By Timothy Dillon
Another summer is about to begin for the Big Apple, and the way to get around is not by foot, or cab, or subway; this is the summer of CitiBike.
All photos courtesy of Timothy Dillon.
CitiBike was officially launched yesterday across the street from the Manhattan entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. The launching ceremony was hosted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who excitedly announced that the first day annual members could enjoy the 6,000 bikes at 330 stations across Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Though the weekend had begun with questionable weather conditions, the south of Manhattan was all sunshine and blue Memorial Day morning, the streets lined with CitiBikes. Bloomberg was quick to dismiss any negativity or criticism of the program. The fact that, early that morning, prior to the launch event, a CitiBike was stolen off the back of a loading truck wasn’t even enough to shake him.
“And I’m sure that’s the first bicycle that has been stolen in this city,” says Bloomberg, the crowd laughing. He was frank and straightforward this morning, continuing, “So I’m sure we’ll go back and look at your coverage and you’ve been covering every one of those [thefts]. And it was recovered incidentally. And it’s wasn’t ours, it was owned by the private sector, it wasn’t government property stolen. So somehow or other, how you can make a bad story out of that I don’t know, but we’ll pay attention, and it’ll be fascinating to see how clever you are.”
The mayor holds CitiBike and the program in the highest regards and went on to praise Khan, who had put up with several hold ups in the past few years getting this program off the ground. Issues from Hurricane Sandy to developmental set backs to general business blunders, have all been sources of early critiscm to the program. That said, the program is here now, and New Yorkers are excited about it.
An estimated 15,000 people have signed up for annual memberships, and with an expected 10,000 bikes and 600 stations adding Queens to the list of boroughs, there is still room to grow.
We here at BTR are also excited about the CitiBike launch and we encourage everyone who hasn’t already bought in for an annual membership to get out there and give the bikes a try. They are available to non-annual members on June 2. For more information on what to expect from a CitiBike, be sure to check this out.
Not Like the Other Ones
A point to take away from the launch event, is that this is a way of creating relief for a busy city. In addition to answer criticisms of the program, Khan and Bloomberg stressed that this was an alternative way for people to get around. They are bikes for getting around town, from point A to point B, to allow people to enjoy traveling through the city in a new way.
There are those people who enjoy riding in pulled carriages and even those who will ride a subway car end to end, but New York hasn’t always been enjoyed by bike. In the past decade, the city has seen a boom in cyclists, and this bike share program probably won’t tap into that, considering most riders will prefer their own bicycle.
“It’s not a race, it’s just for, you know, sort of tooling around,” says David Bragdon. Bragdon and his wife, Andrea, had spent their Memorial Day spinning around lower Manhattan.
They had picked up their bikes from the station outside the Union Square CitiBank branch and headed downtown where they docked and had lunch. “We stopped for gelato and pizza down at Bleecker, then started a new cycle.”
“This is different than your average bike,” says Andrea. She was surprised by the weight, afterall, they are heavy (45lbs,) but she was not discouraged. She expects to use her membership a few times a week so long as the weather permits, and in the winter, she has promised her husband that she won’t ride.
While CitiBike can help facilitate leisure, enjoying a CitiBike on long leisurely rides, isn’t really a possibility. The people who do want to enjoy long slogs on the blue wonders, will only be able to bike for 44 minutes at a time, before they must re-dock and select another bike to continue on. Theoretically it is possible to dock hop all day, but we thought making a ‘best of’ list for summer bike rides for CitiBike, would be pretty silly. Instead, we thought telling you the best ways to get around safely would be more useful.
Around Round Get Around
First things first, get yourself familiar with the New York City Bike Map. A basic understanding of where you are going and what’s in the way is the most useful advice we can offer. Beyond that, much of how you get around will be contingent on your destination and your preference. For instance, whether or not you want to stick to bike lanes or if you are comfortable heading off onto other avenues and streets to get to where you’re going.
One great thing about Manhattan and Brooklyn is that there is no shortage of one-way streets. Use them to your advantage. To get across town there are various east and west bound bike lanes on the streets as you head north in Manhattan, notably 9th and 10th, 20th and 21st, 29th and 30th, and 54th and 55th streets. There are major “greenway” bike paths to head north and south on Avenues 1, 2, 8, and 9.
In terms of bridges in and out of the city, we recommend the Manhattan Bridge. On the Brooklyn side there is a slow wind up to get on the bridge, but once up, there is a very smooth and steady incline with a great view of the Williamsburg Bridge and the rest of Manhattan. Those wishing to cross the Williamsburg Bridge are in for a tough climb, and though the view is rewarding, you will certainly feel that bikes weight.
The Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Brooklyn Bridges all have CitiBike stations conveniently located on either side making it easy to walk to the bridge then pick up your bike to get into the city. Time is key with a CitiBike in order to avoid late fees, just like always returning your CitiBike to a docking station.
You want to be sure to plan your trip from one dock to another, always. There are always some stations nearby each other, but you should look to hop from dock to dock at all time, and leave ample time for traffic and needing to go to another station if need be. Part of biking safely is knowing where you are going.
Keep It Simple Cyclists
The CitiBike program was expected before now, but now that the bikes have arrived the criticism has shifted wholly to those who oppose the placement of these stations. The mayor’s office and the Department of Transportation have pushed this program for years and it has finally come to fruition. And, of course, a program like this was going to take years. Up until a few years ago, the city was nowhere near ready to handle the number of cyclists on the road.
“What New York did was we spent a lot of time building out the bike network. We have got the most extensive cycling infrastructure in place before the launch so that took some time to get done,” says Khan. She continues, “we feel very strongly that its a really key solution for world class cities. Cities are looking for a way around congestion.”
When asked if he was planning on taking a CitiBike for a spin, Mayor Bloomberg declined to indicate when he would hit the pedal to the metal. At the ceremonies finished, he simply undocked a bike for Khan to ride. Drivers and cyclists alike should take notice that the roads will soon be filled with CitiBike riders, and they have already gotten a bit of practice in.
“It was good. It’s a little weird riding around, not being use to biking on the streets, and trying to following bike lanes, so I just sort of stop. There are so few cars on the road today, it has been a great day for riding,” says Chelsea resident Jeffrey. Jeff rode his bike through the village and then back up to the meatpacking district, and had seen several of his blue comrades in spokes. He is confident that with a little practice the CitiBike program is sure to catch on to a city starved for cheap transportation. “These bikes are kind of like bike trucks. They ride really smoothly. The cars actually seemed a little more respectful than I expected, so that’s a good thing.”