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??
Manhattan and Brooklyn, NY
With the tulips and daffodils, cherry blossoms and bright green leaves unfurling from planters and tree pits these early spring weeks, brand new street furniture has also sprung up. Rows of Citi Bike docking stations are taking root along the curbs--and sometimes on sidewalks--of Manhattan's and Brooklyn's highest density neighborhoods. Watching this progress from my usual perch--Violeta's saddle--is a bit like watching two summers ago as DOT summarily exiled curb-parked automobiles, block-by-block, up First Avenue on Manhattan's East side. First there'd be some cones and a harmless looking DOT crew of two or so surveying the inside lane, then some spray paint... And before we knew it, a parking-protected green bike lane.
Citi Bike station, Barrow and Hudson Street, West Village. (Jen Petersen, 5/4/2013)
And like the green protected lanes, NYC Bikeshare is poised to transform how New Yorkers maneuver in the city's core. From what time we leave our homes to the neighborhoods we comfortably reach and with whom we travel en route, Citi Bike will multiply the possimobilites for those who make use of it. Crain's New York Business today reported on the anticipation in the business community, while the New York Post warned of the legal battles set to play out as neighbors who withheld comment from the 100s of community meetings where station/kiosk location suggestions were submitted and vetted, now step forward in protest.
Anytime you do anything systematic with streets, you change the way people access everything they connect. And given that New York City has the nation's lowest rate of car ownership per capita, serving the predominant scale of movement--the human scale--is a long-overdue systematic change. More people circulating on bikes instead of in cabs, on transit or private automobiles, means more slow-moving, money-spending people. And it also means more free-thinking people--people who are the engines behind the city's growing creative services and technology industries. And when they don't have to hunt for parking (car or bike) or tote their lock or swipe their metrocards again to fit in this or that errand or social event or productive meander, we can imagine that bikeshare will enable more people to do more things. And of course, each time a car doesn't start but a Citi Bike is instead undocked, the air we all breath gets a bit cleaner. And each additional bike on the street is an additional obstacle to slow speeding motorists.
But of course, prioritizing the human scale (as I've written about elsewhere--see especially Chapters 5 and 6), is also a zero-sum game. On streets that still preserve a lot of space for the automobile to park, bikeshare stations instead of parking spaces are the latest challengers to a whole bunch of comfy arrangements for those who can afford to own cars in the core--busy, powerful people used to having their way, place to park, pass to speed on the public's dime.
While many of my car owning friends love safe, walkable, *valuable* streets and don't expect that the streets serve their cars more than their bodies, other do, and don't see the conflict in their dueling desires. For empathy'sake, I've joined some of the latter group behind the windshield but it's not particularly illuminating. It seems that, when slowed up or ejected from easy curbside parking, they are hard-wired simply to react to the discomfort of their automomarginalization, and then pull at the strings they can reach. It's a class impulse, really. As when they sit stewing and cursing at the stupid motorists clogging their passage from Friday afternoon into a weekend at the Cape, they do not see themselves as part of the problem, nor with a choice about how to go, or the importance of demanding systematic investment in infrastructure to support higher quality of life transport. These have for so long enjoyed at-will access to distance--urban escapism--alongside the freshest fruits of density's offerings, that they imagine that this is the best possible scenario. But it isn't--in terms of their own health and the health of their neighborhoods, nor their creativity, nor the growth of their investments in NYC. Is there a way to gently challenge their thinking about what their tax dollars actually pay for in the public domain, and whether their cars are really worth defending among the possible recipients?
As New York's privately funded but publicly championed bikeshare network gets up and running, we have an opportunity to invite conflicted motorists into a new kind of circulation with themselves. My goal this spring is to find and make friends, and then ride with at least 2 such motorists, to get them meditating on their own mortality and the ways riding lower and slower in the saddle is worth their support--even at the cost of their car's free ride.
NYCDOT and Alta Bike Share, Citi Bike's operator, have chosen to launch bikeshare from core neighborhoods where cycling is already popular and will have the strongest chance of widespread adoption. And to those neighbors in the West Village and Brooklyn Heights already spending money to shoo Citi Bike stations from their blocks, I say: Let them be left behind. I hope that if after a few months of monitoring NYCDOT discovers under-utilized stations, they will relocate them to areas of highest demand and highest need. I'd start with all of South Brooklyn--Red Hook to Park Slope and Bay Ridge to Sheepshead Bay--plus Long Island City to Jackson Heights, Queens. In its next iteration, bike share will be a way to meaningfully incorporate transit-poor low income communities into new, human scaled growth and the economic and physical health that it can support. If wealthy motorists don't want these conditions sustained in their own neighborhoods, let them have car parking lots.
be the city you wish to see. ask me how!