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Citi Bike Arrives, Skids Amid Controversy

NEW YORK ( MainStreet)--The Citi Bike bicycle-share program will launch for annual members on Memorial Day, as the 6,000-bike, 330-station system brings New York City a new, affordable transportation option. The initiative is the combination, par excellence, of Main Street and Wall Street: it serves as a viable and cheap mobility alternative for city denizens (with a $95 annual membership amounting to 26 cents a day) and is supported without taxpayer subsidy by $41 million in sponsorship from Citi, $6.5 million from MasterCard and financing from the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group.

But as with any expansive urban program, there is debate over whether this initiative helps or harms the city.

On the positive side, Citi Bike is expected to create 170 jobs and generate $36 million in local economic activity annually, according to New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

"Citi Bike will offer New Yorkers an affordable way to get around today and contributes to the green-collar job base of tomorrow," said Dan Cantor, Executive Director of New York's Working Families Party. "It's a new sector based on New York's strength as a growing biking city, and today every job matters."

But after the Great Recession's Big Bank bailouts, this community benevolence initiative seems a white flag of civic engagement and support from the financial institutions: the idealistic verbiage Citi presents, though, could make one easily forget the almost $100 billion for which former chief executive Vikram Pandit tapped the Fed.

"New York City's new bike share program is consistent with what Citi strives for as a company - it is innovative, sustainable and is designed to help simplify people's lives," said Andrew Brent, a spokesperson for Citi. "For 200 years, Citi's mission has been to enable progress. Sponsoring the bike share program is a unique and meaningful way to reach consumers and help improve the quality of life in New York City."

Barclays Cycle Hire is London's version of this Wall Street-backed Main Street bike-share initiative, started in 2010 to great fanfare.

Yet not everyone is enthused with Citi Bike or viewing this as a civic boon. On Liberty Street in Manhattan's Financial District, Atlantic Cities reports, five food carts employing 15 people have been displaced because of a program bike rack at 140 Broadway. The Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center, an advocacy group that counts as members claims nearly 2,000 of the city's 20,000 mobile vendors, says this is no trivial matter and has grave economic consequences for those families and others around the city. Part of the urban experience in New York is the presence of these carts offering a wide variety of comestibles, and this is just a micro example of the encroachment the bike racks are having throughout the city.

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