NYC Bike-Share Clearly Isn’t Ready to Blanket the City Yet

Bike-share would work well in much of New York, according to ## 2009 report from the Department of City Planning##. To get there, the system has to be reliable first. (Note: these phases do not represent current plans for the bike-share system.)

Over the weekend, Ted Mann and Josh Barbanel at the Wall Street Journal wrote a great piece about what it will take to expand NYC’s bike-share system to the city’s less affluent neighborhoods, and how the Bloomberg administration’s decision to forgo public funding affected the system map. Then came a silly Ginia Bellafante piece in the Times that completely muddled the issues at play, mixing up free helmet-fittings with bike-share access and misleading readers about why stations were chosen for particular neighborhoods.

Without a doubt, New York should strive for bike-share to reach every neighborhood mapped out in this 2009 report from the Department of City Planning. The question is what’s the best way to get there.

Given the glitchiness that still affects the system software — especially the problem of station outages touched on in the Times today by Matt Flegenheimer — the most pressing issue to ensure that bike-share will become accessible to all New Yorkers is simply for the system operator, Alta Bicycle Share, to work out the kinks. Once the system is as reliable as it should be, it will be in great shape to cover a bigger share of the city.

Right now, New York has a system that people are excited about, and it gets a lot of use considering the launch was barely two weeks ago. We also have a system with a lot of imperfections. Clearly, people are finding Citi Bike functional enough to put ridership on a rapid upward trajectory, but if there’s a chance you might have to spend 10 minutes searching for a working bike dock, bike-share loses some of its on-demand appeal. If the system is passably reliable at the moment, then the grade is a C or C-. Bike-share isn’t going to serve customers as well as it could as long as this is the case.

Other cities also dealt with bugs after launching a newly-developed system. In 2010, Denver launched the first bike-share network using the system made by the company B-Cycle. “What we did in Denver was we were able to test the system,” B-Cycle’s Brent Tongco told Streetsblog. “There were hiccups along the way,” he said, noting that Denver had some initial problems with getting transactions to register over a wireless connection and that stations occasionally had to be manually reset. “It was all hands on deck to monitor the system.”

Over time, the software has been updated and B-Cycle is now operating 20 systems nationwide. New York has a different set of bugs and a much bigger system to manage, but it wouldn’t be the first city to correct glitches on the fly.

The current Citi Bike software was first launched in Chattanooga, and users have encountered problems there, as in New York. “The system was challenging when it was launched,” said Bike Chattanooga’s Philip Pugliese. “It continues to be an evolutionary process.” Yesterday, the Chattanooga system shut down for an update of the 29-station system’s kiosk touch-screen program.

Now imagine bike-share blanketing New York City right off the bat. The technical problems would be harder to manage. And, at the same time, the city would have had to pour a significant amount of public funds into launching at that scale. Setting aside the political hurdle of securing a chunk of the city budget for bike-share before anyone had seen it in action in NYC, it would be a bad idea to commit much in the way of subsidies to a bike-share launch when the system reliability still leaves so much to be desired. Public money should go toward providing bike-share infrastructure, not fixing code.

Get the software right and make Citi Bike a grade A bike-share system. Then blanket the city with it.

  • James Reefer

    These have internal drivetrains for that exact reason – no exposed and delicate moving parts.

  • Ian Turner

    There is no timeline because there is no plan. There is no guarantee of any expansion at all. It depends on political will and funding availability.

  • Joe R.

    I probably used to spend that much time on average but now I’m down to hardly anything. The reason for the difference? I went to airless tires. I used to regularly get flats at least once a week on average. It was nearly always the rear wheel. This meant at least an hour to fix. Now my only maintenance is occasionally truing the wheels, replacing broken spokes every few months, cleaning the chain/sprockets about every 2000 miles, and once in a blue moon changing cables. The airless tires last upwards of 10,000 miles, so figure about an hour changing tires every couple of years.

    I’m going to guess that the biggest maintenance item on Citibikes will be flat tires. And if it becomes an issue they can eliminate it in one shot by going with airless tires. Fortunately for Citibike, the size tires it uses are readily available as airless in the superior high-rebound elastomer. The rides and rolls about as well as pneumatics, and lasts upwards of 20,000 miles.

  • Fixed gear liberal

    It would be nice if CitiBike could avoid a similar reputation…

  • I can fix a flat in 15 mins or less, and ever since I switched to conti gatorskin tires I’ve had much fewer flats. So most of the 1-2 hours is spent adjusting the derailleur or brake cables, replacing brakes, cleaning the chain after practically every rainy ride, wiping down the bike to prevent corrosion, replacing/repairing bar tape, and other minor things. I’ve never trued my wheels or broken a spoke.

    I’d guess their cables and brakes will also need frequent adjustment, and they may get derailleurs out of alignment and myriad other problems due to weather/corrosion. Carl Bialik complained of multiple bikes that wouldn’t shift.

  • Ian Turner

    It is very strange to me that you would get flats every week. I’ve ridden about 6,000 miles in the last year on pneumatic tires with no flats save one caused by a broken spoke.

  • Joe R.

    Queens roads are horrible with lots of glass, sharp stones, nails, contractor debris, potholes, etc. which can give flats. It probably doesn’t help either that 99% of my riding is after dark where you can’t see road debris until you’re on top of it, even with a good head light. And the skinny tires I use tend to flat more easily. In any case, either flats are a problem for people or they aren’t. If they are, the solution is airless tires.

  • Joe R.

    The Citibikes use internally geared hubs so there are no derailleurs to adjust. I forgot about brakes, but yes, I would imagine that would also be a significant maintenance item for them. I hardly use my brakes so it’s a nonissue for me. I was using the same set of brake pads for ~20 years on my Raleigh.

    The shifting issues on the Citibikes may be coming from either out of adjustment shift cables or bad hubs. It may have been more expensive, but I think Citibike should have went with either the Nexus 7, Nexus 8, or even the Rohloff Speedhub. The latter is practically bulletproof. It also has 14 speeds with an overall 526% range. It costs north of $1000 but that might well pay for itself in maintenance savings over the life of the bike.

  • Eddie

    With Rohloff hubs, most Citi Bikes would have their rear wheels stolen in no time.

  • Eddie

    With Rohloff hubs, most Citi Bikes would have their rear wheels stolen in no time.

  • Anonymous

    Why didn’t Citibank just buy $800 bikes for 51,000 NYers? Distribute them through a city-wide lottery? And ask the city to make more bike lanes? And commercial buildings to create parking?

  • Anonymous

    In Boston, lots of the stations and many of the bikes are bought and sponsored by hospitals, schools, and one building (The Pru). And there is the bike sponsored by outgoing Mayor Menino.

    So with that in mind, might I suggest that people who want to speed up the expansion of the system 1. contact Alta and 2. set up Kickstarters?

  • Ian Turner

    Because this system can serve a lot more than 51,000 people over the course of its lifetime? Because the parking would add to the cost? Because question marks are a scarce resource?

  • Max Pyziur

    Bicyclists in New York City are one more menace to public safety. Generally, NYC bicyclists do not stop at stop lights or stop signs, and do not yield to pedestrians. Often they ride against the flow of traffic either in designated bicycle lanes or automobile traffic.

    The CITI bike system only adds to it.

    Like it or not, bicyclists are obligated to follow the same rules that apply to motor vehicles.

    Bicyclists should also be required to carry liability insurance and wear a helmet (most biking injuries involve head trauma).

    And those battery-operated heavy bikes that the food-delivery people use should be licensed and regulated like motorcycles.

  • Joe R.

    Blah, blah, blah, don’t stop at red lights. Blah, blah, blah, should have licenses and insurance. Blah, blah, blah, helmets. We’ve all read shit your post thousands of times. It’s just as stupid and nonsensical whether you repeat it twice or ten thousand times. Check your facts. Last time a cyclist killed anyone in NYC was in 2009. But oh, those bikes are soooo dangerous because you say they are! Go back under the rock you crawled out from.

  • Mike Dunlap

    What would make this post great is if any of it were actually true.

  • I’ve thought of doing this but the amount of money one would need to raise is enormous.

  • Really Unimpressed

    What an abysmal failure the CitiBike share program is in NYC. It’s even managed to alienate loads of bikers through the program’s numerous problems.

    also, very much agree with the last poster Max Pyziur.

  • Really Unimpressed

    What- waste public funds for this nonsense? It is clearly NOT the best transit option around. People who need to arrive to work on time cannot depend on Citibike with all its docking problems

  • Anonymous

    In less than three weeks, the nearly 40,000 annual members and thousands of others who’ve signed up for daily or weekly passes have taken more than 200,000 trips, at an average of more than 20 minutes per trip. So obviously, you’re right: an abysmal failure.

    [Suggested replies go along these lines: “The 200,000 trips thing is a lie, because when Citi Bike offers information about themselves that I dislike, they’re lying. When they offer information I like, they’re actually telling the truth for once.” Repeat this ad nauseam, for years, as the system continues to grow and flourish and become a part of the fabric of the city and bike haters are left scrounging every dark corner of themselves for evidence that people on bikes pose anything close to the menace posed every day by drivers.]

  • Really Unimpressed

    the data provided by both Citibike and NYCDOT on the program to date is highly questionable. No one knows if it’s real – they can just make up the numbers, as you probably yourself are prone to do.. Even WNYC and Time Mag. are questioning whether this is just hype. There is no way there could be 200,000 trips when so many docking stations have been down from the start. Come on! Do you think New Yorkers are fools?

  • Really Unimpressed

    Oh yes, it’s such a success LOL . Look at all the frustrated cyclists writing on CitiBike’s FB page. It speaks volumes – much more than your infllated numbers

  • touringmonkey

    Yeah, Rohloff;) LOL… Everybody would be stealing them and re-selling on craigslist or re-fitting their own bikes with it… Hahaha, they are worth $1,500, at least;)

  • hoboscoot

    Should pedestrians carry liability insurance for accidents they cause by stepping out into bike lanes?

    Should we fine overweight people for taking up more than their share of a subway or bus seat?

    I completely agree that cyclists have the same societal
    obligations to behave legally, responsibly and courteously. But once you understand the bigger picture, you’ll see that over-litigiousness imposes even greater costs on society. The way to better behavior is through sustained, polite-but-firm propagation of a higher standard.

    You also misreport cyclist behavior. Yes, many ignore laws, but if you look a little deeper, you’ll realize it’s your (rightful) annoyance with them that highlights the violators, while the majority of riders, who do ride responsibly, fade into the background of your perceptions. My perception is that CitiBike riders are more rule-abiding than the previous average cyclist. I hope this starts a broader trend, but time will tell.


Citi Bikes aren't performing that well. Photo: Adrian Nutter/Flickr

This Week: Rally for a Bike-Share System Big Enough for NYC

In just a few months, Transportation Alternatives volunteers have collected more than 5,000 signatures from residents outside Manhattan calling for bike-share in their neighborhoods. On Wednesday, they'll rally with council members on the steps of City Hall for a system that can meet New York City's huge demand for bike-share.