Judge: Plaza Hotel Can't Evict Citi Bike Share Rack

The Plaza hotel can't boot a bicycle-sharing station out of a space across the street from its entrance, a judge ruled Tuesday, rejecting the luxury landmark's claim that the electric-blue bikes are a traffic-clogging eyesore.

Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Cynthia Kern said city transportation officials did an adequate review before installing a Citi Bike rack on Fifth Avenue's landmarked Grand Army Plaza, where the famous Pulitzer Fountain splashes a stone's throw from the hotel made famous in fictional settings ranging from the "Eloise" books to Neil Simon's play "Plaza Suite" to "Home Alone 2: Lost In New York."

"It does not significantly affect the scale, visual prominence or visual context of these landmarks," Kern wrote, noting that the bike rack isn't as tall as many cars on the street and that there are bus stations, kiosks and other street structures nearby.

City lawyers had no immediate comment. Plaza lawyer Steven Sladkus said he was reviewing the decision.

Launched in May 2013, the popular, short-hop bike rental program has become a part of the streetscape in parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, to the delight of some and the lament of others.

The Plaza said the 147-foot-long Citi Bike station is an advertising-laden intrusion on Grand Army Plaza, where, according to literati lore, Zelda Fitzgerald once took a Jazz Age dip in the fountain.

"We have, here, two landmarks. ... This is not right for that place," another Plaza lawyer, Stephen Orel, said at a hearing last week. The hotel also argued that the bike rack, which is in a former traffic lane, was causing limousine backups in front of the hotel and condominium during big events.

The city said its review was proper, there was plenty of room left for traffic and the location was more than appropriate for a Citi Bike rack.

"This is not only a good location; it's an ideal location. ... It's centrally located, with numerous attractions nearby," city attorney Nicholas Ciappetta said at last week's hearing. Central Park is across the street, and the Museum of Modern Art and the swank shops of Fifth Avenue are just blocks away.

Citi Bike riders took an average of more than 36,000 trips a day during the summer and fall through the 6,000-bicycle, 330-station system. More than 99,000 people have bought annual passes.

But City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said last month that the program has faced "significant financial and operational issues," including failed credit card transactions and problems getting bikes to where riders are.

Portland, Oregon-based Alta Bike Share, which runs Citi Bike through a subsidiary, calls the program a success.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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