The Bike Share Effect

Excuse Me, Mr. Officer
Cyclists haven’t had the best relationship with the NYPD lately. Somewhere between the scofflaw bikers, and the over-eager officers, and the 48,556 summonses issued to two-wheelers last year, the simple truth that bicyclists are regular New Yorkers has been lost. With bike share, it’ll be found.

Though the actual number of Citi Bikes on the street at any give time will represent a small fraction of the more than 200,000 cyclists who crisscross the five boroughs each day, the visual consistency of the system will do a lot to normalize bikes in the urban landscape. Instead of “coming out of nowhere” or blending into the mess of rusty street signs and scrappy chains, bright blue Citi Bikes will pop from street scenes like yellow cabs and quickly become just as quintessentially New York.

That may not sound like the kind of thing that’ll convince the NYPD that bikes belong, but further formalizing the look of bicycles will help to combat the perceived strangeness that turns cyclists into a threat for certain people.

What’s more, the ease and accessibility of bike share will create new cyclists, and occasional cyclists, and only-when-I-have-to cyclists, who don’t necessarily look the part or play to the tribalism that has kept New York City’s bike scene a subculture for so many years. That will normalize cycling as well. It may even make for some empathy. For years, T.A. has talked about the windshield perspective among police officers and policy makers. Citi Bike is about to kick off an era of handlebar vantage.

Doctor, Doctor
New York City has some public health problems, which it’s been working to remedy with laws regulating big sodas, smoking and trans fats. Whether you think those rules are the bee’s knees or as bad as it gets, one thing is for certain: none of them are fun.

Enter Citi Bike. Suddenly getting around is an adventure, inside a workout, wrapped with great views and drizzled with convenience. It’s a generative sort of public health project that’s actualized with smiles, not enforced with regulations.

Not only do all but the shortest bike commutes meet the NYC DOH’s suggestion for 30-minutes of exercise each day (which, coincidentally, is also the amount of time casual Citi Bike users will have before they’re charged an overtime fee), but other bike trips—lunch-time rides, after-work cruises and weekend jaunts—are now available at a reasonable price to almost anyone who wants to ride. “The city’s your gym,” is already a DOH slogan, but Citi Bike makes it true.

Since Boston introduced it’s 600-bike system last year, users have burned an estimated 27 million calories. In New York City that number will be closer to half a billion, which is a big step towards a fitter city and the cheapest and most fun training program around.

The Polls and the Pedals
Regardless of the nickname’s veracity, New York has a MetroCard Mayor. Now, it’s simply a matter of time until we have a Citi Bike Council Member, or better, a real bike share devotee behind the big desk at City Hall.

If that sounds far-fetched, it’s worth remembering what Citi Bike already represents: health, sustainability and frugality—all traits that elected officials want to project—and as the program proves popular and starts to change certain assumptions about cyclists, bike share will come to characterize a kind of everyman; a friendly sort who’s not afraid to do what’s sensible.

That’s exactly what happened in London, where Mayor Boris Johnson—the driving force behind what are often called “Boris Bikes”—recently won reelection. When New York City finally finds a powerful elected official who will champion cycling and relate to its benefits and challenges, the bicycling renaissance of recent years may look like a dark age.

For the Love of Money
It isn’t exactly investment banking, but biking is a big business in New York City. From shops to bag companies to clothing brands to frame builders, millions of dollars move through the city’s bicycle economy each year. Citi Bike is about to crank that up a notch.

In Washington, D.C., Capital Bike Share has fueled an explosion in bicycling enthusiasm, according to local shop owners, who also report that all the excitement has meant more sales of everything from accessories (like helmets) to fully outfitted bikes. “You are getting more and more people that loved using bike share and now are saying, ‘Wait, I want something that’s my own,’” a shop salesman told WNYC’s Transportation Nation.

“One of the great things about bike share is it’s sort of a gateway drug to biking. You don’t have to make a several hundred dollar investment,” said another.

Bring it on! New Yorkers aren’t just ready to buy and sell in a booming bike economy, they’re also positioned to design and promote styles and products that will spread around the world.

You Can Get There from Here
The conventional wisdom is that houses and offices are convenient to transit if the walk is less than half a mile. Bike share is about to remake that map, and along the way, rewrite some of the rules and assumptions that have underpinned real estate in New York City for decades.

Long before the Second Avenue Subway makes the East Side easy, years before the 7 Train extension opens up office space on the far West Side, for millions less than the East River Ferry needs to connect Brooklyn’s waterfront with Manhattan’s jobs, Citi Bike will tie transit-poor neighborhoods to subway and bus hubs. Why? Because a one-mile bike share trip (including picking up and parking the bike) takes the same amount of time as a half-mile walk. That quadruples the service area of every subway stop within Citi Bike’s boundaries, making formerly distant pockets far more convenient and opening up the possibility for all sorts of new developments.

Like almost everything else in New York, Citi Bike won’t be designed with tourists in mind—there are plenty of great bike rental companies for that business—but like the subway or the West Village or the escalators in Grand Central, the fact that it’s not easy for visitors won’t stop a hefty chunk of the more than 50 million folks who flock to the Big Apple each year from doing so. And that’s a good thing.

Tourists spent more than $30 billion in New York City last year, generating $16 billion in wages and supporting more than 300,000 jobs. Citi Bike will help spread that money further from traditional haunts and increase the totals. Bikers not only build up an appetite and a thirst while seeing the sites, but also have the ability to cover more ground, peek into more store windows, and stop more and shop more.

In London, “casual users,” a broad category that includes tourists, account for nearly one-third of the more than 13 million bike trips taken since the program opened in December 2010. Transport for London, which operates London’s bike share, has even designed a series of “Leisure Routes”—including an architectural tour, a garden tour, an independent shops tour and a ride called “Quirky London”—aimed at getting casual users to become serious consumers. Who can’t think of half a dozen similar routes that would take visiting riders, and their visiting wallets, around the gems of New York?