Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On Ya Bike, New York!

Rue Rossini bike share rack in Paris, France

Well, it has been a long time coming, but New York City has finally caught up with many other major cities around the world with the recent introduction of the new Citi Bike, bicycle sharing program. The system will see 10,000 bicycles spread among 600 bike racks ― most of which will initially be located on Manhattan below 59th Street, and in Brooklyn in an area roughly bordered by the East River, Atlantic Avenue, Nostrad Avenue and up around the Williamsburg Bridge (see map here…).

Alta Bicycle Share, is the company running the program, while Citigroup has paid $41 million for naming rights over the next five years―hence the name, Citi Bike.

It may seem counter-intuitive to introduce bicycles onto New York City’s traffic clogged streets, but in fact since 2007, the city has added more than 250 miles of bike lanes, and the number of New Yorkers commuting to work by bike is now approaching 20,000 people, according to Department of Transportation statistics.

Recently, around 32,000 cyclists took part in the TD Five Boro Bike Tour, organised by Bike New York and the New York City Department of Transportation. The event gave participants the opportunity of riding along a 40 mile, car-free route through all five New York boroughs.

Current Citi Bike rental fees
Annual membership to use the Citi Bike system is US$95.00. So popular was the initial offering that it sold out all 5,000 “founding memberships” in less than 48 hours. Annual membership signups for Citi Bike have now passed 8,000 participants, and this number continues to increase slowly but steadily.

If you are planning to make use of the bike share program, I strongly advise you to read through the relevant sections of the City Bike New York website, especially the FrequentlyAsked Questions and the Pricing section.

The city's Department of Transportation has been pushing the bike share concept for years as an affordable commuting option, however the program stalled twice over the last year―once due to a programming glitch, and again after Superstorm Sandy damaged many of the bicycles and stands late in 2012. Despite this, the push to create bike lanes and rental programs has propelled New York into seventh place in Bicycle Magazine's list of bike friendly cities.

An Accident Waiting To Happen?
So much for the good news. The less than good news is that riding bicycles around city streets―any city street―can be a very dangerous enterprise, and riding on New York’s streets may be even more so. According to a Rutgers University study New York City had the highest fatality rate from bike accidents in North America (from 2004 to 2009). In 2010, there were 368 bicycle related crashes, 19 of which resulted in a fatality. The Department of Transportation reports that in 97 percent of fatal bicycle accidents in New York City, the rider was not wearing a helmet.

Clearly it is incumbent on all bike riders to exercise great caution while on the road, whether they use Citi Bike or have their own bicycles.

Citi Bike share station (Image: Nancy Borowick)
So how do you stay safe?
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • Wear a well secured helmet.
  • Obey road signs and traffic laws.
  • Don’t try to beat changing traffic lights.
  • Be aware of other road users who may not notice your approach. Some of the worst offenders are people getting out of parked cars, and pedestrians talking or texting on cell phones.
  • Don’t wear headphones, you want to hear approaching vehicles―especially those behind you.
  • Use lights for night riding. I have a flashing white headlight, a flashing red tail-light, and always wear a bright yellow safety jacket fitted with reflective strips at night.
  • Ride with the flow of traffic, not against it.
  • Use bike lanes — that’s why they are there!
  • Make yourself visible and audible. Equip your bike with a bell and lights, and wear bright colors.

I know some of these safety tips may not make you look trendy or fashionable, but they will increase your visibility and ability to stay safe. And just because the use of bicycle helmets is not mandated by law in New York, does not mean it is safe to ride a bike without one. Do yourself a favor―be seen and be safe.

For a real world look at how bike share systems work, take a look at this video from Melbourne, Australia: How To Use Melbourne Bike Share

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