New York is a tough crowd. Brad Pitt sighting at Dean and Deluca? Big deal. Mick Jagger eating dinner across from you? No one bats an eye. But today on my way to work, I caused quite a stir. Jaded New Yorkers stopped in their tracks on the sidewalks and stared at me. A couple of guys gave me a thumbs up and a few people even cheered. All because of my new electric blue ride courtesy of NYC’s new bike share program.
Launched this week, Citi Bike is based on programs already in place in Europe, and so far, I’d say it’s a rousing success. Someday we’ll be cruising on our boat in the tropics, but until then I’m still a commuter looking for a convenient way to get to work and bike sharing has cut my travel time down by 15 minutes each way. Plus at $95 for an annual membership, that means more money in the cruising kitty!
While I’m obviously a big fan, Citi Bike definitely has its fair share of detractors. There are a few people who think that the bikes are taking up way too much space that could be used for parking cars. Some bicyclists are angry that space once reserved for parking their own bikes is now being usurped by Citi Bike. The branding could probably be toned down a bit (maybe they should have taken a page from the program in Paris) and a lot of people complain that the bikes are clunky and heavy. One kind gentleman this morning gave my fellow bike share commuter and I an earful about how he wasn’t giving up his bike for a 45-pound behemoth. My comrade calmly told the man that he liked Citi Bike because he couldn’t bring his bike from New Jersey on the PATH train. I quietly saluted him for not punching the friendly bystander in the throat. As I explained to our new “friend,” the weight of the bike actually came in handy on the cobblestone streets that beat the crap out of the lighter bike I have at home. But clearly that bystander isn’t the target market for the program. It’s people like me and my Citi Bike buddy who take the PATH train and still have a long walk or a subway ride to get to our final destination. Or people who want to have dinner on the other side of town but don’t want to take the subway or pay for a cab. For us it’s perfect.
It seems to me that a lot of thought went into Citi Bike. The bikes are sturdy and easily converted to each rider’s height with the flip of a quick-release handle on the seat. There are three speeds to choose from, a bell (that’s a little hard to find, but works), a place to strap your bag in, and handy fenders that keep you from getting mud splashed up your back on rainy days (something I wish I had on my own bike). Docking and undocking the bikes is a bit weird at first, but I feel like I’m getting the hang of it. There’s also a handy app that tells you the availability of bikes and parking spaces at each station around town. And if you find yourself at a station that’s full, you can get an extra 15 minutes of time to go find another place to park. Overall, it seems pretty cool to me.
Do I see tourists using these bikes to get across Manhattan? In places where there are bike lanes, yes. The rest of the city, not so much. But baby steps, people. In the meantime, I’ll be happily pedaling back and forth from the PATH train on these blue babies.