“The reception … by people on the boardwalk was nothing but positive — people said what a great idea it was,” Sofield said. “During the intervening two weeks, my fears were allayed, and I think this is going to be very beneficial to Long Beach and creates a new stream of revenue.”
Proponents say the plan will be a boon to the city not only financially, but also because it will lure more people out of their cars and reduce traffic. But many residents who attended the meeting asked for more details, saying that the city should postpone its vote until it provided more specifics on traffic safety, the location of the kiosks and projected revenue.
“Our sidewalks are not for sale for 10 percent of a program that may or may not work, that we’re going to be tied into for five years,” said West End resident Allison Blanchette. “As you all know, there are no parking spots for the residents in the summertime. We’re now going to have more eaten up by these kiosks? There are way too many questions that need to be answered. Please table this so we can discuss it further.”
Theofan said he does not expect the kiosks to take up parking spots, aside from perhaps one in a residential lot in the West End, which he said he is working to avoid. He also said that the city would decide on their locations, and that they would be installed at the Long Island Rail Road station, near the recreation and Martin Luther King centers and the Long Beach Medical Center, and possibly along medians in residential areas.
“Wherever we can reasonably place them around town, that has to be the right place and we’re going to be working with Decobike to make those locations,” Theofan said.
Others asked whether the contract included an insurance policy in the event that a bicyclist or pedestrian is injured. “The insurance, the indemnity, and the hold-harmless clauses are more than sufficient to protect the city,” Theofan explained, “and therefore we will have no exposure.”
Councilmen Mike Fagen questioned Theofan’s revenue projections, saying that the numbers were not realistic. Fagen and Councilman Len Torres criticized what they called a program that includes no real safety plan and will hurt local bike shops.
“My problem here is that there are too many questions that are not answered,” Fagen said. “When you go into a five-year agreement with somebody who is supposed to be your partner, especially when you’re sharing revenue, the answers aren’t supposed to be, ‘We’re going to work that out.’ The issues of traffic safety … strategic placements … possible elimination of parking spaces … the questions about revenue streams have not been answered.”
Theofan defended his revenue estimates, and said that a safety plan is in the works. “By the time we’re fully operational next spring,” he said, “we will have a very good safety plan in terms of bike lanes, to determine where it’s safest.”
Councilman John McLaughlin, who recently visited South Beach to familiarize himself with Decobike’s operation there, said he was impressed, and he doesn’t think it will hurt local bike shops.
While Decobike does have critics in Miami — some say the rentals are too expensive and that users are hit with exorbitant fees if they keep their bikes checked out longer than their purchased time — McLaughlin said that, overall, Decobike’s impact has been positive, and the operations there and in other municipalities work “seamlessly” with local bike shops.
“We talk about 400 bikes — maybe we have 200 less cars in Long Beach,” McLaughlin said. “That’s something we have to address, because as state beaches have closed up, we’ve been getting a larger population coming into Long Beach, and I think we’d be the first municipality to have bike sharing on Long Island.”
Nick Laudy, the owner of Local Cycles, said he believes the program could potentially hurt his business. “It’s a good system they have but I’m more concerned about feeding my children, taking care of my kids and keeping everybody working,” Laudy said.
“I don’t think it’s going to impact you in the way you’re afraid it’s going to,” Sofield said.
Laudy said he was willing to work with Decobike in the hope of becoming involved in the program, whether through bike repairs or cross-promotions. “I had talked to the Decobike people today,” he said, “but there is no actual … security to keep all my kids working.”
“No one has given [Decobike] anything definite,” Theofan said, “so they can’t be going around making commitments to anybody until the city makes a commitment to them.”
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