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New Yorkers get heavy on bike share weight limit

By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City's upcoming public bike share program, Citibike, has already irked parking space seekers, food cart vendors and locals who resent seeing a Citibank sponsor logo on nearly every block.

Now, heavier New Yorkers can be added to the list.

According to the program's user contract, riders "must not exceed the maximum weight limit" of 260 pounds (120 kg) if they wish to sign up for the short-term bike rentals that will soon be available on city streets.

"These technical specs are established by the equipment manufacturer and are the same as other bike share cities around the world," said Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Transportation, which oversees the program that is funded by Citibank.

The bike program, slated to launch later this Spring, will make several thousand bicycles available throughout the city for cyclists who sign up for yearly, weekly, or daily passes. The bikes can be picked up and dropped off at different docking stations during the course of a day and are meant to provide an alternative to traveling by subway, bus, or car.

The city has no way of enforcing the weight limit, and Solomonow said that he and his department "expect people will use the bikes safely."

New York City residents Amanda Wotton, 26, and Anthony Laporta, 31, said the policy is not fair.

"The city should provide different types of bikes so everyone can participate," said Laporta, a computer technician with a slender build who was enjoying a salad lunch in the park outside the New York Public Library. "Otherwise, someone's definitely going to feel left out."

Wotton, an average-size woman who works as a graphic designer, observed that 260 pounds "isn't even that much -- there are probably big muscular guys and NFL players that would be barred from cycling."

Groups advocating for the rights of obese and overweight people also criticized Citibike's terms of service. James Zervios, a spokesman for the Obesity Action Coalition, called the policy discriminatory.

"If the city's offering bikes they should have bikes that accommodate all shapes and sizes," Zervios said. "This is another example of a certain population being pulled out and put under a spotlight for no reason."

Policies that single out heavy people have become more common in recent years, Zervios noted.

Last month, Samoa Air began determining plane ticket prices based on a passenger's weight and the length of their trip, and several years ago, some ambulance crews raised their regular fees when transporting very heavy people.

The Citibike program has gained a number of detractors in the city. Irate drivers insist precious parking spaces should not be taken over by bike racks. Owners of a housing cooperative, or co-ops, in downtown Manhattan have claimed the stations are dangerous to people walking out of their building.

Preservationists in historic neighborhoods like Fort Greene in Brooklyn say the Citibank-branded installations are an eyesore. And food cart vendors have protested against a station they say displaced their business.

(Reporting by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Marguerita Choy)

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