What Does it Take To Turn NYC Bike Friendly?


These are the Manhattan drop-off points for the Forum for Urban Design’s Bike-Share project.

It might have taken $5 gas prices and an MTA budget crisis but politicians and residents alike are reevaluating bikes as the best way of getting around town.

Today the Forum for Urban Design launched a second bike-share program as an exhibit of how a citywide model could function. Yesterday, the city released a Request for Expressions of Interest for a citywide bike-share. Transportation Alternatives opened a free bike-share program for Governor’s Island every Friday a month ago. The Forum for Urban Design also is attempting to redesign Red Hook as the most bike friendly part of town through a design competition.

“A Public bike-share is an extension of a public transportation system,” said Wiley Norvel, spokesperson for Transportation Alternatives. “It can be as integral into people’s lives as subways and taxi cabs.”

In Paris, bike stations outnumber Metro stations by a wide margin.

Even with all of these plans in place, New York City is still falling behind many other cities in terms of getting bikers out in the streets. Both San Francisco and Seattle already have 2% of their residents riding while the city has less than 1%, Norvel said.

Clear Channel Communications began a citywide bike share program last month called SmartBike DC where riders can take out bikes for 24 hours at a time for a small fee. They refused to comment whether they were thinking of expanding their program elsewhere.

The most successful rideshare program, called Vélib, began last July in Paris. The city implemented 750 docking stations situated every 1,000 feet supporting 10,600 bikes. Residents and tourists alike can ride the bikes for free for 30 minutes or pay a small fee to ride longer. The program is free because ads posted on the bikes pay for its entirety. In only one year it has increased ridership by 50 percent.

“It’s probably been one of the most transformative changes to the Parisian landscape,” Norvel said. “Paris has a notably slower and more elegant street share than before.”

One day they had as many as 179,000 trips per day during a transit strike. Their average is 80,000 users a day with normal peaks at about 150,000, Norvel said. A blogger posted a great photo essay (click on the ‘Pricetags 101’ link) that shows the truly magnificent proportions of their system.

So why is New York City lagging behind? Experts suggest that safety is an issue, but as more riders enter traffic safety rates tend to rise due to ‘safety in numbers,’ according to Public Health Consultant Peter Jacobsen.

“A motorist is less likely to collide with a person walking and bicycling if more people walk or bicycle,” Jacobsen said in a report. “Policies that increase the numbers of people walking and bicycling appear to be an effective route to improving the safety of people walking and bicycling.”

Jacobsen’s findings, published in 2003, show that safety isn’t the issue.

“Politics are changing towards non-pollution transportation,” Bill Dipaola, Director of Times’ Up, said. “The mayor just somehow woke up. I don’t know why.”

While Dipaola revels in the change of political climate, he warns the city not to turn its back on the grassroots bike efforts, which helped start the movement.

“What we’re seeing today is a high-tech large company promotion that is usually a flash in the pan program,” he said. “When it is done from the community it has a much longer sustainable program.”

This is what DC’s permanent bike-share program looks like these days.