It has been about 6 months since the Citi Bike bicycle sharing program launched in NYC. Despite early glitches, it has caught on with great success. The Department of Transportation released data last week about the program which revealed that New Yorkers are taking 33,000 bike trips daily on a Citi Bike, most frequently for commuting, but also for errands, shopping, sightseeing and exercise. 95,000 had signed up for annual memberships. I wrote about my early experiences with the Citi Bike program at the end of June in a piece called SHARE THE RIDE. As I have since become an official Citi Bike rider, as seen on my keychain above, I thought it would be useful to update the piece with a few new thoughts.
Let me say first of all I think the program is great. What I do and don’t like about the bikes is just my personal experience, but it is fantastic to see so many New Yorkers out there on those blue bikes, adopting the program, and choosing pedal power over other forms of transportation. By and large, I can always get a bike, and equally important, get rid of it at the end of the journey. Only once have I been shut out by no bikes, but it was rush hour on a beautiful day, on a very populated Park Ave South. Only once have I been unable to return a bike because of no open stations at a particular destination or spots nearby. This required waiting for about 10 minutes for someone to take a bike out so I could slot mine in. Others were uncomfortably hovering to do the same. Both experiences made me realize that using the bikes to get someplace on time might not be the most reliable form of transportation. Hence, I don’t ride them that often, maybe a couple times a week.
As I wrote previously the bikes themselves are real clunkers. They are obviously built for durability, and with the kind of beating they take on NYC streets (the cobblestones are particularly brutal), they are proving fairly indestructible, but they are not that fun to ride. Perhaps part of that durability is how upright the frame has to be, but I find myself slipping forward off the seat and wishing that the pedals were more in front of me so I could get more power with the pedal stroke. The bikes only have 3 speeds and are not meant to go fast, but when you find yourself in traffic, needing to pick up speed fast to avert distaster, I find the geometry of the bikes a challenge. Hence I don’t ride the bikes for long trips.
What do I ride the bikes for most regularly is crosstown trips, or to and from destinations where there is no public transportation. For example, it’s the perfect way to get from my office on 29th and Park to the Chelsea art galleries, or from Tribeca to the east side subway. According to the DOT, this is one of the most popular ways the CitiBikes are being used, in tandem with other form of transportation.
So while I don’t love the bikes, I do love the program and the shared bond you feel with your fellow New Yorker on a Citi Bike at a red light. I have found a way to integrate and support the bike sharing program, which I think is important for environmental and health reasons, and it’s kind of cool to have that blue key ready to unlock a bike at any place and any time. While I do still find the bikes quite ugly, they have sort of become an indelible feature of the NYC landscape. As a life long New Yorker, riding the Citi Bikes feels like what real New Yorkers do.