With a dog, I find it easier to use a car to make my frequent trips home to New England. I’m now one of the rare New Yorkers who has bike contempt: my two major, non-public forms of transportation, foot and wheel, constantly put me at odds with cyclists. As a pedestrian, I’m constantly avoiding getting hit by bikes running lights or going against traffic, and as a driver, I’m always worrying I’m going to hit those same reckless bikers myself. With the bike share program on the verge of going wide, I am filled with far more fear than anticipation; I envision a two-wheeled invasion, and I do not welcome my new rolling overlords.
The reason I’m waving my cane around at these imaginary whippersnappers who almost mowed me down by going the wrong way on Broadway is that earlier last week, Citi Bikes stations started getting installed all over my neighborhood, literally circling my own home. Not only are there bicycles free to use for anyone with a credit card, those bicycles are Citibank branded. I am surrounded, and I am uncomfortable. It’s like when Bloomberg used to talk about getting sponsorship for subway stations. Imagine, the Hoyt-Schermerhorn-Snapple stop, or the Astor Place/Always Sanitary Pads station, which is equally awkward on both the uptown and downtown platforms.
While American city planners often point to the successes of bikeshare programs in Europe, I often wonder if those successes would truly translate in this country, at least in cities that aren’t bike-friendly to begin with. New York has made efforts to become more bike-able in general in recent years, moving parking away from the curb and creating miles of bike lanes, but other cities, like Boston, are not imminently bike-able by the less-than-adventurous. Boston has put in tons of bike lanes, but many are just suggestions of where bikes should go in main lanes of traffic, which often creates even more chaos in a city not known for its friendly motorists. [Ed: I bought a bike in Boston off Craigslist in 2004. I rode from Copley-ish to Somerville and I got mocked repeatedly by drunk guys in white baseball caps for using turn signals. It was very “Boston.”] The city’s Hubway bike share system has been surprisingly safe, but, due to the city’s winters, which can create snowbanks that make some roads nearly impassible for cars, it also shuts down from November to April.
Amsterdam pioneered bike sharing in the 1960s, and while technology (like locks) has allowed their OV-fiets program to evolve into a success, theirs is a flat, small city. They also dealt with pre-technology years of having their bikes end up in canals or stolen for private use. Paris’ Vélib’ system started in 2007. Since 2009, 80% of the 20,600 bikes have had to be replaced due to vandalism or theft. They’ve also had issues with bikes that take too long to get repaired, and broken timers that overcharge customers. (So far, there have been far fewer issues with theft and vandalism with bike share programs in the US.)
Then again, as of 2012, the Paris program was popular and profitable, and lead to more private cyclists and a decrease in motor traffic. It’s also only lead to six deaths, but an increase in road fatalities should be a bigger concern in New York, where we’ve already had a high number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in the past year. According to Gothamist, 136 pedestrians and 18 bicyclists were killed in crashes in 2012, and two cyclists have died so far this year. Obviously, it’s not just an issue of cyclists not fully understanding New York’s traffic laws, but of drivers not responding well to the increase in foot and bike traffic that all the lovely new pedestrian areas and bike lines have created. I love the new layout of Broadway above Union Square, with its seating areas, left turn lanes, a endless territory for my dog to use as a toilet, but according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Broadway is the second deadliest roadway in New York, with 12 pedestrian deaths between 2009-2011.
By the middle of last week, the DOT came in the dead of night to my very own block, and I now live steps away from a Citi Bike station. From a cursory look at the Citi Bikes site, it appears that they’re doing their part for safety: aside from a short section on “Riding Tips,” there are workshops on street safety that, while not free, do earn you a free day pass, plus the safety monitors being spotted around the village are doing their part. Part of the delay in introducing the program was due to fixing technical issues related to billing and theft-prevention, which should keep bikes from getting stolen, or stealing from riders.
I want to be positive, because the evidence points that way, but other cities are not New York, and those other programs aren’t right in front of my building, and those cyclists aren’t the ones I have had to narrowly avoid murdering/being murdered by countless times. As to how many bikes will end up in the rivers, with tires left busted on one of the city’s several potholed road ways, or hacked/stolen for private use, remains to be seen. For now, all I see is the empty Citi station, and I wait.
Credit, from Paris photo: Flick user
Sybil Star, Twitter user@malusbrutus. Used with a Creative Commons license.