by Chris Asay
I was in the Big Apple last week, and walked the High Line, which was formerly an elevated rail line that runs through Manhattan’s Lower West Side. It has been “recycled” in to an elevated garden and walkway. It is beautiful! And heavily used. There were lots of people just strolling along, or sitting on a bench, on a Monday afternoon.
New York City certainly has areas – the High Line being just an exceptional example – that are pedestrian friendly. But what about for bicycle users?
While walking downtown, I came across a station for the CitiBike system, New York’s new bicycle rental program, and gave it a try.
There are now hundreds of bike stations all over the southern half of Manhattan, from Central Park down to Battery Park, spaced about 3-5 blocks apart. With a credit card, you can rent unlimited use of the bikes for just $10 per day. (For $25 you can get a whole week, and for $95 you can get a whole year.) In addition, there is now a network of dedicated bike lanes crisscrossing the city, so that there are places to ride your citibike without going head-to-head with the automobiles.
The catch is, you have only 30 minutes at-a-time, before you must re-dock (lock) the bike at a station. You can immediately take the bike out again, and continue on your way, but a fine will be added to your credit card bill if you are overtime. This keeps bikes in circulation, and not just parked somewhere while you do other stuff. There is a keypad code you enter to unlock a bike. Every time you re-check out a bike, you re-use your credit card to identify yourself at a kiosk, and are given a new unlocking code that must be used within 5 minutes.
Once you know where the stations are (there is an app you can download onto your smartphone, but paper maps are not provided), you can go nearly anywhere, just stopping occasionally at a station to check the bike in and out. We saw lots of users of these bikes all over town, but especially on the off-road, multi-use path that runs for 5 miles along the west coastline of Manhattan down to Battery Park. That is a great route for sightseeing!
The system works pretty well, though not without a few technical difficulties. Sometimes the codes didn’t work, so I had to re-swipe my credit card and try a new code. At one station, the card reader wasn’t working properly, so I had to walk down to the next station to get a bike. And if a station is completely full of bikes, you won’t be able to check your bike in at that station. Fortunately, the smartphone app can tell you how many bikes, and how many empty spaces, are at every station.
All-in-all, I’d say that New York City has definitely become more bike friendly!
Chris Asay is a member of Bike Delaware and of the City of Dover Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee.