Question submitted by Mining the Gap reader Pat Lee of San Francisco, CA.
Earlier this week, a reader of my previous post about the upcoming launch of NYC's [biggest in the country!] bikeshare program posed an astute question (reproduced at left). I thought Alta/NYC bikeshare might like to respond, so I emailed the customer service address on CitiBike's website, inviting someone to Mine the Gap with us. But it seems they have enough gaps of their own in anticipation of the big launch on Memorial Day! So...
The short A to Pat's Q is:
No--personal bicycles will not be accommodated on CitiBike racks.
Though I will of course experiment with this once the docks are activated, my hunch is only CitiBike wheels will trigger the locking system.
But the longer answer requires asking a BIG Important Question:
What is the point of CitiBike?
And closely related:
Is there a market for on-street, secure bike parking in NYC?
Certainly, facilities targeting multi-modal (transit-riding + bike) commuters like the Long Beach Bikestation are toeing towards that segment of the market.
Per NYCDOT's 2010 Request for Proposals, the point of NYC bikeshare/CitiBike is to spur the use of CitiBikes, and be financially self-sustaining within 5 years. And so, to demonstrate success, Alta needs people to use them! Though an obvious correlate, the use of CitiBike stations for personal bicycle parking has been built neither into the pricing structure nor [perhaps most important] into the data + tracking architecture of NYC bikeshare. And during this fragile, 5-year long psychogeographic and geopolitical moment of disruptive infrastructure network building, if you can't track it, you can't prove its success.
On the surface, it looks simple and straightforward enough to incorporate private bike parking into the semi-public network of CitiBike stations--and coule be an additional step towards the system's financial sustainability. Add a few personal use spaces at each station, sell access to them as part of a bikeshare "plus" membership (which comes with a chip or some such to be attached to personal bikes, which would in turn trigger the smart rack), and voila! you've got a bikeshare system that induces overall use of bikes, and perhaps solves a few other public space allocation problems.
Even if they'd set up the program to increase bicycle use overall, and so support personal bike parking *and* CitiBikes, a municipally-contracted firm like Alta would have to sort out a bunch of liability issues. Off the top of my head:
For now it seems, these aren't worth asking and answering by CitiBike because they multiply the potential for kinks in the new program, in turn multiplying the potential for public doubt. Perceptions that a new infrastructure isn't safe or secure can imperil widespread adoption and mean the difference between fast success and fast failure. So, while I haven't been told all the reasons NYC bikeshare will launch with a simple fleet-prioritizing agenda instead of one that rewards existing bike commuters, I do know that it will. Still, CitiBike is an incredibly important start to City-supported cycling in New York. For now, leaving personal bikes out of the system leaves the market Pat points out wiiiiiide open. Any takers??
be the city you wish to see. ask me how!