Citi Bike has already changed my life. How will it change New York?
New York’s new bike-sharing system, now a month old, is still working out the kinks. It’s sometimes impossible to find a bike, and sometimes impossible to return one. Kiosks, after an embarrassingly unreliable start, seem to be generally stable. There are so many complexities that a perfectly smooth system seems improbable.
But even a month in, Citi Bike is easily one of the best things that has happened to New York in the last decade. In a place where things are routinely overhyped, Citi Bike seems to have blown past everyone’s expectations, with more than a million miles traveled so far, over 500,000 trips, and some 50,000 annual members.
And, without hyperbole, Citi Bike has already changed my life. I’ve now lived here for almost 8 years, and after riding zero blocks on bikes the entire time I’d been here, I’ve now traveled 53 miles on Citi Bikes over the past month, spending more than 8 hours in the saddle.
I’m sure there’s an element of novelty involved, which will fade as summer heat becomes unbearable. But it turns out that biking is a great way to get around the city. It’s not as scary as it had previously seemed, and it can be just as fast as taking the subway. I’m already getting in better shape, losing some weight, and feeling healthier. And because I pay for each subway trip I take — I don’t have an unlimited pass — Citi Bike is actually saving me money. At about 25 cents per day for my yearly membership, every subway ride I don’t take pays for 10 days of Citi Bike membership.
One of the things I’ve wondered, waiting for traffic lights: How will Citi Bike change the city?
Even just riding around for a month, it’s clear that New York streets aren’t designed for tens of thousands of new bikers. Some bike lanes and paths exist, and a few are really nice. But others are in disrepair. And traffic police seem to have little impact on cars and trucks parking and stopping in marked bike paths. I haven’t had any scary moments yet, but it’s easy to see how some streets and intersections are hairy, even when biking responsibly. Drivers, seeing flashing Citi Bikes everywhere they go now, should be getting a wakeup call.
Something is going to have to be done about the Brooklyn Bridge in particular: There simply isn’t enough room on the current platform — shared by pedestrians and cyclists —for increasing numbers of tourists and bikers. It will probably involve moving bikes down to a new path in what’s historically been a car lane. That’s not going to make any drivers happy, so it will be hard to force. But if New York is serious about getting more people on bikes — and for many reasons, from health to air pollution, it should be — it’s just going to need to happen. So let’s do it.
Citi Bike’s limited phase-one buildout has also already slightly influenced which neighborhoods and businesses I visit. It’s now much faster and easier than it was before to travel to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from my apartment near DUMBO. Meanwhile, traveling to South Brooklyn neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, and Red Hook seems more annoying now, because there are no docks nearby. There are enough people in New York — and further expansion seems inevitable, though not imminent — that I don’t think this will dramatically alter any neighborhoods. But if Citi Bike continues to be a great service, I would definitely think twice about moving to an apartment that’s not on the grid.
I’m also curious to see how the New York gadget-nerd community responds to Citi Bike. This seems like the perfect opportunity to Kickstarter some neat Citi Bike-specific accessories. For example: A clip of some sort, designed to hold the ubiquitous $1 Poland Spring water bottle to the bike’s basket, accessible while biking? Maybe a pet carrier for cute, small dogs? A solar-powered iPhone charger? A boombox speaker? This also seems to be a great opportunity for some creative apps. For example, could one use my iPhone’s speaker to tell me which bike stations have empty docks as I approach my destination? Or perhaps an ambient Citi Bike social network, which will alert me when friends are nearby?
Since I moved here in 2005, I’ve experienced a few flashbulb moments of unity with other New Yorkers, where it really feels like we’re all in this together. The first was the idiotic subway strike the first Christmas I lived here. Another was “Linsanity” last year, when the Knicks — the hated Knicks to me, a lifelong Chicago Bulls fan — were suddenly exciting. The hurricanes, two years running, also fall into this category. And the Citi Bike program is the latest. There are already some clever, insider handshakes, like turning the seat backwards when a bike isn’t working. (Also a jerky way to “reserve” your favorite bike while supplies are low.)
I can’t remember something that’s made so many people so happy here in such a short time since the iPhone launched. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the Citi Bike program changes New York.
Photo: Omar Rawlings (cc) via Flickr.