May is National Bike Month, but in New York City, the celebration of bikes will continue into the summer with the launch of the New York City Bike Share program, which will make 10,000 bicycles available at over 600 self-service docking stations throughout the five boroughs – in Brooklyn, from Williamsburg and DUMBO down to Park Slope – 24 hours a day and seven days a week.
Described by some as a program that is like Zipcar, but for bicycles, the NYC Bike Share is modeled after programs in Washington, D.C., Boston and Melbourne, Australia. It will cost members “less than one monthly MetroCard” – that would be under $104 – per year for unlimited access to the full fleet for 30 to 45-minute rides, according to the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT).
To Bedford-Stuyvesant resident Luz Herrera, that sounds like a great idea. “It would expose people who don’t have bikes to alternative transportation,” she said while filling her ride’s tires in front of Bespoke Bicycles in Fort Greene. “Many people in Brooklyn don’t have a car and it’s good for exercise and fitness.”
Bespoke employee Jonathan Pastor agreed that having more bikes around the city is a good thing, both for a bike-friendly environment and because “more bikes equals more business,” but said that he is “skeptical that it can be maintained for safety.”
“I know from working with bikes that they need tons of maintenance,” he explained. “Also, I’m sure they’ve thought of it, but New York City has a high rate of bike theft. [Here,] we see lots of bike seats and wheels missing.”
According to the contract between DOT and Alta Bicycle Share, which is running the project, Alta is responsible for “all system operations, including installation, maintenance, repairs, cleaning and customer support,” and is “subject to a strict maintenance and repairs schedule on the bikes and stations.”
As for combatting theft, the specially designed gray-and-black bicycles, which come with an adjustable seat, flashing lights and a front utility rack, are said to be made of parts that have no independent resale value and cannot be disassembled without special tools.
Ron Walker, operations manager at Cobble Hill’s BikeSmith, which sells and repairs bikes and accessories, said that he could tell that Alta’s bikes were “tough.”
“But I think it will positively impact [business],” he said, because “I haven’t set up rental programs at my shop, but accessory-wise, we can sell helmets and locks.”
Safety gear will not come with the cost of membership, although Alta, its future system sponsor(s) and the DOT are reportedly “working with the bicycle industry to provide discounted helmets to bike share members” and the DOT will continue to distribute free helmets at various public events.
Other shops do have rental programs, but some are optimistic about the effect that the NYC Bike Share will have on business. For example, at 9th Street Cycles in Park Slope, sales staff member Mike Alvarez said that while he’s “not sure how it will affect our Rent-A-Bike program,” he thinks that overall, the effect will be to “just get more people riding.
“I think it’s a way for people to test the water with bikes,” he said. “Once the people in bike share get into the habit of using a bike, get over the initial hump, they probably will buy one of their own.”
The appeal, he added, is in the convenience. “I live in Crown Heights and work here. It’s faster than a car and [has] no parking and gas costs,” Alvarez said. “Even for me, a person who owns four bikes, for parking, there are a lot of restaurants that I can just walk in [with it] or park outside.”
Parking. That was one of the concerns brought up by the Montague Street Business Improvement District at a DOT workshop held earlier this year at St. Francis College regarding the placement of bicycle docking stations.
“One of our concerns is we don’t want to lose on-street parking,” said Montague Street BID Executive Director Brigit Pinnell. “That’s an important part of our community because we have businesses, deliveries and people who drive to our district. I think [the DOT is] well aware of that issue.”
Aside from that, though, Pinnell said she hasn’t heard of any dissent from businesses and that the new program is an “exciting” prospect that will “help diversify the transportation alternatives for residents and visitors [while being] low cost, environmentally sustainable and efficient.”
“Montague Street is one of New York City’s most attractive commercial corridors for visitors all over the world, with commercial shops, dining, and a direct lead to downtown and the promenade,” she added. “So it remains to be seen how the bike share program will impact [us], but we have ample bicycle racks in the district, so I’m sure we can accommodate it.”
The DOT and Alta say that the docking stations and bikes will only be placed on “wide sidewalks, public plazas and private property [and] stations with docked bikes are no wider than the strip of sidewalk occupied by tree-wells.”
The map of bike locations has not yet been finalized, but the program will have an initial roll out in Manhattan south of 79th Street and in Brooklyn neighborhoods “where travel demand for trips shorter than three miles is highest.” According to the DOT’s Bike Share website, this basically includes Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, DUMBO, Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy, Greenpoint, Park Slope, and nearby residential areas.
However, the DOT is still receiving community input and the list of actual station locations is still being finalized, said an agency spokesperson. The final map for the entire service area will be on DOT’s website in a few weeks.
Community input is even going so far as the employment line, with Alta offering NYC Bike Share program jobs in customer service, marketing, education and outreach, head station technician, and general and office managers.
This type of outreach is a welcome step towards “making this a collaboration with each neighborhood and its residents,” said Paco Abraham, a member of Community Board Six’s Transportation Committee. “Essentially, Bike Share is another choice for New Yorkers and a practical, efficient expansion of our city’s transportation network. It will help fill in the gap for subway lines that are too far to walk to and make running errands much easier than circling a block for parking will ever be.”
In the meantime, New Yorkers still have a chance to add their opinion by flagging their neighborhood on the user-generated “Suggest Station” map online, at http://tfp.openplans.org/bikeshare/.
A final note: no taxpayer money is being used to finance the program, according to DOT. Rather, funding will come from membership and program sponsors.