who are increasingly pushed out of the city centers:

"Bicycle commuters prefer short rides, with over half of U.S. bicycle trips under a mile. This is demonstrably true for bike-share programs, whose bikes aren't designed for speed and whose financial incentives aren't arranged for distance."

Jamaal Green, writing for the Sustainable Cities Collective, takes the argument further. "Bicycling's growing popularity over the past decade or so is due to the fact that a preferred demographic has now pushed for it." He goes on to say that cities efforts to become more bike-friendly have largely ignored needs cyclists in lower-income areas.

"Neighborhoods that were left to rot for decades are now sites of "revitalization" and are seeing the rise of new commercial services, infrastructure, and attention from city officials. But these are also the same neighborhoods that have asked for better transit service, safer streets, better schools, and opportunities to develop community-serving businesses and generally have been ignored or underserved. And yes, even these neighborhoods before the influx of new gentrifiers had people who cycled, but it was never the goal of the city to support these small, poor cyclists with essential infrastructure or to even encourage the activity in poorer neighborhoods."

The locations of the first round of Citi Bike stations was reportedly determined by population density and community input. Kyle Stock at Businessweek, points to a much more powerful motive for the placement of CitiBike stations: advertising.

"There’s no way to tally a return on investment for corporate sponsorship of a new public amenity. Bankrolling a fleet of bikes goes beyond branding and business development and into a sort of philanthropy (much like supporting the Mets). Though philanthropy, of course, is a form of branding and business development."

Bike advocates all over the city are calling for future expansions to better the outer boroughs, DNAinfo reports.

“In the next expansion, all of the boroughs should be included,” said Chauncy Young, a Highbridge resident who bikes daily with his daughter. “Otherwise, it’s not a fair system.”

The Citi Bike discount for public housing residents is next to useless
No bikes for the Bronx: New York's bike share touts discounts for public housing residents, but compare the maps.