Bikes as Transit: New Study Envisions Possibilities for NYC


The Department of City Planning released a study this weekend about the possibilities for bike-share in New York City, and if you can spare the time to look it over, it’s a rewarding read. The best news: The city is thinking about bike-share on a scale that would successfully integrate cycling into the public transit system. The report recommends a phased implementation, starting with a 10,000-bike system and expanding to 49,000 bikes at stations in four boroughs.

The DCP study follows DOT’s release last summer of a Request for Expressions of Interest to gauge the potential of a public bike system. City officials characterized the new report as a research document akin to a feasibility study, not an indication that bike-share implementation is imminent.

With New York’s streets crammed to capacity at peak hours and subways and buses handling historically high levels of ridership, now is an opportune moment for bike-share, which can be implemented quickly and at modest expense. A network of public bike stations as dense as Paris’s Vélib would make existing transit options more attractive and relieve crowding on packed trains and buses. Consider these examples from DCP’s report:

Over 14,000 northwest Brooklyn
residents (Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Fort Greene, etc) work in northwest Queens (Long Island
City, Astoria, Sunnyside). While the distance between these areas is short, insufficient transit
means that 42% of these commuters drive to work each day. In addition, for some households,
the introduction of a bike-share program may help them avoid or postpone the purchase of a car,
as trips to transit or other short trips could then be made by public bicycle.

A subway commuter living on the
Upper East Side and working in lower Manhattan or Midtown currently walks to the Lexington
Avenue subway (4/5/6), one of the most congested subway lines in the city. With a bike-share
program in place, that commuter might bicycle to an express stop or choose to bypass the 4/5/6
all together and bicycle to 63rd or 59th Streets where transfers are available for the F and N/R/W
trains. Similarly a bike-share system would allow a Morrisania or Mott Haven resident working
at Columbia-Presbyterian, City College or Columbia University, to bicycle to the D train instead of
taking a bus or the crowded 2, 5 or 6 train into Manhattan and turning around to go back uptown
into work.

The report proposes a phased roll-out, starting where demand would be most intense and expanding to cover all of Manhattan and significant portions of the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. The map comes after the jump.


As many as half a million New Yorkers would use the fully built-out network, the report estimates. I highly recommend browsing the whole document: It’s full of stats, case studies of existing bike-share systems, and scenarios for implementation here in New York. With cities like London, Montreal, and Minneapolis slated to launch bike-share systems this year or next, it makes a convincing case for New York to join their ranks.

  • Dont hold your breath on 10,000 bikes. Phase one will be 500-1,000 in Manhattan. Would the city like more? Sure. But unless they pony up some of the cost (they wont) then it isnt happening.

    The ad companies cannot afford such a large rollout in this economy, and the alternatives (Public Bike System, local companies) will also be limited by the huge upfront capital costs.

  • Wow, a bike-share program in NYC would really be fabulous and I want it NOW. I could instantly give up riding transit in most situations because I would no longer have to worry about finding parking and having my bike stolen.

  • anonymous

    Bring Your Own Helmet?

  • Since when does the D train stop anywhere near New York-Presbyterian Hospital or Columbia University? I took it on Sunday and it only stopped at St. Nicholas and 145th and St Nick and 125th, quite a hike from those two destinations.

    Regardless, that extended bike-share system would make getting hither and yon in NYC a lot more flexible.

  • rlb

    Concerning that NW Brooklyn to NW Queens commute, if somebody was going to bike once a bike share was in place, wouldn’t they just buy a bike now and begin bike commuting? Is the notion that making use of publicly provided bikes is considerably easier than bike ownership?

  • JSD

    I understand the reasons for Staten Island being left out. Most people that live here don’t work here. Low density on the South, West, East Shores. Very residential in those parts.

    But damn does it suck being the last kid picked every last time. Hopefully the North Shore (specifically the St. George, Tompkinsville, Stapleton areas) will continue their promising resurgence. If all works out in those parts, a bike share expansion to the island could be possible in the future.

    Crossing my fingers.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Re: Staten Island.

    Staten Islanders could be a beneficiary if there were lots of public bicycles on the Manhattan side at the ferry. They could ride their own bicycle to the ferry, lock it there, and pick up a public bicycle in Manhattan. Net cost to commute: not much.

  • JSD

    I believe the report mentioned a share station possibly positioned at the Whitehall Terminal. So that would make sense for interested Staten Islanders.

  • Lee Watkins

    Best not to focus on the total number of bikes but rather the density of the stations and continous geographic distribution. Successful bike-share systems have utilize a density of 1 station every 200-400 meters, depending on block length, and varied the number of bikes at each station depending on the density of population and walkable destinations. Success of the bike share system seems to drop off sharply with stations spaced out at less than 350-400 meters. You have to create an environment of overwhelming convenience to really make it status-quo for the general public – enough to change the public’s priorities.

  • Lee Watkins

    I should add that it is vital to include a visitor-pass option that can be easily upgraded to a full subscription pass. Without this it is difficult to make the system successful with people who are not already bicycle enthusiasts. Most of the general public starts out on a trial basis on some kind of impulse curiosity, and when they try it they usually like it.

  • New York is a great place to bike. Its flat, compact, and many New Yorkers live within five miles of their work. The bike lane network has expanded by 200 miles over the last three years and we currently have a DOT commissioner and Mayor that are progressive and working toward remaking our streets. A successful bike-share program could help New York make that next leap, and take biking from the fringe to the mainstream. With a successful bike share program this city could acheive a mode split similar to Copenhagen, where over 35% of trips to work are made by bike. For more reasons to bike in New York visit

  • RLB – I think that sharing is considerably easier than owning. Bike-shares offer a bunch of convenience benefits. Among them: much lower cost of entry, no need for bike-storage at home, easier one-way trips, no more risk of bike-theft (to the individual anyway), and biking should be considerably safer as there will be a ton more bikes on the road, raising driver awareness etc.

    This is good news – but I am also curious to see how adequate funding can be secured in the near future. Federal assistance seems necessary to me to cover the initial costs.

  • As far as paying for this thing, the model recommended would have the city pay for the initial capital costs with the selected vendor operating under a service contract. Operating costs would be covered by user fees and when the system expands, advertising revenue under a franchise contract. It seems they recommend paying for the upfront capital costs because the fully private, outdoor advertising model would require that a franchise contract be granted by city council, which would take much longer. Basically if we want this thing anytime soon, the city needs to pay for the initial installation.

  • Here’s the big takeaway I’m getting (page 86, emphasis added):

    As scenario sizes expand to cover larger, less trafficked portions of the city (Queens, the Bronx and southern Brooklyn), other funding sources, such as advertising, would become necessary in order to maintain reasonable membership rates. In the scenarios that focus exclusively on New York’s most densely populated, highly trafficked areas (Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn), the $60/year pricing produces net revenues after accounting for operations costs.

    This, along with the map on the following page, show that the operating costs can be paid with membership and fees if it’s confined to the area in blue on the above map plus Manhattan to 86th Street, Greenpoint and Crown Heights. If it’s extended beyond that area, it begins to lose money, requiring operating subsidies.

    I think we should be very careful about subsidizing bike-sharing in these outer areas, making sure that the political will is there to sustain such subsidies indefinitely. The last thing we want is people complaining about “a program that doesn’t pay for itself.” Advertising franchise revenue is not available, because the city has already traded it to Cemusa for the construction of the street furniture.

    The car dependence of southern Brooklyn, Queens and the eastern Bronx is not sustainable. Eventually, the market for bike sharing will emerge there. All we have to do is wait.

  • gecko

    Not too long ago Bloomberg saw the Paris Velib system and said it probably wasn’t viable here because New York City streets were too unsafe; so, this report comes a long way and should be highly applauded.

    But, it ignores the likes of recumbent tricycle hybrid human-electric capabilities suitable for pretty much everyone and the necessary safety initiatives; and, the small and large technology and business incubator initiatives that could potentially make this town the new Detroit and window into a remarkable future.

  • Look for a proposal to come from Worksman Cycles (NYC’s very own bike manufacturer – since 1898) and Halo Coatings (the world’s first retro reflective powder coating) to produce the world’s safest and most sustainable bike share program.

    Halo and Worksman are teaming up to make the world’s sturdiest and safest bikes – bikes that can be seen in their entirety from 1,500 feet away at night – in a factory in Queens that is powered by solar panels. Our mottos:

    “Think global. Act local” “Be safe. Be seen.”

    “Bikes that look like ghost riders at night result in fewer ghosts by day.”

  • gecko

    #15 3rd Gen NYer, Nice!

  • But the current problem with Paris’ bike-sharing program is that people are vandalizing the bikes, or even stealing them…of course we know how NYCers aren’t that bad….

  • gecko

    The $26 million necessary for the proposed startup of the public bicycle system is less than three tenths of one percent of annual $9 billion MTA cash flows, yet it seems that MTA’s biggest concern is to prevent bikes from being attached to the steel bars on the sides subway station entrances.

    Twenty-six million dollars buys 16 subway cars capable of carrying 3,055 people maximum at any given time. Alternatively, it buys 10,000 bikes capable of carrying more than three times the people and, in these difficult financial times makes much better economic sense.

  • gecko

    #14 gecko,

    Since mass transit normally tries to accommodate those people that have trouble using their systems such as the special seats at the front of buses, elevators in subway stations, handicapped parking spaces, attended wheelchairs in Amtrak and airport stations, bike systems should also have these accommodations.

    Recumbent hybrid human-electric tricycles with the necessary safety improvements will provide a huge leap in making universal accessibility possible at the same time creating extremely convenient, practical, comfortable systems. More advanced systems will start to include mechanical (rail and guide way systems), electro-mechanical (to include use of radio frequency IDs), and increasingly intelligent automation with manual overrides.

  • #16, 3rd Gen NYer: It’s a great thing to make cyclists and other vulnerable road users more visible, but I feel it is mainly the responsibility of automobile makers, drivers and traffic engineers/street designers: There are too many cars, they move WAY too fast, they are way too “hard” (the industry has been resisting implementing active soft road user protection, e.g. external air bags, for years) and most of the mixed-use interaction and mobility conduits are prioritized for them and their inherent bully-engineering (and thus are roads, and not streets).

    Bicycles ridden at night already have requirements for lights and reflectors. I wish more people had these things and kept them in order. A little friendly reinforcement couldn’t hurt (e.g a fix-it ticket doubles as a discount coupon for legal illumination equipment.) Pedestrians have no requirements, and I hope it stays that way.

    I suggest that “hyper-illuminating” a bike (or cyclist) can create the following problems:

    * During the time a ride is happening – I will call this the acute situation – a hyper-illuminated cyclist blinds drivers to others in close proximity who are normally illuminated (per regulations). In other words, normally-illuminated cyclists are caught in a relative shadow or absence of light;

    * In general – the chronic scenario – if some bikes are “super-reflective” than people will start to think it’s a good idea and start passing laws to make it mandatory;

    * The hyper-illumination you describe is indeed only super-reflectivity: It does nothing for pedestrian-cyclist interactions;

    * Related to that, it could make a cyclist overestimate their amount of visibility to pedestrians, and in a manner similar to what has been said about helmets, could make a cyclist more reckless, canceling out any safety benefits.

    Perhaps I didn’t see it on your website, but it seems like including built-in lights (with hub generators,etc.)as standard equipment on your non-industrial models could actually increase safety more than a new paint job. Powder-coating is great for durability, but I also wonder if the chemistry required for a reflective variant also creates toxicity issues during manufacturing which you would rather not deal with.

    Finally, beyond including lights, it would be great if the funds you are using for developing these glowing wonders could instead be given to Bikes Belong and other groups lobbying for carfree streets, slower streets and more street-like roads.

  • 3rd Gen NYer

    #17 – You have some interesting concerns. Here’s what we know:

    a. Retro reflectivity is not blinding. It is not hyper-illumination. Retro reflectivity is the efficient return of light straight back to the light source. Retro reflectivity allows drivers (sitting behind headlights) to see stop signs, dotted lines in the road and the tape on the bottom of trucks – none of which is blinding. Retro reflectivity has long been proven to enhance safety on the streets – and not cause accidents.

    b. Powder Coatings are the most environmentally friendly coatings that exist – far more eco friendly than the liquid coatings that are currently applied to most bicycles. Powder coating creates no waste – whatever powder doesn’t stick to a target object is reclaimed and sprayed onto the next object – and powder coatings emit zero voc’s (volatile organic content). The greater durability of powder coatings enhances their cradle to cradle superiority over liquid coatings. Most bikes are made in China where they use liquid coatings – because they are slightly cheaper (in the short run) and the environmental regulations are more lax.

    c. Halo Coatings were not developed exclusively for the bike industry. Halo’s primary target markets are highway and rail safety. Imagine guardrails that appear like ribbons of light at night and trains and train crossings that are fully side visible – and you get the picture.

    d. Halo Retro reflective Coatings will be enhancing the visibility and safety of pedestrians and pets and is working with numerous consumer products companies to introduce a new and cost effective level of night visibility – including zipper, buckle, backpack, helmet, leash and stroller manufacturers.

    e. Halo Coatings will not prevent or promote vehicular congestion or reckless driving by motorists or cyclists.

    And finally, thanks – I think – for assuming we’re some large corporation with massive funds. We’re actually a few guys with a breakthrough technology for safety that we developed in the proverbial American garage and have the had good fortune to team up with some great companies ( like Worksman )to bring our technology to market.

  • # 22 3rd Gen NYer,

    To your response:

    a. (and c.) Perhaps “blinding” was too strong a term, and I meant it in the relative sense. I say “hyper-illumination” to mean something beyond what is required by law what others have. In my view the techniques you describe will make the cyclist who is not “retro-equipped” relatively less visible, enough to create a tangible threat to them. In other words – in fact, perhaps to paraphrase you – you want cyclists to stand out, and this will in relation to everything else out there. You are saying it makes them safer and I am saying that it makes other less safe for the same reason.

    The static applications are fine, and how these are implemented is decided by authorities and I imagine is or will become a legal standard. On the other hand with bikes it is a personal choice and will only be on some of them.

    b. To repeat what I wrote off this list to email addresses I found on the Halo and Worksman sites, I am sorry I unfairly criticized the coating process itself. Hopefully other readers recognize like I do that powder coatings don’t just protect the frame but also the environment, relative to the other method you describe.

    d. You want to do the same thing with all these other users! You also don’t address the pedestrians vs. cyclists thing.

    e. Sure, we both are speculating… or perhaps I am not sure what you saying with this item.

    f. Do you want the police to give out free bike helmets? 🙂

  • gecko

    It’s not clear why a public bicycle system has to pay for itself directly since people normally do not have to pay to walk down the sidewalk and it’s likely that extensive implementation will create lots of indirect revenue streams with the greatly improved quality of life; and, automobile and conventional public transit have enormous subsidies with direct and indirect costs way beyond those required for broad bicycle implementation on similar scales.

    If a broadly implemented public bicycle system improves New York City real estate values by one percent, the equivalent dollar value improvement of the New York City one-trillion dollar real estate business is a whopping 10 billion dollars.

  • gecko

    Globally and locally, the structural violence of transportation is absolutely horrific even with a cursory inspection of the statistics; mainly because of automobiles. It’s just that we are used to it as, we are used to doing things the difficult way.

    Rapid deployment of public bicycle systems is the first real step in mitigating many of the stultifying and often terrible disparities of current transportation systems.

  • gecko

    Perspective: Virtually identical to daily global mortality statistics for road accidents — largely acknowledged to be severely underreported in the developing world — former mayor Giuliani rightly described the single 911 event as horrific.

  • UkiPiper

    RE: Staten Island #6 & #7

    These Bikes would help the Downtown SI greatly, especially with the tourist industry. I don’t think that any SIer would argue for the whole boro to be included; 2/3s of the boro is too suburban. And when you consider that NYC does not allow islander to ride bikes over our only bridge connection to the city, a bike share program would be under utilized. But on the North Shore especially Downtown it would work great.

    But even if they decide to ignore Staten Island once again, SI at least needed one place to return the bikes by the Ferry in St. George. It will be a night mare trying to return the bikes in Manhattan or Brooklyn when our stuck on SI.

  • gecko

    #14 Cap’n Transit, “I think we should be very careful about subsidizing bike-sharing in these outer areas, making sure that the political will is there to sustain such subsidies indefinitely. The last thing we want is people complaining about ‘a program that doesn’t pay for itself.'”

    Much of outer areas are transit poor and would make even better use of this even at an increased cost which may not be justifiable since everyone benefits from inceased mobility across the city including real estate values. Hybrid human-electric vehicles and systems would likely be crucial to deployment in remote areas.

    In advanced systems highly-integrated with other New York City services such as the City University of New York (CUNY), advanced university and public research library access, local communications (potentially), reduced rates on entertainment and sports venues, medical (potentially), the cost structure could be similar and depend on whether individuals/commuters pay city income tax, and the city could subsidize those most in need which would also be good for the local economy.

  • gecko

    A “bike watchers and maintenance” vendor program could provide additional income for local vendors and greatly reduce costs of an extensive public bicycle system along with participation by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

  • gecko

    Since New York City is the largest local employer accesss to hybrid human-electric transport and transit could be a benefit of employment extending to outer areas with substantial benefit to the city by adding a level of resilience to city operation especially, in times of emergency.



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