BY BEN SCHNEIER
Voices from Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Scandinavia and Spain fill the air at the Citi Bike station on Fifth Avenue and 78th Street, as tourists remove and deposit bikes on their city sojourns. Meanwhile, local residents on the same section of sidewalk wait impatiently for their buses, lamenting the loss of the bench that the Citi Bike stand replaced.
Before the station was built in April, the bench sat directly across the paved sidewalk from the bus stop, which serves riders on the M1, M2, M3, and M4 lines. There are now no longer any benches between East 78th and East 79th Streets along Central Park.
A frequent bus rider, Daria Macosko, who has worked in the neighborhood for years and used to be an avid cyclist, expressed appreciation for Citi Bikes but animated distaste for the location of the 78th Street station.
“They can’t just take over park benches like this where people used to sit. It’s not right. What about the old people? And there are old people. In this neighborhood? Believe me, there are old people. What if they come with their walker and have to sit down to wait for the bus? It’s crazy,” she said. “I do work in this neighborhood, so I take the bus home, and there’s times when I’m tired, I want to sit down, and I can’t. I think they cater to the tourists, and they forgot about the local residents.”
Kim Martz, a young sightseer from Pennsylvania, was blissfully unaware of the bygone bench.
“I get that they might be upset and everything, but as tourists coming into the city, [Citi Bike] was the best, it was amazing,” she said. “Being able to ride in the city was really cool, and it brings tourists.”
Although other proposed Citi Bike stations were discussed at Community Board 8, the 78th Street station was not among those, said A. Scott Falk, co-chair of the board’s transportation committee.
“I’m not aware about this location having come before us at all,” he said. “This wasn’t part of the preliminary plan that we approved.”
Although there was no community involvement prior to building the station, according to the Department the Transportation, the department is “aware of and working with the Central Park Conservancy and Parks Department regarding replacing the bench,” a spokeswoman said.
A group of veterans operate the food and beverage carts dotting the neighborhood, and the owner of the carts, Willy Frett, is also a veteran of the 78th Street corner. After being away for a few months, he returned in early June to find the newly installed station.
“I was asking my guys, ‘What happened?’ They say, all of a sudden they went home, then came back and [the bikes] were here,” he said. “Elderly people come across here and have to wait for this bus. I’m a disabled vet. If I have to stand here and wait for a bus and there’s no bench here, it’s bad.”
Frett also said he felt confused by the city’s motivations for the station’s placement.
“[Displacing the bench] doesn’t make sense to me, but there’s nothing in this city that makes sense to me anymore,” he said. “On the West Side, [the bikes] are not against the benches, they’re over on the sidewalk, facing the street. Over here, they just dug up wherever they wanted to dig up.”
Cesar Vargas, who lives in New Jersey but often comes into the city solely to enjoy sitting on benches in Central Park, said he sees the station placement as give and take.
“The bikes are putting less cars on the road. Sometimes, when you get a benefit from something, you lose a benefit from other things,” he said. “It’s probably annoying for somebody who lives around here to see so many tourists, but this is New York. This is not the suburbs. Somebody doesn’t want to have pigeons, they’re in the wrong place, they’re not being flexible. We’re human beings, we have to share this space and stop whining so much.”
Although Citi Bikes may potentially reduce crowding on the bus, one regular bus rider, Peter Knoll, has been living nearby since 1968 and was upset to see the benches go.
“I’ve been on this block for 40 years, there used to be a bench here,” he said. “Many, many moons I used to use it, so I’m a little pissed off.”