For the last few years, Paola and I have been proud annual members of CitiBike, New York’s bike share program. It’s completely transformed the way we get around the city. It’s the quickest way to get crosstown, period, and it’s less per month than the cost of a single tax ($169/year or $14/mo+tax, as of May 2019).
Here’s a bit of history: Way back in 2012-2013, I was in Washington, DC and the local Capital Bikeshare was arguably the most successful bike share program in the US. I was a member and would use it occasionally, mostly for times when I didn’t ride my bike to work but wanted to get somewhere quickly.
New York launched big in, with 6,000 bikes and hundreds of docks in Manhattan and Brooklyn in April 2013. This move instantly made it the largest system in the US (Here’s a bit of history). I was following the news and was a bit skeptical that New York would be able to launch a program as good as the one in DC. In a sense, I was right, at least at first.
When I tried the system later that year, I found broken and unresponsive docks and I checked out a bike that had a loose steering column, i.e. the handlebars were ready to come off. Sure, the system was big, but it seemed to be facing some serious growing pains. This wasn’t the kind of system that I’d trust as an annual subscriber because it just wasn’t reliable.
In October 2014, the month after Paola and I moved to New York from DC, CitiBike came under new ownership and hired Jay Walder, former MTA executive, as its CEO. The company turned a corner almost immediately. The backlog of broken bikes and docks was slowly being addressed (incidentally, this is called asset management, and it’s what the MTA has been dealing with as well).
We gave CitiBike another try the following year and were kicking ourselves that we didn’t try it earlier. It turned 20-minute walks into 10-minute bike rides and it turned getting to work crosstown from a slog on crowded sidewalks into a breeze, comparatively, on crowded roads. Even better, it took bike riding from a leisure activity that required carrying bikes up and down three flights of stairs to just another thing, like coffee and a muffin, you can pick up on the street on your way to work.
As any urbanist will tell you, we dedicate too much space to moving cars instead of moving people efficiently. We now use a sliver of that underutilized road space, effectively the half-lane between the parked cars and the standstill traffic. Protected north-south bike lanes have been slowly introduced on 1st/2nd, 5th/6th, B’way, and 7th/8th/9th Avenues. As part of the L train shutdown along 14th Street, the city DOT has put in protected east-west lanes on 12th and 13th Streets.
All of which is to say, biking in New York is not bad, it can be a pleasant experience, and it’s getting better year over year. Especially for short trips in good weather, it’s both quick and cheap, much better than watching a taxi meter run while stuck in traffic.
Thanks to everyone at NYC DOT and CitiBike for keeping things running! I suppose the best way to show thanks for everything is to use it, so I’ll see you all out there.