NYC DOT Seeking 10,000-Bike System From Bike-Share Providers

New York City’s plans to implement a public bicycle system should accelerate rapidly with the official release today of a document asking potential providers to submit bids to operate the program. The request for proposals that bidders will be responding to has been posted in the city register, giving a sense of the scale of the bike-share system the city wants and how officials see it operating. They are thinking big.

The RFP indicates that the city is looking to start with a year-round system of 10,000 bicycles at about 600 stations in an area “south of 60th Street in Manhattan” that would “span more than one borough.” The scale would make it the most ambitious program in North America and comparable in density to world-class systems. The major reason given for launching at that scale is that bike-share planners expect such a system to turn a profit and be a net revenue generator for the city.

From the RFP:

NYCDOT and the Department of City Planning Preliminary analyses, conducted by NYCDOT and New York City Department of City Planning, indicate that a financially self-sustaining System would cover the CBD (south of 60th Street in Manhattan) and surrounding neighborhoods. NYCDOT estimates that a System of this size would require approximately 10,000 bicycles spread over approximately 600 stations.  NYCDOT is particularly interested in Systems that span more than one borough and make the best use of the City’s burgeoning bicycle network.

I will be posting more information from the RFP as I read through it. (You can download the whole thing here.) Bids are due February 16, 2011. Keep in mind that there is room for a lot of variation, and many things can happen between now and a projected launch date in the spring of 2012.

More details from the RFP:

  • Payment and memberships — The city wants a range of memberships: at least daily, weekly, and yearly. Members would be entitled to unlimited trips under 30 minutes, with a fee assessed for longer trips. Credit cards and student smart cards would be able to double as membership cards.
  • Station placement — The city wants solar-powered stations but seems to leave room for exceptions in sunlight-starved parts of the city. “Typical stations,” the RFP says, must not be hardwired to the electrical grid or require any excavation or street work. Stations would be located “every few blocks, allowing for easy pick-up and drop-off,” according the DOT press release. (Note: the press release includes this quote from Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steele: “A bike sharing program would provide New Yorkers with another transportation option while reducing traffic.  We are excited to see what creative ideas are submitted by the private sector through this RFP process.”)
  • Bicycles — The city is looking for bikes that incorporate GPS tracking and are equipped with bells and automatic lights. Tires would be at least 26 inches and the bikes will have at least three speeds.

The RFP includes a detailed timeline of implementation milestones for the winning bidder. The contractor’s initial placement plan for all stations, for instance, has to be submitted five months before the system launches. The winning bidder will also, together with DOT, “develop all materials needed for public meetings, forums, and events and present those materials when requested by NYCDOT.” Should be an interesting 16 months.

  • Mike

    Other details from the RFP:
    – They want daily, weekly, and annual memberships. They want credit/debit cards and smart cards (like university IDs) to be able to function as membership cards.
    – “Stations will be located outside in on-street, sidewalk and park locations. NYCDOT will provide considerable assistance and resources for station siting, after award of the proposed contract.”
    – Bikes should be equipped with automatic lights and bells. Nothing about helmets.
    – The stations shouldn’t have hard-wired electric grid connections. Does that mean solar? That could rule out a number of locations, especially in Midtown, that don’t get sunlight.

  • I think the number one “innovation” they could apply to this new system is to integrate the fee payment with the Metro Card, or whatever the RFID-based replacement will be called.

    Other than that, this is, as they say, the “nail in the coffin”!

  • vnm

    This is paradoxically going to make me less healthy. My favorite Philly cheesesteak place is located 11 blocks and four avenues away from my office. There really isn’t enough time to walk there and back on lunch hour. On rare occasions, I’ll take the subway, but it doesn’t help with the avenues. What this basically means is that, once this is up and running, I’m going to go there all the time.

  • Josef

    Thinking ahead of how a post-bike sharing city will work, we will need more Brooklyn Bridge for bikes. Added bike traffic on the current path won’t cut it.

  • @Mike, they seem to anticipate the shadow problem by saying that “typical stations” should not have to be hardwired. Leaves some room for exceptions.

  • MRN

    30 minutes free is typical of the amount of ‘free’ riding one gets with a membership; however, I’d like this number to be lower. As with nearly everything else in New York, from parking spaces to movie theaters to subway cars, the services are oversubscribed because of low prices. I suspect the same with Bikeshare, especially in the near-but-not-in Manhattan neighborhoods, where they’ll be trouble both finding a bike at your origin and finding a station to dock your bike at your destination.

  • a cyclist

    this will be awesome when implemented. but i imagine some heartbreak over the space lost from parking or sidewalk to bikes. sadly we don’t have the space like Paris

  • Anon

    Awesome, but will it also unleash the final Armageddon of the bike-haters versus the advocates and DOT? Imagine the headlines —
    “DOT to flood Manhattan with 10,000 bikes”
    “You think there are too many bikes now? Just wait!”
    “City clears way for biking Euro-trash invasion.”

    This should be fun.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Like the bike lanes and bike commuting itself, this is one of those things that may turn out to be much more important than I would have thought years ago.

    Like the bike lanes, it’s a form of outdoor advertising for bicycle travel. It reduces the cost and committment for people to try something they otherwise might not.

    I think the key is suburban commuter rail terminals. City residents are already on the subway (or a bike), and can get to their destinations that way.

    No room?

    At Grand Central, how about the Park Avenue viaduct?

    Thousands of bikes could be located there, if it were repurposed. And I’ve often thought that Park Avenue as a bicycle boulevard (with motor vehicles, but not motor vehicle through traffic) would be the best route through the East Side.

    Vanderbilt Ave could be an alternate.

    At Penn Station, how about the area between 400 7th Avenue and Madison Square Garden? Cabs can pick people up and drop them off on the side streets.

    The Farley Post Office (Moynihan Station) could be an alternate.

  • this will be awesome when implemented. but i imagine some heartbreak over the space lost from parking or sidewalk to bikes. sadly we don’t have the space like Paris

    Where do you think they got the space?

  • latron

    I put my money on Montreal’s Bixi bike system. It seems to fit all the requirements.

  • Yup, there’s gonna be plenty of heated debate before this gets implemented. But after JSK got overruled (whether temporarily or not) on the East Side Bikeway after announcing she would deliver it, You’ve got to believe this RFP wouldn’t be issued unless all of the foreseeable obstacles internal to city government had already addressed.

    That just leaves the bike haters, and we can handle them.

  • I hope New York can get this right. Here’s my list of bike-sharing needs:

    1. Heavy Coverage Density: I think this great article on Transport Politic blog says it best: http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/07/22/ensuring-the-efficient-workings-of-a-bike-sharing-system/

    The stations should be EVERYWHERE! When I was in Montreal, I found the stations to be close enough so that when I had a problem returning a bike to a station (the bike wouldn’t lock into the station’s socket), the next station was only 3 blocks away. That’s the kind of minimum coverage NYC needs to make this successful.

    2. Great Bike Lanes: Maybe I was in the wrong neighborhoods, but biking in Paris just seemed too scary. Montreal’s protected bike lanes made it seem easier and safer, and that is something NYC is already building.

    3. Understandable interpretive signage: Montreal’s bike stations, with their easy to read maps that showed bike lanes and nearby stations, made it obvious how it would work. And all the hotels and tourist centers had the bike maps so I could study it when figuring out my itinerary. I expect there will be an app for this too.

    4. Smart customer service: When I had the problem returning my bike in Montreal, the 800 number was clearly posted at the station. The rep picked up quickly, could speak French and English fluently, was able to diagnose my problem, and then knew the map of Montreal well enough to direct me to a bike station 3 blocks away.

    The NYC reps should have access to Google Maps with StreetView. Imagine trying to find the bike station at Lincoln Center. The Center is huge, and the station could be anywhere on the campus. The reps should be able to pinpoint its location within 50 feet.

    5. Well-stocked stations: In Montreal, we often saw cars towing bikes from overstocked stations to understocked ones. This balancing of bikes throughout the system has got to be more difficult in NYC, since the city’s calendar is so crazy. The system needs to adjust for parades, walk-a-thons, seasonal tourist attractions, and probably even social networking meetups. (How cool a job would that be?!?)

  • Ed

    I’m thrilled! This is really amazing and yes I’m with those that think this may turn the tide more in favor of a cycling city. I was in Marseille and took a few rides on their bike share – It was great for going to the seaside. The only bummer was my American credit card wouldn’t work it so I had a friend check them out for me. Traffic is pretty aggressive, on par with New York I’d say so it wasn’t much of a shocker for me but the system seemed to work well.
    Bravo NYC!

  • fdr

    @Bicycles Only – your analysis of JSK addressing internal obstacles in city government is noted in the Times article: “The introduction of a bike-share program is a long-awaited victory for Janette Sadik-Khan…” Which is elaborated on later: “The city first floated the idea of a bike-sharing program in 2008, but some officials were said to have expressed reservations about giving over city streets and sidewalks to a program that would require a sizable footprint.”

  • Jim

    This is the biggest news for NYC cycling since Janette’s appointment. Folks, as advocates we all need to step up our game. Talk to your bike-riding friends, join T.A. or another advocacy group — GET INVOLVED! This is going to be a fight and we need YOU to win it.

  • J

    I’m not sure this is going to be as big a fight as people seem to think. We’re talking about 1-2 parking spaces every 1000 feet, which is about 4-5 blocks. I doubt that businesses are going to get too up in arms about the loss of parking when bike sharing so clearly brings in new customers. The stations could also be on side streets, taking away 1-2 residential parking spaces.

    Arguments against the presence of bikes in general are hard to make in any real, tangible manner. It’s like complaining that there are too many pedestrians on the sidewalks or too many cars on the streets. What are you gonna do? Even the group opposed to PPW was very careful to frame their argument as being for “better” bike lanes, not against bikes in general.

    I’m super hopeful that this goes smoothly, but certainly braced for strong opposition.

  • I think they will have power issues in Manhattan with very limited hours of sun. I am interested to see what solutions firms come up with.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Arguments against the presence of bikes in general are hard to make in any real, tangible manner.”

    They could always hire Lipsky.

    He’ll go around to White neighborhoods and tell people that shared bikes would bring minorities looking to rob and steal.

    He’ll go around to Black and Latino neighborhoods and claim that this is something that will take money away from them to benefit White People in Manhattan.

    He’ll tell the seniors that the riders will run them over, and JSK wants to run people like them out of town. They’re doing this and cutting free meals for seniors!

    He’ll show up in Soho and say the streets will be filled with low class people from the suburbs riding in from New Jersey.

    You have no idea what low-lifes those flies buzzing around our government are like.

  • Joe R.

    Three speed? I realize the necessity to go with a geared rear hub instead of a derailleur system for simplicity and maintenance purposes, but we do have 7, 8, even 14-speed rear hubs available. OK, the 14-speed Rohloff is too pricey, but a 7 or 8 speed Shimano Nexus is reasonable. NYC has enough hills that 3 speeds would be too restricting. Well, the requirements say “at least 3 speeds”, so hopefully some sanity will prevail and the bikes will indeed have 7 or 8 speeds.

    Next, airless tires should be a requirement. Flat tires are the biggest maintenance issue with bike share programs. In NYC with its debris filled streets flats are a constant issue. Many cities are indeed adopting airless tires for their bike share programs because of this. Hint-pick a wheel size ( ETRTO 559 size or 26? ) which allows use of the far better high-rebound elastomer airless tires. Those give a decent ride and still have low rolling resistance. As a bonus, they last several times longer than air tires. I put airless tires on my bike over 4000 miles ago and haven’t looked back.

  • MRN

    @Joe R. NYC does not have a single real hill. If you need to go faster than 3rd gear allows, you’re not making the types of trips these bikes are designed for.

  • Joe R.

    MRN, you obviously haven’t ridden in the outer boroughs where 3% or higher grades are fairly common, and I’ve already seen occasionally 7%+ grades. Granted, it is true that Manhattan is relatively flat. Still, it’s nice to have both lower and higher gears than a three-speed would allow to accomodate all riding styles. An elderly person might really need a very low gear to get up even a mild hill, for example. And higher gears would be needed if we ever expanded the bike share program to the outer boroughs. I’m just thinking in terms of the future here. Sure, three speeds are fine for going a couple of miles in Manhattan, but we can do so much more than that with human-powered transportation.

  • Ditto MRN, the only thing that resembles a hill in the city are the bridges. 3 Speeds would be fine.

    And I really don’t think they will use airless tires no matter how appealing the lack of maintenance may seem. With big tires and proper inflation flats should not be a major issue

  • Joe R.

    “And I really don’t think they will use airless tires no matter how appealing the lack of maintenance may seem. With big tires and proper inflation flats should not be a major issue”

    So they’re going to pay people just to keep the tires properly inflated? Seems like an unnecessary waste on money to me. Any bike tire slowly leaks air, and needs to be topped off occasionally, even if it doesn’t go flat. Make no mistake, no matter how thick the tires, some will go flat. Other cities have already been through this. Even Hutchinson is coming out with an airless tire system: http://www.hutchinsontires.com/en/a_la_une.php?id=221 Pneumatic bike tires are so 20th century.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I agree with MRN. Keep it simple — less complication, less maintenance. I’d say one-speed if it weren’t for the bridges.

  • And rubber tires are so 19th Century.

  • Joe R.

    Today’s airless tires aren’t like the ones from the 19th century, gray fisher. It was actually all the negative comments online about airless tires which prevented me from trying them out sooner. Now that I’ve been using them, I wish I hadn’t waited. It’s nice going out knowing my ride won’t be cut short by yet another flat.

  • Ok Joe maybe I shouldn’t jump to conclusions, what tires do you use?

  • Joe R.

    I’m using Nu-teck Daytona Time Trials ( customized for 175 psi for minimal rolling resistance ). I tried to post a product link, but the software won’t let me. Just do a google search and you should be able to find them.

    Here is my review:

    http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/showpost.php?p=2723572&postcount=40

    I’ve since put another 3800 miles on the tires. They appear to have been broken in to the point that they roll as well as pneumatics ( i.e. my average speeds are now the same as I used to do with air tires ). Ride has improved slightly also. The tires have barely worn. I think I will get over 10,000 miles out of them easily ( compared to 3000-4000 I usually get from airless tires ). Note that the high-rebound elastomer tires ( which unfortunately aren’t currently available for my narrow 700c wheels ) ride even better than the ones I’m using.

    Felix Wong also tried these tires, and came away with a generally positive review on his blog:

    http://felixwong.com/2006/12/air-free-tires/

    Thanks for keeping an open mind. My only reason here for recommending airless tires for the bike share program is to keep costs down. I want the program to succeed, and it won’t if half the rental bikes have flats ( this being NYC, I’m sure some jokesters would let the air out of the tires ).

  • J

    The Bixis up here in Montreal have thick air inflated tires and rarely get flats. Even when they do, the system is set up so there’s always a station nearby where you can stow the bike, and simply press a button to indicate it needs repair. Then, you simply wait the 5 minute window between 30 minute free periods and grab a new bike. You can even walk to the next station in that time. In any case, it’s not a huge deal even when flats do happen.

  • To add to the tire debate, I spent a weekend in Paris and used Velib as my exclusive mode of transportation, and my process for selecting a bike a given station was to walk down the line and check the tire pressure on a handful of bikes, and select the best one based on that metric. At any given station, I would say that 25% of the tires were under-inflated to the point of unrideability, 50% were inflated well enough, but still suboptimal, and only 25% of the tires were inflated to the point that I would be satisfied if it were my own bike.

    In other words, tire inflation sticks out as the one negative aspect of my experience with a bike share system.

  • BicyclesOnly

    I had not known that the Planning Department projected tourist use to dwarf resident/commuter use in 2009 when I made my earlier comment boosting marketing to tourists. I guess it makes sense that most residents who viewed cycling as a reasonable transpo mode would simply buy their own, and rely on bikeshare only for one-way and unplanned trips. (And there might be a desire to avoid looking like a tourist.)

    Commuters, on the other hand, have a surprisingly low projected level of use. I wonder what assumptions underlie that projection. Assumed disfavor for biking among people who commute in by NJT, Metro North, LIRR?

  • Joe R.

    “Commuters, on the other hand, have a surprisingly low projected level of use. I wonder what assumptions underlie that projection. Assumed disfavor for biking among people who commute in by NJT, Metro North, LIRR?”

    I have a couple of theories on this. First, many of the commuters who use commuter railroads will be carrying briefcases, and are dressed in business attire. The idea of getting sweaty on a bike probably wouldn’t appeal to them. And they might have nowhere to stow their briefcase. It’s probably easier for these people to just walk or take the subway a few stops than to rent a bike. Also, since we’re talking mostly suburbanites here, there would undoubtedly be the fear factor of riding in the city.

    Second, let’s look those traveling entirely within NYC. For me personally, the only way bike share would have any appeal would be if I’m going from one part of Manhattan to another, but it’s longer than I can comfortable walk ( let’s say about 2 to 3 miles ). Here I might consider bike share, but only if it’s free for the first 30 minutes. If I have to pay something close to what the subway costs, I’ll just take the subway ( or walk ). On the other hand, if bike share is free for the first 30 minutes with many drop-off points, then I could see myself using bike share every time I need to go more than maybe a mile in Manhattan. I can walk more than a mile easily, but biking it saves time.

    Third, for regular daily commuting to work, most cyclists will use their own bike, even if bike share is free. Most people are simply going to feel more comfortable riding their own set of wheels since bike share bicycles inevitably represent a compromise.

    Basically then this leaves tourists as the biggest potential bike share users. Since we have many tourists from European countries with existing bike cultures, this should be an easy sell.

  • Michael Steiner

    @Joe, you ride with 175psi?!! Either you must be extremely heavy, ride indoor track or you ride way too overinflated gaining little in riding resistance and loosing much in comfort (and some handling/traction). The former of course would explain why you think 3 speeds are not enough in NYC 😉 I’ve yet to find a hill in NYC i couldn’t climb in my 3-speed Brompton, not necessarily a climbers dream. Admittedly, Staten Island has some hills i have done on a road bike on which i might surrender on the Brompton (Oakland Terrace comes in mind …) but none of them is anywhere near where you would expect frequent use of bike share bikes.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Thought about another issue with this — bike fit. Could the seat height be adjustable without having the seat be removable?

    I think commuters are a huge market. Remember that part of this is generational. What if a younger person starts out using the service in the city, and then moves to the suburbs? And sometimes, two subway rides are required, with two waits and two sets of stairs.

  • Joe R.

    No, Mike, that 175 psi is “simulated psi feel” in airless tire parlance. Actually, the feel is similar to air tires @ 120 psi, which is still admittedly harsh but I’m used to it. I’ve ridden MTBs with soft tires. First off, I didn’t like the lack of road feel. Second, I hated the increase in tire drag even more.

    As far as weight, I’m around 190 pounds. It’s not that I couldn’t climb the worst hills here in Queens on a 3-speed, but rather that it’s more comfortable to do so when I have more speeds. Same with riding on the level. Gearing is more about comfort than anything else. Yes, riding can be done with 3 gears or even one gear, but I like to keep my cadence at 90-100 RPM regardless of speed or terrain. This makes 25 mile rides bearable. Right now I’m using a 10-speed 11-26 cluster in back, and a 30-42-52 triple in front. In truth, I never use the 30-tooth chainring. It’s just there as an insurance policy. 42-26 is adequate even for the 4.5% grade on one of my regular routes ( I climb this at about 12 – 13 mph @ ~100 RPM cadence ). I could probably do that climb in low on a 3-speed. I think low on most 3-speeds is a similar ratio. Where I definitely would find 3 speeds way too limiting is on the level. Most 3 speeds have a top gear which is only good for maybe 15 – 17 mph, maybe 20 mph if you’re pushing it. I love my high-speed cruising too much to be limited by gearing instead of power. What’s the point of working so hard going uphill if you can’t fly going downhill? 😉

    For most bike share users though, I doubt any of this matters. I’m just thinking if you can make a bike share bicycle which appeals to even people like myself, then anyone will use it. In truth, the cost difference between a 7-speed hub and a 3-speed hub is minimal compared to all the other necessary anti-vandalism features.

  • David

    “Third, for regular daily commuting to work, most cyclists will use their own bike, even if bike share is free. Most people are simply going to feel more comfortable riding their own set of wheels since bike share bicycles inevitably represent a compromise.”

    For many people i speak to about commuting by bike, one of the largest barriers to entry is bike storage. They worry about bikes getting stolen and what to do if the weather changes during the day. The idea that you could bike only one way and not worry about theft could be huge (and the bikes in buildings law isn’t making that huge a difference). There is also the issue of bike storage in the apartment – in space-starved New York City apartments, the idea that people don’t have to store their bikes in their small studios can be really important.

  • Larry Littlefield

    More to the point about commuters using their own bikes, not if you are arriving by commuter rail! You can ride a bike to your suburban station, but unless it is a folding bike you leave it there.

    Bikeshare allows a bike-rail-bike commute. I’d bet that market is in the thousands.

  • BicyclesOnly

    The RFP is suggesting a smaller scope for Phase I than that in the Department of Planning study from spring ’09–the northern limit now under discussion is now 60th Street, as opposed to 86th. Understanding that targeting high-density, high-use areas will be key to the viability of Phase I, I’m still a bit sorry to see this pullback because it leaves untapped the market of parents who mass transit or cab their kids to schools on the Upper East and Upper West Sides and then travel onto work solo. The size of this potential market of one-way cyclists is significant, to judge from the number of parents seen riding their kid’s scooters to work in Midtown.

    Often it’s the case that I’m chatting with another parent after dropping off one or the other of my kids, but then there’s a parting of the ways because I’m riding and the other has to hail a cab or run off to the subway. I’d love the option to encourage another parent, who may be inexperienced in city riding, to simply hop on a bikeshare bike and let me escort them back downtown, on a route I can make sure is not too challenging, as we finish our conversation. Not to mention how much I’d like the option of having my son be able to use a bikeshare bike one way to school in the morning, on days when he has an aftershool activity in midtown, so I don’t have to stop ghost ride his bike home from his school those days. More generally, in designing their responses RFP respondents should be thinking about existing patterns in one-way trips and opportunities for current bike commuters with their own bikes to encourage bikeshare patronage.

    The school-to-work crowd is not the only potential bikeshare market on the UES and UWS. There are many tourist destinations on the UES and UWS, such as the Museum of Natural History and on Museum Mile, that would supply a ready market of tourist business, as well as high-density residential development with plenty of straight-up commuters who would use the system.

    The RFP seems to allow respondents latitude with respect to the exact contours of the Phase I area, so maybe there will be some proposals that reach north of 60th Street.

  • Shemp

    My understanding from people using the Boris Bikes in London is that the 3 gears are Low, Lower and Lower Still.

  • lic lovr

    couple things. i calculated (roughly) how far these stations may be apart on average. (rough square footage south of 60th st divided by 600) and found the distance to be 1/10 of a mi! this would be amazingly effective paired with the high number of bikes per station.

    i wonder if they’ll be taking parking spaces away as they did in Paris. I always thought that to be a great symbol of bikes solving congestion on our streetss. bike stations that are no bigger than 2 parking spots that have 20 bikes will send a strong message.

    regarding the concern that commuters within nyc won’t use the bike share as opposed to getting their own bike: even with the bikes in buildings law it can be difficult or awkward to fight for this in a tight office space. i mean, in this job market who’s going to create a stink over bringing their bike in the office when there really isn’t anywhere to store it? i think a number of subway commuters will try it out and love the feeling of freedom and excercise they can experience before arriving to work.

  • Adriana

    In Montreal the stations are very very close together – imho it is part of what makes it so easy. Not only do get very close to your destination, but if the rack is empty/full the next one is just around the corner or a block and a bit up.

  • teresa montano1111

    Creative writing . For what it’s worth , others require a CA CR-181 , my business partner discovered a fillable document here https://goo.gl/UMKCBP.

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