John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A survey shows locals want more bike sharing and protected lanes, and most city council members are on board, too.
In Manhattan, getting on a bike-share bike is often as easy as walking to the end of the block. But in farther-off reaches of the city, you might as well hope to ride a flame-spitting unicorn, as stations are few and far between, if they even exist.
New Yorkers would like to see that change, to believe a recent survey commissioned by Transportation Alternatives. The activist group, whose mission admittedly is “to reclaim New York City's streets from the automobile and to promote bicycling, walking, public transit,” had the Penn Schoen Berland research group ask 880 likely New York voters if they’d support expanding Citi Bike to all five boroughs. Seventy-one percent replied they’d “strongly” or “somewhat” like to see the bike-sharing program in neighborhoods across the city—not just Manhattan, Jersey City, and the western parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
The vast majority of the survey respondents said they’d never used Citi Bike, which might explain their interest in it. For what it’s worth, 69 percent of the survey-takers also said they’d want protected lanes with any new Citi Bike infrastructure.
So how realistic is it that Citi Bike could cover all New York? Well, it’s lately been in a process of expansion and is scheduled to grow to a fleet of 12,000 cycles later this year. But despite a majority of city council members last week throwing their support behind taxpayer funding of the private program, covering the five boroughs would require an investment of as many as 80,000 bikes, according to the New York City Department of Transportation. At a per-bike price of $6,000, that surge would cost a whopping $408 million, according to Motivate, the company that operates Citi Bike. The company argues that it likely wouldn’t be able to cover the costs of expanding into lower-density, often lower-income areas without funding from the city.
And some locals are wondering how Citi Bike would fare in neighborhoods that aren’t as dense and walkable as, say, Midtown Manhattan. There, “parking is an issue and losing those spots [to a bike-share station] is something to consider,” writes one Redditor. Another gives these arguments:
When you get to the more spread out parts, people tend to have longer commutes. No one is riding a [Citi Bike] from Jackson Heights to Garden City. Better public transportation needs to come first and [then] city bike should supplement it….
Even if the issue is just getting to the nearest mass transit station, many people are just not healthy enough to [do] it via bike. We’re going to tell 65-year-old women that we took their parking spot and now they have to bike ten miles to work? My only argument is that we should not be taking away a lot of parking spots without adding in more alternate transit than just Citi Bikes. I think the “screw people who need parking, they need to get with the times” approach is likely to turn people against [Citi Bikes] in the long term.
That conflict has certainly played out in just about every phase of Citi Bike’s expansion. Still, ridership numbers are impressive: nearly 14 million bike-share trips were taken in 2016, setting a record for the third year in a row. On 23 days last year, the system saw more than 60,000 trips, and set an all-time record on October 19, with nearly 70,000 trips, according to the mayor’s office.