They rose from the earth overnight, some said, muscling the cars from their curbside perches: more than 300 hulking monuments to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s surrender to the whims of the New York City cyclist.
Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
But even as the bike-sharing stations remain a source of dismay to some residents, they have served to illustrate a well-worn maxim of urban planning: If you build something, New Yorkers will find a way to lean on it.
Joining the ranks of fire hydrants, pay-phone booths and signposts before them, the bike kiosks have increasingly assumed an expanded role.
They provide temporary seating outside restaurants, when the bar is full.
They are high enough for a man to press his foot against to tie his shoe without bending over, and low enough for a dog to swathe almost the entire surface with urine.
They are, occasionally, exercise equipment, with or without the bikes. Two men were recently spotted using empty station docks in Midtown as dip bars for upper body toning. Others have mounted the bikes without renting them, and pedaled in place — backward — for a quick bit of cardiovascular work.
“I’ve seen tables eat something, then get up and use it, then sit back down,” said Lillith Fallon, a manager at Café Gitane in SoHo, where a station on Mott Street sits a few feet from the restaurant’s outdoor chairs. “People are crazy about calories.”
The docks may appear uninviting when the bikes are away. They are hard and gray, about two and a half feet tall and 6 to 10 inches wide, angled slightly to facilitate leaning but still as stiff and unforgiving as an ironing board.
And yet the kiosks have proved particularly useful to those working in dense areas of Manhattan, supplying an outdoor break station in neighborhoods where more agreeable public seating is often taken.
“I’m resting my bursitis,” said Terry Shaw, a subway station cleaner, doubling over toward her knees as she rested at a station near 33rd Street and Sixth Avenue.
Ron House, 55, a security officer for a building on Broadway, said he preferred the docks to the public tables and chairs assembled nearby. “It’s a little higher,” he said, as the top of a bike dock disappeared beneath his backside. “If I sit in the chair, I have trouble getting up.”
With the addition of any shared good, though, boundaries will be tested. In front of Grand Central Terminal last week, a man used a bike kiosk as a changing room, claiming part of the station to spread out his gym bag, peel off a sweat-stained T-shirt, apply deodorant and throw on a fresh top.
And while few New Yorkers are brazen enough to litter on the hoods of parked cars, the bike stations installed in their stead have attracted all manner of urban waste. At a single station in Brooklyn last week, near Fulton Street and Flatbush Avenue, the menu included rotting strawberries, pale fries, an empty can of an alcoholic energy drink and a crushed pack of cigarettes — all scattered atop unoccupied spaces.
Despite some unpleasantness — including the dirt-specked water that tends to pool in the corridors between curbs and stations, even well after a downpour — the Bloomberg administration says the hubs have served another unintended purpose: as kindlers of romance.
“I have seen people getting picked up at the Citi Bike stations,” Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner, said in an interview.
She offered a brief, breathy sample of overheard flirtations — “Where are you going to? Oh, this is how you pull out the bike” — before stopping herself.
“I work for a data-driven mayor,” she said. “I should definitely put this in the benefit category.”
In recent days, during stops at two dozen stations, there was little evidence of love but ample opportunity to meet weary tourists, unaccustomed to the rigors of New York City travel.
At a station on Washington Place on Wednesday, Kevin Lee, 20, wedged himself between a New York University building and a bike dock, wrapping his legs around the empty slot. “I’m just waiting for my parents to figure out the route,” said Mr. Lee, whose family was visiting from near Vancouver, British Columbia. “I don’t like to walk.”
Bike sharing’s most enterprising users seem to reside in Chinatown, or at least play there, beside a park near Canal and Forsyth Streets. A station at that location, where the locked bikes face one another in neat rows, has become a gathering spot for children without bikes of their own. They ride in place, as many as 10 at a time, ringing the bells until their fingers tire. Or an adult approaches.
“Police!” one boy shouted on Friday as an officer got out of a car nearby, paying them no attention. The children dispersed into the park, as if they feared being booked for illicit pedaling.
When they returned a few minutes later, some typed arbitrary codes into the docks’ keypads, hoping to unlock the bikes.
“I did it 10 times,” said Steven Jiang, an 8-year-old brandishing a water gun, which he fired occasionally at neighboring bikes. “But they all failed.”
A few seats away, a race had broken out between Ivan Chen, 9, and Simon Shen, 11, consuming the attention of the crowd.
“There are no winners,” the younger boy said, his legs fading.
“I’m going faster than you,” Simon replied, still churning furiously.
“Your bike,” Ivan shot back, “is not moving.”
The group went quiet. The boy, even Simon allowed, did have a point.