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City Unveils New Bike-Share Program

By Jill Colvin | September 14, 2011 12:04pm
DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan rides one of the bikes through a public plaza.
DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan rides one of the bikes through a public plaza.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

FLATIRON — Thousands of new bikes will be rolling into the city soon as part of a much-anticipated bike-sharing program set to launch next summer.

Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan announced Wednesday that Alta Bike Share, the company behind numerous bike-share projects, including the Capital Bike Share in Washington, D.C., will be installing and managing the system, which will include 10,000 bikes parked at hundreds of stations citywide.

"The wheels are definitely in motion for New York's bike-sharing program," said Sadik-Khan, who later joined Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson and Brooklyn City Councilwoman Letitia James for a demonstration ride around the Flatiron pedestrian plaza — and straight through it at one point.

Bike share programs already operate in cities across the globe.
Bike share programs already operate in cities across the globe.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

Under the program, people can either buy an annual membership for around $100, or a weekly or daily pass either at kiosks using their credit cards or online. The price of those passes hasn't been settled on.

Participants can pick up the bikes at any of 600 yet-to-be-determined, solar-powered stations that will stretch from the Upper East and Upper West Sides down through lower Manhattan and into northwest Brooklyn.

Riders can then leave the bikes at other stations near their destinations, so they never have to worry about maintenance or storage.

Officials said the initial phase of the project will concentrate on the central part of the city, although they hope to expand throughout the five boroughs at a later date. The bike model has also not been decided upon.

Sadik-Khan, who has received serious criticism in the past for her department's failure to consult with residents before making changes, stressed that it will be up to communities to decide where they want the stations and whether to put them on sidewalks, in pedestrian plazas, parking lots or public parking spots.

Residents can begin to make suggestions online. As of Wednesday afternoon, several hundred had been received.

As part of the outreach effort, which will include workshops and public meetings, the DOT is taking a model bike-sharing station on the road, so that residents can test the program out for themselves.

"We really want your help in planning the stations," Sadik-Khan stressed.

If their first stop Wednesday was any indication, the program just might be welcomed with open arms.

"This is so cool!" raved Upper West Sider Claire Eddy, 54, who could barely contain her excitement when she stumbled onto the bikes parked in the Flatiron pedestrian plaza.

She said her son goes to school in Montreal, which has a bike-share program, and that she's always wished the city had one, too.

"Yay! Yay yay yay!" she said, hopping up and down.

Melissa Singer, 52, said she doesn't own a bike, but would definitely start to ride if she could borrow them for a low fee.

"I have been waiting for this," she said, adding that she'd love to see the stations extend all the way to her neighborhood, in Forest Hills, Queens.

John Nichols, 36, said he currently has to schlep his bike up three stories to his East Village apartment because he's afraid to park it on the street.

"It's really exciting," he said of the program, which he said would make him reconsider owning a bike.

Even Working Families Party executive director Dan Cantor applauded the program, telling Wolfson, "I wasn't so sure about [Mayor Bloomberg's] third term, Howard, but this is a pretty good development."

Under the 5-year arrangement with Alta, the company will cover all installation and maintenance costs. Any profits they make from revenue and advertising on the bikes and stations will be split with the city.

To prevent thefts, each bike will be equipped with a GPS unit that will tell the department exactly where each is located, Sadik-Khan said, adding that she doesn't anticipate any problems with vandalism or theft.

The DOT had originally hoped to launch its pilot program this summer, but plans were delayed, reportedly because of resistance from the City Council over the Bloomberg administration's failure to include them in the decision-making process.

The plan was finally given the go-ahead late last week after the administration agreed to hold City Council hearings before the program is up and running, the New York Times reported.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said that the Council strongly supports the idea of the bike-share program — just not the city's handling of it.

“We continue to believe that the bike share program should have been subject to a franchise reviewbut we do appreciate the improvements to the process that the administration has agreed to," she said in a statement. Franchise reviews are used for private companies that want to operate on city land.

City Council Transportation Chair James Vacca also warned that the DOT must make good on its word to keep the public involved.

"The rubber will only hit the road if DOT is totally committed to working with local neighborhoods and Council Members in the siting and implementation of Bike-Share, because these stations are going to take up valuable real estate on our public streets and sidewalks," he said in a statement following the announcement.

A Department of Transportation report in 2009 found the city could see many benefits from a bike-sharing program, including improvements to the environment and people's health.

The report, which emphasized the importance of a large-scale approach in order to maximize convenience and impact, imagined an initial fleet of 10,000 bicycles, spread throughout Manhattan below 81st Street, and in parts of northwest Brooklyn.

The department estimated that the program would require an initial investment of $30 to $40 million, with operation costs running about $22 million a year.

Eventually, authors of the report believed that the program could expand to up to 49,000 bikes across the city.

The city's next demonstration of the bikes in Manhattan will be help Sept. 20 at Union Square from noon to 6 p.m.