Neither snow nor rain will keep New Yorkers from swift completion of their appointed holiday shopping rounds this year -- but will they be able to get around via Citibike? As the Big Apple gets a taste of its first major frost this season, the question looms larger than ever.
“Many people have begun asking us, ‘What’s going to happen to the bikes during the winter?’” Citibike operator NYC Bike Share wrote in a blog post on Tuesday. “The answer is: They’ll be available except in cases of extreme weather. A chilly 10-minute bike ride still beats the heck out of a frigid 30-minute walk, right?”
According to the New York City Department of Transportation, in the event of heavy snow, NYC will relocate the blue bikes from the streets to the sidewalks, and get workers to shovel out snow packed stations. NYC may also affix little flags to bike racks on the street to make them more visible in the snow.
“If conditions make biking unsafe, the stations can be temporarily locked down, but service will be restored as quickly as possible once conditions permit,” NYC DOT spokesman Seth Solomon said in a statement, according to Nino.
Citibike says it will notify members via email, Twitter, Facebook and SMS if the system needs to be shut down wholly or partially.
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New York ism’t the only metropolis that plans on keeping bike share going through the winter months. Chicago’s Divvy bikes (operated by the same parent company, Portland, Ore.-based Alta Bicycle Share, which runs Citibike as well as programs in Washington, D.C.., Boston and other cities) will also keep rolling through the winter. In Boston, stations will be closed for the winter, but riders can still use bikes just across the Charles River in Cambridge during the snowy months.
At a community board meeting in the Lower East Side in July, some local business owners, while supportive of the program of the program in general, fretted about the possibility that snow would pile up around the Citibank racks. Harry Napoli, president of New York City’s sanitation workers’ union, is also concerned about the racks obstructing snow removal.
“You won't even know they're there in ice and snow,” Napoli told Nino. “They're going to be covered and when this plow has to come down the street, there is definitely a possibility of damage.”
Napoli said that his crews Haydn’t gotten any special instructions about skirting the bike racks with their plows.
A DOT official told Nino the agency did "not believe that [docking stations] pose any different a challenge than the millions of cars, planters, scaffolds, construction sites, barriers, benches and other routine parts of the streetscape already do.”
NYC may take heart from Toronto, where bikeshare program Bixi has been operating year-round for the last two years. Bixi’s bikes, like Citibikes, are built to withstand all seasons, with thick tires that can grip the road, however rough it gets. The company also sends workers out to perform regular maintenance to replace chains rusted by road salt and water.
But even with a winter action plan in place, the real hit that Citibike might suffer in winter is a drop in ridership. Bixi Toronto reported some financial difficulties back in April, citing among other things a “seasonal cash flow shortage.” So it’s no surprise that NYCBS is exhorting New Yorkers to bundle up and brave the cold.
Snow “does not mark the end of biking season,” NYCBS wrote in a November blog post. “If you keep riding (even only two or three times a week), the slight temperature changes from day to day won’t phase you much. Before you know it, you’ll be pedaling in an 11 degree windchill dreaming of balmy 40 degree days.”