By Amanda Glodowski
Sunnyside merchants are hitting the brakes on Citi Bike before it’s even left the docking station.
Last week, Citi Bike announced their expansion into Ridgewood in the upcoming month, with Sunnyside and Woodside queued up to receive docks in subsequent phases. Bike advocates praised the expansion, saying that increased accessibility will invigorate the local economy, but business owners were hesitant to acknowledge potential benefits.
“Bike lanes and bike shares are a winning combination,” said Laura Shepard, chair of the activist committee for Transportation Alternatives, Queens chapter. “Now, more people will be able to get to businesses.”
But local business owners are skeptical that the expansion of the bike share program will have a significant impact on their bottom line.
“It’s not going to make a difference in our businesses,” said Steven Desimone, owner of Pets Unlimited, “everything that we have over here, they have over there.”
The protected bike lanes on Skillman and 43rdAvenues were the subject of controversy last year, largely due to the loss of approximately 130 parking spaces. The initiative faced further backlash when Mayor Bill de Blasio approved the Department of Transportation’s plans for the lanes last July, despite Community Board 2’s overwhelming opposition.
Some merchants fear that the bike share program would harm their businesses by putting even more parking spots at risk.
“This will impact my business in a bad way,” said Giorgie Calle, owner of Flowers by Giorgie. “People who want to ride bikes should go to the parks. There are buses and trains to commute to stores.”
A 2017 stakeholder survey of merchants conducted by Sunnyside Shines BID revealed that lack of parking, and transit-related issues were the top challenge facing Sunnyside businesses. The BID is looking to work through the growing pains of new infrastructure in a way that encourages bikers and stimulates businesses.
“We’ve seen a lot of excitement around the Citi Bike announcement from Sunnyside residents, but we also know that availability of parking is a top issue for our storefront businesses,” Jaime Faye-Bean, executive director of Sunnyside Shines, told the Eagle. “We believe that a strategic and collaborative approach to siting docking stations can enhance commercial activity in the neighborhood without impeding business deliveries or obstructing access for differently-abled people, seniors, and others that rely on vehicular transportation.”
Citi Bike docks are expected to be fully installed across both Sunnyside and Woodside by 2023, giving businesses plenty of time to prepare.
“It will encourage people to limit vehicles, and that’s always a good thing. We should encourage it in our city wherever possible,” said Wael Imrahim, front end manager of Key Food’s Fresh N Save Marketplace. “In a successful business, customers will always find a way to get there if they really want to.”