A year behind schedule and nearly a decade after the trend swept through most other global megacities, the NYC bike-share program will finally roll into Manhattan and Brooklyn “sometime this month.”
The Big Apple, known for its Frogger-like street crossings and perilous yellow cabs, has lagged behind the rest of the world in providing both its residents and visitors with a mass cycling scheme. Now, all of that is about to change with the long-awaited “Citi Bike” program.
Brooklyn-based NYC Bike Share LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alta Bicycle Share in Portland, Ore., will launch this May with 6,000 three-gear bikes at 330 stations across Manhattan and some of Brooklyn’s more hipster-minded neighborhoods, with plans to expand into Queens and elsewhere in the near future with 10,000 bikes across 600 stations.
Annual membership will put commuters back $95, while seven-day passes will go for $25 and 24-hour passes $9.95. Citi Bike, which claims thousands have already signed up for memberships, will offer special $5 one-day deals for the first few weeks after launch.
Organizers say the bikes are meant for leisure trips, short jaunts or connecting individuals to other public transport already in place. They will also link public transit to developing areas like waterfronts that don't have great subway coverage, all while allowing New Yorkers access to bikes without worrying about bike parking, bike storage or theft.
The program fits in nicely with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s healthy lifestyle policies and is expected to both decrease the number of drivers on the road and turn a profit in the process, which will be split evenly by the city and the operator.
NYC Bike Share has used Goldman Sachs financing to purchase the equipment, stations and other capital requirements.
“This important partnership between the private sector and the Department of Transportation represents the largest privately financed bike-share program in the world,” Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, said. “We are proud to support this small business which will employ 170 people and encourage safe and healthy bike-ridership in neighborhoods from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Lower Manhattan.”
Though the bike-share program entails no taxpayer funding (corporate sponsor Citibank put $41million into the project for the branded bikes) and is expected to generate $36 million in local economic activity annually, notoriously argumentative New Yorkers remain divided on the scheme.
Last week, about 300 residents of the typically bohemian and eco-minded West Village packed into a public meeting to make their opposition to the program loud and clear. The residents -- who have distributed condoms with notes reading: “We’ve been screwed. Don’t let this happen to you” -- complained that the bikes and their stations are eyesores, that they block access to fire trucks and will become dog urinals.
Indeed their gripes, which have been echoed by others in such neighborhoods as Battery Park City and Fort Greene, range from a loss of parking spaces and a loss of property value to a general unease about what they see as a bombardment of advertising from corporate America (the bikes are all emblazoned with Citibank’s logo and coloring).
“I don’t care what they do in Paris,” one speaker vented at the recent meeting, according to the Guardian. “I live in New York City.”
Others were outraged at the program’s 260-pound weight limit, which some groups have called both offensive and discriminatory. However, similar initiatives in Boston and London, run by the same contractor, have the same weight restrictions.
Moreover, polls show that more than 70 percent of New Yorkers support the scheme -- and that they believe such a program is long overdue.
Some 534 cities across the world already enjoy similar bike-sharing services, and while the Citi Bike program is the largest in North America, it pales in comparison to some of its global counterparts. Hangzhou, China, for example, has an estimated 69,500 bikes across 3,000 docking stations, while Paris’ famous Velib has 28,000 bikes at 1,800 stations.
So why did it take New York so long to catch up? Beyond the fact that the launch date was delayed twice (most recently due to Superstorm Sandy), Mayor Bloomberg indicated last year that the initial deterrent was safety concerns. That’s why his administration added 300 miles of new bike lanes in the past five years and 200 more miles of greenways and routes in parks. In fact, long stretches of waterfront both in Manhattan and Brooklyn have been completely redesigned with bikes in mind.
“I realize the debate over bike lanes has sometimes been hot and heavy, but the reality is more and more New Yorkers are biking, and the more bike lanes we put in, the fewer deaths and serious injuries we have on our streets,” he said in his State of the City address.
Bloomberg has argued that bike travel has zero emissions, will reduce automotive traffic and puts less wear and tear on roads and bridges. Avid New York City bike riders agree.
“With more bikes on the road, drivers will become more accustomed to seeing bikers on the city’s streets,” Margit Christenson, who demoed the upcoming program, said. “In the last few years, there have been a lot of really good changes to make safer bike lanes. As the number of lanes increases, maybe more money will go toward looking at the safety of bikers.”
Christenson said she hoped the program would help people realize that biking isn't as daunting or dangerous as they think it is, and that it’s a practical way to get around the city.