New York City Sets in Motion America’s Largest Bike-Share System

Mayor Bloomberg addresses the press corps with Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson by his side. Photo: Dmitry Gudkov

Five years ago, the New York City Department of Transportation signaled its interest in creating an extensive bike-share system “to accommodate a wide range of potential short trips.” Now New Yorkers have that system at their fingertips. With today’s launch of Citi Bike, there’s a new travel option in the mix — 6,000 bikes at 330 stations that will extend the reach of the transit system and expand access to the point-to-point convenience of bicycling.

“I am thrilled to declare that as of this moment, Citi Bike, the largest bike-share network in the country, is officially launched,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced at a press event outside City Hall this morning. Touting a 75 percent reduction in the cycling injury rate over the past decade and the improved safety outcomes for pedestrians along the city’s protected bike lanes, Bloomberg said that “Citi Bike will make our streets safer,” and reiterated the city’s commitment to ramp up to a 10,000-bike/600-station system.

While transportation funding stagnates and mega-projects run billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule, the Bloomberg administration has delivered a new transit option at minimal public expense, with the potential to expand relatively quickly into other parts of the city. So far, more than 15,000 New Yorkers have signed up for the $95 annual pass, and about 13,000 now have access to the system using Citi Bike key fobs. On Sunday, June 2, the system will open up to weekly and daily members.

The culmination of intense study, planning, and public outreach, the bike-share launch marks the birth of a new transit network. “It’s a rare thing to see a brand new transportation system become unveiled before our eyes,” said Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. “We have the A Train, and the New York City cab, and the Staten Island Ferry, and now Citi Bike joins the ranks of the transportation icon family in New York City.”

Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan prepare to ride for the cameras. New York City bicycling has perhaps never been in the public eye more than today. Photo: Dmitry Gudkov

Within the service area, which at the moment extends from 59th Street in Manhattan to Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, bike-share gives New Yorkers the ability to go directly from point A to point B without the expense, hassle, and space-gobbling footprint of driving a car. The bike-share option is especially well-suited for some of the city’s most vexing types of trips — like getting across town or going anywhere on a weekend when subway service is disrupted. Soon GPS units embedded in each bike will provide a wealth of data about how New Yorkers use the system.

From the outset, Sadik-Khan, DOT Policy Director Jon Orcutt, and DOT bike-share program director Kate Fillin-Yeh strove to make a system that would be big enough to succeed. Since the bike stations are sited closely together, subscribers know they will be able to find a dock near their destination, as long as it’s in the service area. And because the service area covers a big chunk of the city (though it could, of course, grow considerably over time), including the biggest job centers, a huge number of short trips are now feasible using the system.

The decision to go big “shaped everything we did,” said Orcutt. “We weren’t going to do anything but a system scaled for the city. There was never a thought of bike-share just for the East Village or something.”

DOT Policy Director Jon Orcutt, Janette Sadik-Khan, Howard Wolfson, and DOT bike-share program director Kate Fillin-Yeh. Photo: Dmitry Gudkov

At the time Fillin-Yeh wrote a bike-share feasibility study for the Department of City Planning in 2009, the major systems were in Paris, Barcelona, and Montreal, which had just launched with the solar-powered stations that NYC would later adopt. “We looked at those as a model of how far stations were placed apart,” she said, describing how the city determined the rough outlines of the initial service area and distribution of the bikes. “Then we started mapping that out and took a look at where are businesses in the city, where are hotels in the city, where are major institutions in the city, where are parks — and built all that into a model based off that, population density, workforce density, and came to those numbers.”

Today New Yorkers have a viable new transit network thanks to the foresight of the bike-share team and an administration that was not deterred by the scale of the undertaking or the setbacks that happened along the way. After extensive planning and station siting meetingsunforeseen software glitches and a potentially devastating hurricane strike, New York City bike-share is in motion.

  • redbike

    I’ve wrangled my first two Citibike rides. I’m a #9.

    Undocking is somewhat random. Sometimes, I only got a yellow, which reverted to red. Patience, we’re told, is a virtue.

    The handlebars are so wide you can do nothing *but* take the lane, sort of like a long-horned steer. I’ll get used to it.

    My other quibble: I’d guess the baggage carrier is suitable for a demure shoulder bag, but about the only casual shopping for which it’s appropriate would be buying books: unbreakable stuff with flat hard sides. I’ve already seen one rider biking with her helmet hanging from one of the hooks, but I doubt the rack will work well for schlepping ears of corn and melons and tomatoes home from Onion Square. I tested it with a small bagged purchase from East Village Cheese. So far, so good, but for anything bulkier than a bagel, it’ll be necessary to improvise. Perhaps this will encourage entrepreneurs to design and market accessories, and that’s not such a bad thing, IMHO.

    Thus far, my only major objection: checking the website when I returned home, I found a third ride had been erroneously attributed to my account. Less than 45 minutes, so I’m not dinged for anything (and yep, I did email a comment to Citibike — no reply yet). This does raise a concern that there are holes in the software.

    Also, the online map showing stations is blank today. Well, it’s not blank, but it’s just a map, no stations. I imagine this will be fixed promptly.

  • Daphna

    Over 17,500 people joined before the system was active. The number of members is going to grow drastically after the system is running!!!

    Also, reminders of the discounts offered of the already low $95 annual membership:
    Pay with a Citibank credit or debit card and get $15 off in the form of a statement credit back to your credit card or checking account.

    Those who live in NYCHA housing or who bank with NYU Federal Credit Union or Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union can join for $60 ($35 off).

  • Anonymous

    My gf joined last night and she was around 17,750. I had so many people asking me about the Citibike on my little rides this morning. I wouldn’t be surprised if they clear 20,000 by mid-week.

  • The baskets are pretty useless. The competing suppliers have much better baskets, I dont understand why public bike share cant improve them.

  • Anonymous

    I agree, I think they should have a large basket or at least a rack in the back. Such a waste of space!

    It would also be nice if some of the bikes had child seats, but I suspect they won’t even consider it because of fear of scandals and lawsuits if a child is injured.

  • Anonymous

    I was told by a BIXI representative that the front carrier was made small to discourage joyriding, hence no back rack either. It was also designed to keep from accumulating junk in the bottom of it as would be the case with a basket.

  • Daphna

    redbike, qrt145 and Jass are right about the poor design of the front rack. I agree with qrt145 that a rear rack that people could bungee stuff to would have been useful in addition. Also the front rack could have been much better designed. It will hold one small/medium size bag if that bag is the right shape. The bungee cord that is supposed to go around the top to hold the bag in place is too short. I think a large front basket would have been more useful than the small rack with a front side to it and the too-tight bungee cord. (I am still thrilled about bike share but I do think this is a design flaw that could have been easily avoided.)

  • Daphna

    I guess people can hang their bags from the handlebars if they have bags that do not fit in the front rack.
    It is true that baskets accumulate junk and I understand avoiding that. When my bike is locked up on the street, people regularly put their garbage in my basket. If bikeshare bikes had had baskets, and if the public then used those baskets (as they do mine) as garbage receptacles, that would not have been cool.

  • Ari

    Anyone have an idea of the number of annual members DOT/Alta expects to eventually sign up?

    30,000? 50,000? 100,000?

  • ToastPatterson

    la Revolucion!

  • Harald

    Montreal with it’s fleet of about 5000 bikes had almost 50,000 members last year (not totally sure what counts as “member”). So once the system has been fully implemented with all 10,000 bikes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see 100,000 members.

  • In the 2009 DCP study, they estimated that a 10,500-bike system would attract slightly more than 100,000 annual subscribers.

  • Peter Hogness

    With the Citi Bike app not functioning today (any reports on why, or when it’ll be up?), one frustration for me (in an otherwise great day, wth four rides) was having trouble finding a station. Hope Google Maps adds a layer for these soon. Meanwhile, I found after I got home that the 3rd-party app New York Bike has a good static map, which would have been gret to have during the day. No info on number of bikes in a station for now, but they say it’ll soon have the same realtime info as the official app. Another rider told me that Spotcycle was a 3rd-party app that had provided a good map for them– I downloaded this one also but the station location map didn’t work for me. (I used both on Android.)

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    You can use the DOT’s website in the interim period.

    How did the bikes handle?

  • Anonymous

    I’m really surprised how much of a pain they are to pass. I’m not sure if the riders aren’t used to be overtaken by other cars or if their just that large. I talked to a couple people who told me the gearing on the bikes is pretty miserable. One guy actually had one the gears break on him. I won’t be trading in my bike anytime soon.

  • Chris Mcnally

    I used the Android app “New York City Bike” by Webcomrades to find stations today. It did not yet have live data about the number of empty docks but it had all the docking stations on a map.

    I found the front rack to be pretty adequate to carry my messenger bag, but I would welcome some kind of giant rack, front or back, since we do tend to carry a lot of cargo in NYC.

    I docked and undocked a lot of bikes today and I found that lifting the seat and dropping the bike about 4 inches is the easy way to unlock a bike, but getting them to lock back in was harder. I did not discover a good technique for that yet.

    Make sure you get the green light when you return!

  • Ben Kintisch

    I wrote to Citibike about the docking issue. I felt like that if you didn’t SLAM the bike in, “Kaboom!” then it didn’t turn green. That’s not good.

  • They can say all they want – every other bike share system in the world has better baskets and its not an issue.

  • Thats how the manufacturer designed the system. If they didnt change it after 5 other cities complaining about the same thing, they wont change it this time either

  • Ben Kintisch

    My technique: think about the NY Post and then slam the sh#t out of the bike into the dock. KABOOM! is the sound you are looking for.

  • Ben Kintisch


  • Anonymous

    The metal piece on the bikes that slide into the dock is not the original design that was in place when BIXI was started in Montreal. When BIXI first started they were having problems with thefts where some people found a way to steal a bikeforce the bikes out of the docks

  • Tom

    Meanwhile it seems the data is live in the New York City Bike!
    Android –
    iPhone + iPad –

  • Hairballs-R-US

    If they broke a gear , then they did it on purpose. These things are super sturdy.

  • Hairballs-R-US

    The solution is good ol’ backpacks. It isn’t stylish but it holds tons of stuff on your back.

  • Anonymous

    I tried my first Citi Bike today. Taking it out of the dock was trivial. Docking it back was not. I tried the Kaboom! approach without success. I tried three times in the same dock with various amounts of force and no success; I then tried a different dock and succeeded in the first try (without slamming it, BTW).

  • Anonymous

    I doubt very much this guy broke it on purpose. It was probably a defective or someone broke it because they didn’t know how to shift properly.

  • Anonymous

    Or messenger bags!

  • Anonymous

    This is not a cargo bike, but still, how does one carry a one cubic foot box on this tiny rack, or in a back pack or messenger bag. I easily fasten 2 and 3 cu ft boxes on my bike rack, but I can’t see how on the city bike.
    Similarly, a rear side rack bar, without a top to sit on, would allow a typical pannier to be clipped on. A single large pannier holds a ton of groceries, much better than in a back pack or messenger bag.
    I think Bike Share will be with us a long time. We can look for changes to be phased in once the rush phase is over.

  • It’s a plot by the taxi industry! They don’t want to lose the grocery-haul business.

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