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New Bike-Share Program Gives Demo in Union Square

By Mary Johnson | September 30, 2011 7:33am
Jason Chin-Fatt said he bikes to work every day and is excited to take advantage of the city's new bike-sharing program when it launches next year.
Jason Chin-Fatt said he bikes to work every day and is excited to take advantage of the city's new bike-sharing program when it launches next year.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

UNION SQUARE — In between bursts of rain on Thursday, a curious crowd gathered around a row of bulky, brightly colored bikes in Union Square, peppering workers in green T-shirts with questions about the city’s highly anticipated bike-share program, which was unveiled earlier this month.

The program, which will be run by Alta Bicycle Share, will place 10,000 bikes at roughly 600 docking stations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn when it goes into effect next year. Users can use them  for an annual membership fee of about $100, or they can purchase monthly, weekly or daily passes.

Prices for those passes have not yet been determined.

The bike-share program has stoked controversy in the past, and the city’s Department of Transportation has been chided for failing to engage the community in the planning process.

But the demonstration on Thursday, part of a series that will take place through October, was all about transparency, with workers fielding questions and concerns about a variety of issues, said Jocelyn Gaudi, member care manager for Alta.

Overall, it was a mix of questions and skepticism, but even the skepticism was welcome, Gaudi said.

“This is a huge opportunity for me to educate prior to use,” said Gaudi, joking that if the demonstrations go well, she could render her job in customer service obsolete.

“[The program is] not the end-all be-all [for transportation in the city],” she said, “but it’s a great second or third option.”

Jason Chin-Fatt, who works for the New York Public Interest Research Group’s Straphangers Campaign, said he commutes to work on his bike every day it doesn’t rain.

The trip from his home in Woodside, Queens, to his office in Downtown Manhattan is about eight miles, he said. But it still takes him less time to make the trek by bike than by train.

“Even though I advocate for subways and buses, I’m a fan of cycling,” said Chin-Fatt, 29, who was wearing a T-shirt that read “I just want to ride bikes with you.”

“I think, personally, it’s a great initiative,” he added.

His questions for the workers were mostly logistical. He wondered what would happen if he needed to return a bike, but the racks were full and his time was running out. He was told there would be an automated machine on site that could offer him a free grace period of about 15 minutes and the location of a nearby docking station with free space.

The goal, workers said, is to place stations about three to four blocks apart.

“With the program they’re describing, it sounds like you can get around easily,” he said. “It makes me want to use it now.”

Riley Kellogg, 50, lives in the Union Square area and was riding her bike home when she saw the demonstration and stopped by.

She wanted to know how widely the bikes would be distributed and whether the program would provide helmets to promote greater bike safety. Although Kellogg has her own helmet, she worried about tourists and others without protective head gear who would likely participate in the program.

Someone at the demonstration told her they are looking into the issue, which she was happy to hear.

“It’s a tough logistical problem,” she said. But, she added, “I think everyone should always wear a helmet when riding bicycles.”

Kellogg, a tour guide and lifelong New Yorker, said she never learned to drive and uses her bike as her main mode of transportation.

“I really couldn’t be without it,” she said.

She said she considers herself an advocate for cycling and cheered the possibility of having more riders out on the road.

“I’m excited that [the program is] coming to New York,” she said. “It helps make it safer for everybody, the more people are out there on bikes.”

The next demonstration will take place on Friday, Sept. 30, from noon to 4 p.m. at McCarren Park in Brooklyn.