Shared Bicycles May Be Next on Streets of New York

New York Sun | March 28, 2007

By Annie Karni

Community organizers and transit advocates are working together to bring a bicycle-share program to Manhattan, Queens, and Governors Island.

The program, under which members could pick up bikes at street kiosks, reportedly has reduced traffic and pollution in cities such as Lyon, France, Stockholm, Sweden, and Portland, Ore. The plan could help New York meet its goal of having the cleanest air of any large American city by 2030, proponents say.

New York City has long operated with different rules than some of the cities where free-bicycle programs have been successful; one might wonder if the bicycles would leave their racks and never return. Advocates indicate that the scheme would work in New York only in a modified form.

"If we had a program where you could pick up a free bike and use it, those bikes would end up at the bottom of the East River," the deputy director for advocacy at Transportation Alternatives, Noah Budnick, said. "It works to a certain extent in Amsterdam, but eventually even those bikes all end up in the canals."

Paris is gearing up to become a city of cyclists this summer, with 1,450 new kiosks offering about 20,000 bicycles to be scattered throughout the city. Clear Channel Communications has been in talks with Transportation Alternatives about funding a small-scale version of the system for New York, a company spokeswoman said.

Cyclists would pay an annual membership of about $15 for the right to pick up a bike at a kiosk with the swipe of a smart card. Bicycles could be rented for up to two hours. After 30 minutes of free riding, customers would pay fees for every additional half hour.

The kiosks would debut at locations in the East Village, Long Island City, and Governors Island, areas where biking is the fastest mode of transportation, according to studies by Transportation Alternatives. To start, about 100 bikes would be made available in each neighborhood.

"The East Village is very dense, and transit access gets worse as you move east," Mr. Budnick said. About 15% of traffic in the East Village is made up of cyclists, according to a study by the organization.

The target audience for the bike-share program is neighborhood workers and residents, Mr. Budnick said. An East Village resident could use a bike for free for 30 minutes while grocery shopping at Whole Foods, Mr. Budnick said as an example.

The Noguchi Museum, the Socrates Sculpture Park, and the contemporary art center P.S. 1 lie within a two-mile radius in Long Island City, and bicycles would be the easiest way for visitors to commute between the cultural venues, the president of the Long Island City Cultural Alliance, Alyson Baker, said.

On Governors Island, the car-free former military base in New York Harbor that opens for recreational use during the summer, plans are under way to build a two-mile promenade around the island's perimeter. The development plans should attract more cyclists, the president of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, Leslie Koch, said. "One of the ideas we're talking about is special, green bicycles on the island that would be free," Ms. Koch said.

While Amsterdam debuted the first bicycle-sharing program in the 1960s, with free white bicycles that were left around the city for residents to use at their leisure, the scheme has been considered something of a lark for New York City, according to Mr. Budnick.

The minimal fees and membership requirement of the scheme under consideration for New York would hopefully create incentive against stealing the bikes, Mr. Budnick said.

A spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg, John Gallagher, said the administration would consider the bicycle-sharing proposal when it is submitted. "We are looking at way for more New Yorkers to get around with less of an environmental impact," Mr. Gallagher said in an e-mail message.

New York's rental bicycles and kiosks would likely be funded by Clear Channel through advertisements the company would run on the rental bikes and their stalls, a spokeswoman for the company said. Transportation Alternatives is in talks with the advertising company JCDeveaux, which paid for Paris's program, for additional funding.

Clear Channel also funds bicycle-share programs in Sweden, Spain, France, and Norway. The programs are expected to make their debuts in Washington, D.C., and Chicago later this year.