Thursday, June 18, 2009

NYC Bike Sharing Program- "Bike Around Downtown"

(Yes- we look silly, but safety first!)

I am happy to report that bike sharing has come to New York City again (it's 2nd year)- where it is most welcomed and needed. Aside from all of the traffic congestion and pollution from the exhaust, most NYers or city dwellers do not have the space to keep a bike in their apartment and those left on the street -even with the biggest and most heavy duty locks very unfortunately get stolen or vandalized. A bike sharing system is great at helping to reduce the carbon footprint of commuters and enables users to become healthier through exercise.
(Bicing Bike Share in Barcelona- I was so impressed!)

Bike Sharing has been big in Europe for quite some time- most notably in Paris and Barcelona. Paris's Velib' bike sharing program is currently the largest, with a network of 20,000 specially designed bicycles distributed among 1450 stations throughout Paris. Barcelona's bike sharing program, Bicing was launched in 2007 and has approximately 400 stations with 6,000 bicycles. While there this past year I saw many people taking advantage of the service. From what I gather their programs are either free or you pay a minimal fee. There are no attendants but rather a computer station where you check out and return your bike.
(Moving up the West Side Hwy Bike Lane- lots of lovely greenery)

One of the first community bicycle projects in the United States, Yellow Bike Project, was started in Portland, Oregon in 1994, and was very popular, but unsustainable due to theft and vandalism. In August 2008, SmartBike DC was launched in Washington, D.C. It has an annual subscription cost of $40 and consists of 10 rental locations with 100 bikes. Hopefully others will soon follow suite.
(At South Street Seaport- other riders getting their gear)

New York City's program, Bike Around Downtown, is relatively small scale compared to the others... There are only 30 bikes are available, only one pickup location, three drop off locations, and they all are on the edges of the city so it's not as convenient. Plus the wheels are only available in 3 time slots...9:30AM- 12:00PM, 12:30PM-3:00PM and 3:30PM-6:00PM and though the service offers wheels to rider everyday of the week- it ends on September 30th. It is easy to make reservations online, but you do need to fill out a little bit of paperwork when you get there- regardless of your booking online, and it is first come first serve. Being that they are partnered with Bike and Roll there are other bikes available to rent for a fee. All in all it's a good start and it's free. It was made possible by the generous support from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the partnership between, The Downtown Alliance and Bike and Roll.

How It Works
You register online- selecting a user name and password and filling out relevant information about yourself such as your address and credit card (for collateral - if damaged or returned late). Then you can book your "share" online. You pick up your bike at the South Street Seaport kiosk (between the Circle Line ticket office and Water Taxi booths on Fulton and South Streets) and have the option of returning the bikes to A. South Street Seaport (where you picked up your bike B. Pier A in Battery Park (Battery Place and West Street) C. Pier 84 (12th Avenue @ 43rd Street).
(Bike and Roll drop off station Pier 84)

I booked the ride for the next day and was able to book 2 bikes- one for me and one for Anthony. We rode up from South Street Seaport and onto the West Side Highway and returned the bikes at Pier 84. Along the way we made brief stops to check out the new places we haven't seen before and Anthony managed to spot Juneberries a few times along the way. I can't tell you how much we enjoyed the couple of hours we had on the bikes! It made me realize just how much I've missed riding a bike. I definitely plan to take full advantage of this service.

So far, I have not yet ventured onto the city streets, but I am sure I will one of these days. I know I am not alone in my hesitation to ride on the busy streets- with all the crazy drivers and many pedestrians, safety is definitely on the brain (btw... they provided a helmet for free too). I just hope the demand will be recognized, a bigger program will be implemented, we'll get more bikes lanes, and see less cars. Make sure to check it out and happy bike sharing!

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