Roosevelt Island Aims to Pioneer Bike-Sharing in NYC

RooseveltBikeShare.pngA rendering of a bike-sharing station at the Roosevelt Island F train station. Image: AccessRI/Hunter College Dept. of Urban Affairs and Planning.

As cities across the United States open new bike-sharing systems this year, New York City’s commitment to launching bike-share remains cloudy. On the semi-independent Roosevelt Island, however, momentum is building to launch a small bike-sharing system with or without the rest of New York.

Enthusiasm for bike-sharing was evident at a demo station set up by the company B-Cycle on the island yesterday afternoon. "We’ve had a bunch of people come by, use the bikes and test them out," said Erica Wilder of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, the island’s governing body. "Everyone’s been pretty favorable."

RIOC recorded reactions through surveys taken at the demo site. With only one station, yesterday’s demo was really showing off the value of bike rentals. Enthusiasm may have been even higher if Roosevelt Islanders could experience the convenience of real bike sharing, hopping on a bike at the F Train, say, and then dropping it off at a station near their apartment. 

That’s the ultimate vision for the program, said Wilder, who said that the goal is to install at least three stations on the two mile-long island.

RooseveltTravelTimes.pngBikes can make it down Roosevelt Island much faster than other travel options. Image: AccessRI/Hunter College.

About 12,500 people live on Roosevelt Island, according to a study of accessibility on the island by a team at Hunter College. If bike-sharing eventually makes it to the whole island, the Hunter team found that it could reshape the way residents and visitors get around.

It currently takes 22 minutes to walk from the Octagon, a landmark toward the northern end of the island, to the Roosevelt Island tram into Midtown. Using the Island’s Red Bus only saves a little bit of time; including the average wait, the same trip takes 15 minutes, or 18.5 minutes at night. In contrast, you could cover that distance in five minutes on a bike. According to the Hunter study, that sort of time savings could convince people to use transit instead of driving to leave the island.

In addition to the Hunter College team, an independent group of researchers from Columbia University [PDF] also recommended bike-sharing as well-suited for self-contained Roosevelt Island. The two studies played a large role in bringing the concept to the RIOC’s attention, said Wilder.

Wilder expects bike-sharing to be used for all kinds of trips, from commutes to errands and recreation. "We have a lot of bike riders on the island," she explained, noting that bike racks are consistently packed full.

Once the surveys gathered yesterday are compiled, said Wilder, "it’s just figuring out the funding aspect of it." She estimated that setting up the program would cost the RIOC around $3,500 per bike, although membership and rental fees would repay some of that cost. "At first we’ll take a hit, but in the end, it’ll pay for itself within a two-year, three-year period," she said.

For now, Roosevelt Island is moving toward bike-sharing on its own. "It would be great if we could be the pilot location for New York City," said Wilder, who added that integration into a citywide bike-sharing system would be the preferred model. "But if New York City doesn’t want to bring it," she shrugged, "folks can always come and this will be an attraction."

  • This would be great for the island!

    The real question is, will there still be a ridiculous ban on overnight bike parking on public bike racks?

  • The fundamental problem with a project like this is that the majority of commutes will be headed in one direction: In the mornings, from the top of the island to the tram/subway; in the evenings, from the tram/subway to the top of the island. These kinds of commutes are great for transit since it is most effective in getting lots of people from one place to another in one direction.

    On the other hand, bike share is most efficient when it can rely on people both taking bikes from each station and returning them.

    All that said, if the island created a very large number of docking stations adjacent to the tram and subway, the problem could be mitigated, though it would be difficult to find bikes at the top of the island during midday. Another longer-term solution would be building office buildings at the top of the island, which would equalize the commuting pattern.

    And Roosevelt Island, especially with the new Four Freedoms Park could be a great future tourist attraction.

    This issue has a lot in common with problems facing London’s Cycle Hire system.

  • Andrew

    Roosevelt Island already has long-term care facilities on either end, and the developers of the Octagon are looking to implement ferry service to 34th Street from a pier they constructed at the north end of the island. If ferry service ever commences, it could provide a strong counterbalance to the problem Yonah mentions.

  • Yonah, there are many ways to solve that problem.

    -Excess docking capacity. 100 bikes, 200 bike slots.
    This can be further enhanced by high capacity docking systems. Instead of the docking system shown (lots of horizontal space needed), major terminals can have higher density docking systems/dispensers. These have been designed, but never deployed in america.

    -Repositioning
    -Simply having more bikes available so all are never in use.

    Also, an island with such a fixed population has one major advantage: it’s very easy to figure out true demand since very few outsiders will use the system.

  • Perhaps the best way to solve the problem of too many riders going in the same direction would be to provide mass transit service. Three stations for the whole island seems a little sparse.

  • Bicyclist

    I discussed the potential for bikes clustering at the northern end of the Island with a representative from b-Cycle. He said that the company can track the location of the bikes and, when there is an imbalance with too many bikes at one location, e.g., Octagon, someone will drive an electric truck, load up some of the bikes, and transport them to another location.

    I think that the large number of people who ride the red bus from the tram and the subway to Rivercross/Island House for 25 cents is an indication that the program is doomed to fail. People who are willing to wait 10 minutes for a bus, when they can walk the distance in seven minutes, will not pay an annual membership fee plus rental time to ride a bike for five minutes.

    There was a long line of people waiting to board the red bus at the subway Tuesday night after the bike company left. As an experiment, I walked from the Duane Reade next to the subway to the card store in the center of Roosevelt Island. I arrived at the card store, purchased my item, and on my return walk I saw the red bus discharging passengers at Roosevelt Landings/Eastwood. In other words, anyone who lives in the WIRE buildings and was waiting to board the bus could have been home sooner had they walked (or ridden a bike.)

    As a bicyclist, I’d love to see more people biking on the Island. Moreover, it would be great if RIOC would have some signage at the Tram directing tourists to walk away from the Tram Plaza and explore the Island by bike. RIOC could have a nice revenue generator by hiring an employee at a bike stand where visitors register for a short-term membership and bike rental to take a loop around the Island and visit the parks at the southern and northern ends. This would be similar to the Governor’s Island bike rentals on Friday through Sunday.

    But I’m skeptical in the extreme that shared bicycles will succeed on Roosevelt Island.

  • Doug G.

    In Barcelona, where the Bicing program is very popular, bikes are also moved by truck every so often. I’d assume that the same could be done here. If there were too many bikes in one location and not enough in another, they could be moved.

  • Planner Man

    It would be nice if they also added some stations in Queens. This way you could bike to Roosevelt Island and take the subway from there.

  • Jay

    It would be a real shame if they adopted a system and then it wasn’t interoperable with the rest of NYC.

    Hopefully we’ll soon see a system in NYC that can expand to include not only the five boroughs, but also other parts of the region like Hoboken, Yonkers, etc.

  • This is a great example of a “last mile” connection that bike sharing would be a perfect fit for.

    However, closer observers of Roosevelt Island have known for years that the real way to unlock sustainable modes would be a direct connection to the Queensborough bridge for pedestrians or cyclists, via a ramp, staircase or elevator.

  • Exactly, for Roosevelt Island to become a cycling paradise, it has to (a) abandon the ridiculous and draconian overnight bicycle parking policy and (b) be directly accessible from Queensboro Bridge.

  • rene

    Forget about bike sharing on RI, I think those who actually would take the bike own also a bike. But there are a lot of things to do for bikers on the Island:

    – more spaces for bikes at the stations
    – a roof for the bike racks so the bikes won’t stay the whole day in the rain if its raining.
    – a nice bike line on the RI Bridge with a surface which doesn’t damage the tire
    – a direct access to the Qeensborough Bridge (what about a elevator in the chimney behind the tram station)
    – an outside mount on the new tram cabin to transport the bikes more comfortable

    And what about setting up schedule for the red bus? I think everybody on the Island would appreciate it and it really can’t be that difficult – point A and point B about a mile afar from each other, what a challenge…

    And by the way, the idea of transporting the bikes from one point to another by truck if there is an imbalance seems to me quite, well stupid.

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