Bike-Share Coming to NYC? DOT Says It Will Test the Waters

velib_station.jpgAfter dropping hints that ‘Free Bike Fridays’ on Governors Island could serve as a prelude to something bigger, DOT today announced its intention to "explore the concept of bike share and investigate the feasibility of instituting such a program in New York City." The agency has issued a Request for Expressions of Interest [PDF] to determine what a bike-share program in New York might look like, and how it would function.

"New York is a world-class city for biking, and
we are looking to build a world-class bike network," said DOT
Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in a statement released today
. If the agency likes what it receives by the September 15 deadline, the next step may be to issue a Request for Proposals. The RFEI itself does not guarantee that DOT will award a contract.

Readers may recall that EDC issued the same type of request to gauge the economic and technical feasibility of a congestion pricing system last fall. After receiving 30 proposals, the agency concluded that the "large number and
quality of responses clearly indicates that the market place believes
that the implementation of the City’s congestion pricing plan is
feasible."

If DOT opts to create a robust program, like Vélib in Paris, cycling modeshare stands to gain considerably. "A Paris-style bike-share would put tens of thousands more cyclists in the city’s bike network," said Wiley Norvell of Transportation Alternatives. "No other city in the country is better suited to this novel form of public transportation than New York." 

In the press release, DOT outlined what the agency will be looking for as it judges the submissions:

The RFEI notes that the most successful existing Bike Sharing Programs minimize the cost to bike share users and provide a sufficiently extensive network of stations to accommodate a wide range of potential short trips in the network’s area of focus.  However the agency remains open to receiving any new ideas and financing structures that would meet New York City’s framework.

Respondents to the RFEI will be asked to provide detailed information on what they estimate the size of New York City’s bike share market to be, as well as information on the scope of a feasible bike share program including ideas on station site selection, equipment, fee structures, technology and all related costs for both implementation and upkeep.

Photo of Vélib station: Eric Green/Flickr

  • Andy B from Jersey

    So I wonder if Bike-Share could really help alleviate the bicycle parking problem talked about last week on Streetsblog. If your building won’t supply parking or allow you to take your bike into the building this could be one solution.

    I know however this isn’t gonna’ help those coming in some distance from the outer boroughs since such a system would likely be confined to Central and Lower Manhattan at least in the beginning. It would at least be a start and could provide an option for those who want to ride the short distance to their Manhattan places of employment but can’t do so currently due to parking problems.

  • squeakywheel

    This is great news. I was just traveling in Spain and was very impressed with their setup. One thing crosses my mind, though. Is there any realistic way to provide helmet shares? Unlikely that many likely users will carry their own around.

  • *Please* don’t tell me a NYC bike share will require Albany’s approval (crossing fingers).

  • Urbanis, it seems that helmet shares would be completely unlikely. I also don’t think they should be mandatory or even required for the rider to carry them from location to location since it might discourage riding. What I mean is creating biking areas where chances of collision with cars is not likely so that helmets aren’t really necessary is far more important. This is what they do in Copenhagen and Amsterdam and that’s one reason I think ridership is so high.

    Also, this is some good / interesting news. I’m sure Streetblog will keep us updated.

  • Not to be the creaky wheel, but we have so much to do before we can seriously even think about bike share program.

    A. Bike network
    B. Front bike racks on buses
    C. All streets have some sort of signage/marking (even if is share the road)
    D. Parking
    E. Bike stations through the 5 boroughs

  • gecko

    Cycle tracks on Manhattan’s avenues and major cross streets will confirm the seriousness of this historic announcement to spur accelerating growth of an extraordinary network cementing the future of this town.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Yeah shishi but Paris didn’t have many of those things either but its Velib program has been a MAJOR boost for bicycle advocacy there. Like in Paris, this could encourage non-cyclists to give it a try and realize how easy riding a bike for transportation really is. Once the masses “get it” all the rest would be easy!

    My major concern for Bike-Share however is cyclists’ behavior on the road. I know many readers of this blog ride within the confines of the law (for the most part) and will only break them when there are obvious and major safety benefits. However giving a bike to someone who is totally clueless to how they should operate it in traffic I foresee as being the biggest obstacle to this program’s success.

    I guess we will just have to see what happens in DC and go from there.

  • Hi Fritz, I’m not the one advocating for helmet shares. 🙂

  • Hi Shishi, I love your focus on the big picture. It’s essential. However, I would say points (b), (d), and (e) are not relevant to a bike share program. The beautiful thing about a bike share in my mind is that it removes (almost) all entry barriers for people who are interested in cycling but hesitant to get started: you don’t need to spend a lot of money or commit to ownership or wear special clothes; you just pay your money and hop on. It really has the potential to put a lot more cyclists on the road, which is a great thing: (a) increased visibility and safety, (b) more allies, who are going to start demanding the things we’re all asking for such as an improved bike network, bus racks, secure parking, etc.

  • d

    Yeah, I think it’s a chicken and egg sort of argument. Does more biking infrastructure lead to more biking or does more biking lead to more infrastructure? In this case, if it gets more bikes on the road, and gets publicity for cycling as a cheap and easy means of getting around the city, that’s a good thing. Also, it will give new meaning to the term “share the road.”

  • Oops, sorry Urbanis

    shishi: I don’t really agree with you, here’s why.

    A. Bike network — this is the main problem… but, I think having more riders will help… I’m not sure. Paris had protected bike lanes most areas were much wider than in NYC so riding on the side as more possible. I also never saw double or triple parking. Definitely not as scary for bikers.
    B. Front bike racks on buses — the nice thing about Paris like programs is that you can check the bike back into a station and then get on the bus… no need to take it across town unless you’re riding it.
    C. All streets have some sort of signage/marking (even if is share the road) — This is legitimate but, I don’t remember seeing any real bike-specific signage in Paris. But, if you can get around walking/driving with the signage we have, why not biking?
    D. Parking — these are the stations built into the program
    E. Bike stations through the 5 boroughs — well, this is the program itself 🙂

    So, if they do Paris style–which means you pick it up from locking stations all around and it’s automated. And they have an exponential price/hour system to discourage keeping bikes out all day (in Paris it is definitely a commuter / get around system and not a “take a leisurely ride” system) then my arguments work. But, if it’s a “rent for all day for one price” then you will need to deal with parking, etc.

  • gecko

    Can’t believe the projection of doubling cycling in the city by 2030 is realistic.

    DOT is probably low-balling to keep from shaking up the transportation establishment too much.

    Seems it could be that by the end of this year.

    During the transit strike there were a half-million on bikes overnight.

  • squeakywheel

    Urbanis: I don’t think the question of helmets is trivial (nor am I saying they should be required, though they should certainly be encouraged). Riding in Manhattan and many other parts of the city is pretty scary, and especially when you get a bunch of inexperienced cyclists on bikes (good point, Andy B) some people are going to end up on the pavement, with some very ugly consequences. (My vague memory is that according to the last DOT report on bike fatalities about 90% of them involve people not wearing helmets.) Given that most of the people this will attract would otherwise be walking or taking the bus/subway, seems reasonable to wonder about how to make it as safe as possible — though obviously figuring out ways to minimize the odds that bikers will get hit in the first place (including by each other) is the biggest part of the safety equation.

  • Wearing or not wearing helmets is not trivial, but it’s not something that a bike share program has to be concerned with either. You can take helmets in stores, offices, and even restaurants. There is not the same need for “helmet sharing” that there is for bike sharing, and furthermore there is not the same practicality. The French bike share bikes are heavy, durable, units that can be effectively machine locked. Shared helmets, on the other hand, would be a perennial cost sink as they would be dropped, stolen, or simply worn out. Plus, shared helmets are disgusting. Lice is a real concern.

    Bring Your Own Helmet. A map could direct users to the nearest retailer, and bike shops could even be allowed to set up kiosks to sell them nearby. (Bike shops, otherwise, don’t have much to like about bike sharing.) But this is NOT something we need our program to be bogged down with; it would only make true the “it can’t work here” pessimism that many in the city are so sadly eager to embrace.

  • Hi, Squeaky, please re-read my comments above. I haven’t stated any position here about helmets whatsoever. All I said was that I wasn’t the commenter who suggested a helmet share–you were. You’re putting words in my mouth.

    For the record, I ride with a helmet on all the time. I certainly don’t consider them trivial.

  • I spent last weekend with a friend who lives in Paris who shared some insights on Velib. She said the main problems are (1) lowering “entry barriers” to inexperienced and unsafe cyclists increases their prevalence on the road and (2) usage patterns result in some distribution points often found empty while others are overfull.

    When/if Velib comes to NYC, the existing bicycling community in NYC can do a lot to help deal with problem #1, by making the extra effort to inform novices, in a civil way, of safe and courteous cycling practices and other community mores. Problem #2 will depend upon DoT.

  • Having a bike share would revolutionize my bike commuting in NYC. I could use my bike to get everywhere.

    Right now I ride my folder from Inwood to Soho and stash it in my office during the day. If I want to run errands or go to a restaurant or show after work, though, I walk or take the subway.

    So, what’s the problem? Parking. If I want to run errands or go to a museum, concert, or play, then I have to think about locking my bike on the street and I’m very reluctant to do that.

    Using a shared bike for those little jaunts around town would completely eliminate my security concerns.

    A bike share program would likely not only get more people cycling who aren’t currently doing it, but get people who do cycle to do so more often. Why? Convenience and ease of mind.

  • #16: BicyclesOnly, perhaps a sign posted at each station with a list of safe and courteous cycling practices would be an easy, polite, and effective way to do so.

  • As for the location of the distribution centers, in order to ensure initial success, the most likely uses of the program should be targeted first. In my view the most likely uses of a bike share in NYC is for residents underserved by mass transit (relatively speaking).

    Recognizing that the roll-out is likely to be in Manhattan (even though it is the most transit-rich borough), the most transit-poor areas are the enire East Side, and the West Side west of the IRT line. Allocate 1 bikeshare distribution center at (1) the center of every X square block region in those areas that is more than a 10 minute walk from a subway, (2) at each express subway stop, and (3) at other locations in the midtown and downtown CBDs as feasible. Redistribute the bikes at noon and 8 pm each day to whatever degree is necessary to support demonstrated usage patterns.

  • Good idea Urbanis. A lot of what I would post is found in T.A.’s booklet “Cycle NYC”.

  • #19 BicyclesOnly: when you suggest in point (2) that there be distribution center at every express subway station, do you mean in:

    –all of Manhattan?
    –Manhattan south of 59th St?
    –the underserved East Side/West Side neighborhoods south of 59th St you referred to previously?

  • squeakywheel

    A guy I met last month in Barcelona said that initially they had a problem with bicycles accumulating on the ocean side of the city– everyone wanted to ride down but few people wanted to ride up, toward the mountains (even though grade is quite mild most of the time). I think they solved this by having trucks redistribute bikes as necessary.

    Urbanis: Glad you wear a helmet, and apologies if I misconstrued the tone of your comment. My point is just that this is something worth thinking about, not a reason for pessimism or defeatism–and I do really hope bike-share establishes itself here. (In Barcelona, I was the only person I saw wearing a helmet. I think it’s just not part of the culture there.)

  • d

    I’m sure some enterprising businessperson could set up a temporary shop or stand near the bike sharing stations and sell inexpensive helmets to those who didn’t bring their own.

  • Urbanis (#21), I meant only the express subway stations serving the residential areas where the bikeshare facilities are being installed. It would be better still to situate bikeshare facilities at local subway stations in those residential areas as well, but that might be more than the DoT could manage at the introductory phase of the program.

  • Gwin

    BicyclesOnly: I tried the Velibs in April and had the exact same thoughts as your friend in Paris. There were a TON of inexperienced cyclists on the road (riding indecisively and erratically), and of course none were wearing helmets… I still thought the program was great, but have concerns about how it would translate to NYC because of the number of “fair weather bikers” it would put on the street.

    Don’t get me wrong – everyone should get out there and give it a shot – but learning the basic rules of the road is essential. During the transit strike, I was stunned at some of the folks who were out there who clearly didn’t know what they were doing, but were still doing basic no-no’s like wearing headphones while riding — not to mention riding the wrong way up the streets and all those other annoying things that we see every day, only in far greater numbers.

  • A little public education and enforcement (i.e., ticketing) would go a long way towards curbing reckless behaviors like:
    (1) riding while having both ears plugged in to iPod or other device
    (2) riding the wrong way down a one-way street
    (3) riding without lights after sundown
    (4) riding on sidewalks

  • Gwin

    Urbanis: let’s not forget riding the wrong way up a bike lane (against traffic), which is also illegal and very dangerous for more law-abiding cyclists.

  • New York and its expert cyclists are in no position to lecture the French on city bicycling, or any transportation issues for that matter. After decades of impassioned safety campaigns, we’re the ones wearing helmets and they’re the ones with a safe and effective cycling infrastructure. Hooray for us?

    I would rather be fair weather than hard core, personally, and we’ve had a lot of beautiful weather even in New York lately.

  • Gwin

    DocBarnett: then I guess you haven’t seen a horrific head injury which was the direct result of riding helmetless, huh?

    Well, fine. Regardless, I stand by my first-hand opinion of French cyclists, as well as my praise of the Velibs as a concept. However, but I don’t think anyone can say they have a “safe” infrastructure until the French riders recognize the importance of protecting one’s brains.

  • While many of you made excellent points, I think it is still putting the wagon before the horse. We need these changes so that it is safe for new riders on the streets who will use this program. If you are not use to riding in the NYC environment and use the bike share program, most likely you won’t use it again unless the city makes efforts to improve the infrastructure and environment through out the city for cyclists.

    I believe that we need to built the network to get the riders, not vice versa.

  • “DocBarnett: then I guess you haven’t seen a horrific head injury which was the direct result of riding helmetless, huh?”

    No, and, that’s not how I make decisions.

  • I also just returned from Barcelona and was so jealous of their Bicing program. Sadly it was not available to use for tourists-I think it’s a monthly or annual membership. I think the number one deterrent for using bikes for quick trips or commutes is having to leave bike on street. I don’t think NY is any more dangerous than other cities where cars drive faster and less well!

    Also I heard about how it was kind of environmentally counterproductive that they have to use trucks to distribute the bikes around the city. (He said the CEOs ride downhill but they don’t like to ride up!) I made a suggestion that he said he’d pass on to the mayor (!) of giving kids the job of riding and redistributing. They get a small fee for taking a bike from bike heavy place to a less busy place, to be credited on their cards. The whole system is computerized, there’s no reason the kiosk couldn’t give the kid a few options of empty stations!

    It could actually be worked into the metrix for all riders, costs a bit more for heavy station to light station and a bit less for reverse, like rush hour fees on trains.

    When I was a kid we used to get a credit for returning shopping carts at the safeway, which is what made me think of this! In any case I think it could be more cost effective than trucks doing it.

  • That’s a great idea, Shannon! A hill rebate could be calculated after returning the bike, making some trips free or even profitable for the rider. (I would also point out that, although a truckload of bikes taken uphill does work against the overall environmental benefits, it doesn’t wipe them out. But if you can improve the program with a rebate, why not?)

    Okay the real reason I’m back on this page is to link to an extremely cute illustrated weblog by a parisienne that rides bicycles. She may not be decisive, but she’s awesome nonetheless. This post from her recent trip to SF is a good place to start:
    http://www.bikeinthecity.com/index.php/2008/07/23/119-technique-de-motivation

  • Thanks for that link, Doc! It’s very cute, but it should be pointed out that Léah is a fictional character created by a female web strategist (who’s cute but not quite as much of a gonzesse as Léah) and a male artist. The interview is very enlightening if you understand French. Also, T-shirts for that jolie cycliste in your life.

  • Woah, way to dig deeper. Someone (Patricia I guess) did actually go to SF:
    http://www.bikeinthecity.com/index.php/2008/07/14/115-i-bike-the-bridge-of-san-francisco

    I guess that some of the scenes drawn have happened, and some of them are created to emphasize a point. I’ll try to give the interview a listen later; I’m sure she gets into that.

  • Klinkus1982

    That’s a great idea ! Until now i was using http://www.cyclecentralpark.com to rent a bike and i was very happy !

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