An Ode to Bike Share: NYC Citibike Edition
October was Women’s Bike Month but in celebrating more women on bikes during all months, the unfortunate end of perfect bike-to-work-weather season and our continued coverage of bike commuting, we wanted to provide some thoughts and tips on commuting along the mean streets of NYC, specifically by bike share.
NYC clearly has its disproportionately high share of transit issues, be it the crumbling subway system whose control up in Albany is at odds with the users down in the concrete jungle, the increased car traffic which clogs the streets for buses, pedestrians and cyclists alike, and the desperate need for better and increased green infrastructure, as teamie Liz Marcello has been calling out via twitter religiously.
Though we might wax enviously about other cities that seem to get it right more often than our dense metropolis - my most recent trip to Paris a particular highlight - there has been some progress in NYC cycling infrastructure in the past several years making it not only more convenient to commute by bike amidst the other failing transportation options, but ever increasingly important for more people to jump on the bandwagon. The more users the system sees, the more improvements should come along with the territory (if local politicians are finally forced to come to terms with the city’s transit failing), and the more comfortable everyday people can get with joining in the bike commute movement. It is a virtuous cycle as increased bike traffic makes drivers more accustomed to the rules of sharing the road and alerts city officials that demand for more bike lanes, more bike share stations and more traffic curbing measures are necessary.
Yes, sometimes it seems like you are fighting against these forces - and often fighting for your life - every single day. But, things are arguably improving, being outside for a couple more minutes each day before the daily grind of corporate America feels good for the soul, and most importantly, not having to deal with Cuomo’s crumbling mta will leave you feeling infinitely less frustrated and wanting to flee NYC.
Tips & Tricks for Citibike NYC
Download the Citibike App: Use the map to find bikes and docking stations, track your ride stats, unlock a bike at any time without a key fob by generating a code (very convenient for running lunchtime errands), and seamlessly purchase single rides for up to 4 friends at a time if you are an annual member.
An annual pass is $170 a year and includes unlimited trips for 45 min at a time before overage charges (you can dock and undock as many times as you need); a significant savings to other transit options. Reduced fares are available for income eligible residents for only $5/month with no annual commitment.
Sign up to be a bike angel: earn points for rebalancing the system which go towards monthly perks like extended membership or lifetime perks like a coveted metal key fob (hint: you need to ride a lot for this one but that’s what lunch hour is for, right?)
Look for the best bikes: Citibike is constantly tweaking the design and feel of its fleet* and the best ones to date have what I refer to as the “Soulcycle Treatment” - resistance shifting and clearly numbered saddle height, which should look familiar to those who spin. Plus, the more recent updates of a bigger and wider basket and curved handlebars with newer grips are my personal favorites. And always check for a working bell - you’ll likely need it!
For longer trips, look out for the new pedal assist bikes which make cruising around town SO. MUCH. EASIER. There aren’t a lot in the system yet (only 200) but we hope to see many more around town. Look for the lightning bolt on the map and buttons on the bike’s downtube to confirm its an ebike. And run don’t walk when you see availability, they go fast!
Try out different routes: find the one that best suits your preferences during your commute. When I have extra time, I like meandering through (mostly) car free Central Park since my work-adjacent station is at its southern base. But when I’m looking for a more direct route I opt for Park Ave because while the light timing is less ideal there are less cars during rush hour and no (MTA) buses to contend with.
To that same effect, make sure to check out all stations within the radius of home and work - there might be a bike valet station in heavily trafficked areas (manned by Citibike employees who can assist with questions or stuck bikes) which can help with availability during peak times, or lesser known stations that stay stocked longer within a few blocks of your departure location. The post 5pm midtown rush is...brutal.
If you are in the Bronx within the borders of the service area, check out the pilot of dockless Citibikes which allow you to pick up and leave a bike anywhere within the service limits. Just make sure to leave it out of the way of active driveways and walkways!
Rules of the Road
Always obey traffic laws and yield to pedestrians but know your rights as well. You can take up an entire driving lane if there is no bike lane despite what some may yell to you - it keeps you safer so cars can’t squeeze by within inches of your body (well less often anyway).
Familiarize yourself with on-the-bike signals and make sure to point out turns using your arms so that drivers know where you are going.
Don’t be afraid to use your bell, especially as an early warning to cars who may be turning into the bike lane or unaware pedestrians walking or standing in the lane. But also anticipate that you might need to alter your line if a car doesn’t yield before turning across the bike lane. I like to politely shout as I am passing that they need to yield to pedestrians so they start to learn proper driving behavior (i’m optimistic).
The Perfect Bike Share
Now, if Citibike could take some of the following pages out of the Paris Velib handbook
Plastic/flexible baskets so your baguette and bottle of wine can travel safely to your final destination!
Built-in locks so that you can temporarily leave your bike dockless while you run into a store or stop for a picnic when there are no nearby or free docks - mixing the idea of a dock and dockless system into one
Dock charging for pedal assist bikes so more can be maintained on the system - when it’s docked, it’s charging
And if NYC can take a few of these notes from various international cities
Input bolsters or prefab concrete blocks along bike lanes to truly protect them from cars (see: Barcelona and Toronto, respectively, among other examples)
Leave room on one way streets (not avenues) for a narrow cyclist lane to travel in the opposite direction of traffic to delineate a designated place for cyclists to ride more direct routes and yet not interfere with car or cyclist traffic moving in the dominant direction.
Then we’d have a pretty attractive commute environment and be on our way to improved commuter culture!
*note that as of writing, Citibike’s fleet is seeing significantly less capacity due to system wide bike repairs that have taken longer to complete than anticipated. We hope to see the full fleet back up and running soon