City to Pursue “Large-Scale” Bike-Share for the Big Apple

After a long and tantalizing build-up, New York City will officially declare its intent to pursue a public bike-share system tomorrow, when it releases a request for proposals to potential operators, the Times reports. At a sufficient scale, the introduction of bike-sharing here promises to open up cycling to huge numbers of New Yorkers by making it more accessible and convenient.

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

Information on the potential size, density, and geographic reach of the system is sketchy-to-nonexistent at this point. Michael Grynbaum reports that it will consist of “hundreds or even thousands of bicycles” and that payment will probably be accepted using a subscription model. Update: Andrea Bernstein reports that the program would include about 10,000 bicycles. That is a serious number.

A report released last year by the Department of City Planning recommended a phased implementation, starting with 10,000 bicycles and growing to a system of 49,000. Denver, Minneapolis, and Washington D.C. have all launched systems in the 500 to 1,100 bicycle range in recent months. London made the biggest bike-share splash this year when it debuted a 6,000-bike system which has been embraced by more than 100,000 subscribers. The system will expand to at least 8,000 bikes sometime before the 2012 Olympics.

We should have details from the RFP tomorrow morning. For now, we’ll leave you with the first public reaction to the news, from the Times’ story:

Told of the plan late Monday, Dan Biederman, the president of the 34th Street Partnership, expressed support for the idea. “Almost every one of the mayor and the transportation commissioner’s innovations in the area of street life have been good for New York,” Mr. Biederman said. “We are positive on them experimenting with ideas imported from other places.”

  • J

    This is a game-changer, if done right. Bike-share has a HUGE impact on urban mobility and bike use. This allows people to try biking without needing to buy, maintain, and store their bike, which can be a real challenge if you live in a 6th floor walkup. It also greatly increases mobility. Neighborhoods will be clamoring for bike share stations.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr

    Right now at the top of Streetfilms, a collection of 15 Streetfilms about Bike Share & Bike Parking: http://www.streetfilms.org/feature-1/

  • BicyclesOnly

    The City has previously stated that it was delaying implementation of a bike share system until there was a network of infrstructure for all the novice cycling traffic the system would engender. You can’t run a bikeshare in the Midtown CBD without some Midtown infrastucture. Broadway’s nice, but how do you get back uptown? Let’s see if we get a protected uptown route through midtown as part of this initiative.

  • Mike

    This can be totally transformative, if done right. Expect a big fight, and get ready to fight hard.

  • BicyclesOnly

    While the goal of a bike share program must be to encourage and support modal shift for those who live or work in the city, a key strategy for early viability would be to cater to tourists. There is already a substantial illicit bike rental industry on the southern periphery of Central Park (and sprouting up around elsewhere) heavily patronized by tourists. Not to mention the apparent success of Bike ‘n Roll. Increasingly, I see tourists taking their rental bikes out of the parks and onto Museum Mile or to restaurants on Madison and Columbus Avenues. This is a ready market for a public bike share. When you consider what many tourists end up paying in taxi fares, even a $75 annual subscription price for a week’s worth of bike share access could seem like a bargain (and you could offer a 1-week subscription for $50 along with a $75 annual rate). Many tourists stay within a highly compact zone bounded by 34th and 81st Streets in Manhattan, so accomdating this market within a program design directed primarily at commuters would require just a modest extension of the level of service you’d need to support the Midtown CBD commuting population in the first place. Tapping directly into the existing tourist market would help ensure the early financial viability of the program.

    The key to getting tourists on board would be well-manufactured and -maintained bikes with a cool, iconic appearance that “said” New York–something the brand-conscious Bloomberg administration is probably planning anyway. Get good product placement in a few first-run movies set in NYC, and out-of-towners will think nothing of forking over $50 or more to purchase the “NYC bike share experience” (is shooting over on “Prime Rush”?) And of course, the subscription must be instantly purchase-able with a credit card swipe–not like the early DC design where you had to snail mail them an application days in advance.

    The possible downsides of marketing to tourists are that the program will be stigmatized as a gimmick (like pedicabs) and/or that novice tourist cyclists will have an unusually high collision rate.
    I expect that a stigma will only attach if the program is a flop with locals, in which case, the program has much bigger problems.

    The safety issue is
    Of greater concern, athough it is easy to overstate the concern because significant numbers of tourists come from places where cycling is prevalent and arrive with solid cycling skills. But the answer is to complete a loop of protected bike path by buliding an uptown route on 6th Ave. Or extending the 8th Ave path north to Columus Circle, and building an east-west pathway connecting Union Square and Columbus Circle with the West Siede Greenway. The resulting loop would become tourists staying in hotels from Midtown down to Union Square take in Greenwich Village, Times Square, the Theatre District, Central Park, Museum Mile and AMNH, the Intrepid, etc. That’s more than most tourists see in a typical visit. Give the tourists a very ominous message at the point of rental that they might be hurt or die if they stray from the protected bike path loop, and they’ll mostly stay on it. This will also keep the tourists largely out of the way of cyclists accustomed to moving with MV traffic.

  • david

    I used the Minneapolis bike system, which I think will be the same in general, as it’s done by a canadian company. Seats are kinda klunky. Bikes have built in lights. There are no helmets which is interesting. The biggest issue with nyc will no doubt be bikes being used from high use locations and dropped at other locations, if there are no docks available, one can’t leave the bike. Then the city has to get bikes back to the other stations without bikes. In Minnesota, the remove the bikes with snow as it gums up the bikes gears. I think it’s a good thing for nyc!

  • This is great news as a public bicycle system will be truly transformational.

    The frustration is that it will still be only an very modest incremental step in developing a major modern net-zero transit system.

  • Greg

    I like BicyclesOnly’s comments on tourists. I think that if there is an easy to use and reasonably priced bike-share targeted to tourists, you’ll see a 100x increase in the number of bikes in Central Park. The Central Park portion of the bike-share program will be a huge money maker.

  • J

    Tourist will certainly use this, but a large group of users will be people who have long walks to and from major transit hubs. East Village will take to this like crazy to get to the subway. The Penn Station bike share station will be a mob scene for workers trying to get over to jobs on the east side, and vice versa for grand central commuters. $78 a year for bike-share beats the hell out of $100-a-month metrocard for a fairly short trip.

    You’ll probably also see business people use this to get to meetings that are beyond walking distance, as a substitute for using taxis. Companies could even buy a few yearly passes for employees to get around the city. The bikes are often a bit clunky, but they tend to have everything you’d ever need built into the bikes: racks, completely covered chains, fenders, lights.

  • I agree with J above. The “early adopter” market is in two sections: people who live above the ground floor and want the option of bicycling without having to maintain their own bike, and active suburbanites who take the railroad into the city and see cycling as a quicker, more economical trip to their offices than the subway.

  • Seriously addressing the Americans with Disabilities Act with suitable vehicles such as folding hybrid human-electric tricyles and safe infrastructure enhancements — the 20 mph safe speed initiative is and important start — will greatly improve the system for everyone.

  • KMDS

    If the New York system is to resemble the London Bike Share system, then I don’t think tourists will be using it. To join the London bike share, you need a London address that matches your billing address for the credit card your attaching to the account. Due to its lack of exclusively bike lanes, it might prove dangerous to put clueless tourists on the left side of the road, sharing a lane with a double-decker bus. Here in NY, as a cyclist, I hope they keep the system for residents – thereby maintaining cycling as a form of transit rather than a novelty as well as providing a safe cycling experience for residents.

    Very excited for our system!

  • Rori Hamilton

    I fully support this. However, I feel that in addition, a more safe means for bikers must also be provided. An ENFORCED bike lane which traverses the city, must be put in place so that bikers are safe.

  • ChrisC

    >>This can be totally transformative, if done right. Expect a big fight, and get ready to fight hard.<<

    I hate how everything has to be such a fight in this country. In many other countries, the government just implements these types of things and pays only lip service to NIMBY opposition. But in this country, NIMBYs and other special interests can stop almost anything it seems.

  • um,

    Isn’t anyone concerned with an additional four million tourists prancing around Central Park with out a care of the existing park users? Imagine the thousands who will ride the wrong way on the loop and the others dodging peds on the pathways?

  • um,

    there are plenty of tourists already in the park, and if you observe them you’ll see that many of them follow all of the rules, including stopping at reds. A significant minority ride counterflow, but so (unfortunately) do a lot of natives. I’m not ready to conclude that the average tourist’s bike etiquette is worse than the average New Yorker’s.

    Of course a bike share will magnify the problem by putting many more novice cyclists on the street. But that’s a price I’m willing to pay to increase the mode share, visibility and influence of cyclists. Longtime NYC cyclists can help smooth the way for the newcomers by modeling and peer-pressuring minimum levels of good riding conduct.

  • I would gladly double the number of tourists on bicycles in return for halving the fleet of tour buses. When will New York become such a vital cycling and walking city that “seeing the sights” from a diesel-powered bus window would be pointless and irrelevant?

  • anon

    This plan will not reduce the amount of automobile traffic in the city.

  • BicyclesOnly–

    Broadway may be nice, but not for cycling. Times and Herald Squares are completely impassable by bicycle.

  • #15 um, “Isn’t anyone concerned with an additional four million tourists prancing around Central Park with out a care of the existing park users?”

    Isn’t anyone concerned about the three tornados that hit this city last summer and the unprecedented heat wave and hail storm and it’s likely that a large portion of this city will be underwater by 2080 with four times the number of 90+ degree days and still only just the beginning; and, that it’s pretty much a sure thing that in the next ten years — if not a lot sooner — we’ll get hit with at least one wave of extreme weather events that will seriously scare the people of this country enough to straighten out their priorities even though they will be many years late.

    And, isn’t anyone concerned about all the people that aren’t concerned and who don’t have a clue?

    And, that there’s a way to reinvent transportation that is not only much more practical, low cost, and safe but that it will have less than 1% the environmental footprint of cars?

  • J. Mork,

    I’m generally a fan of your comments, but you’ve really lost me with the assertion that “Times and Herald Squares are completely impassable by bicycle.” Obviously, the pedestrian-only/no cycling areas in Times Square are impassable by bike by definition, but I don’t think that’s what you meant. The B’way path at Herald Square is really just a woonerf–everyone has to go slow and look out for each other. I’ve ridden through it many times without ever having had to dismount. In fact, my 8 year old daughter routinely navigates around the pedestrian traffic in Herald Square weekly or more often, without dismounting. You call that impassable?

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