The city has been in the thrall of a bicycle backlash for the past year, after the city’s Department of Transportation ran lanes through the East Village, Upper West Side and, most controversially, along Prospect Park West, which led to a lawsuit filed by neighbors living on the thoroughfare.
Things seem to be finally calming down—the lane lawsuit was defeated, recent polls have put bike lane support north of 60 percent—but how will the city react when the Department of Transportation and its love-her-or-hate-her Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan roll out a massive bike sharing program across Manhattan and Brooklyn next summer?
Comprising roughly 600 stations with 10,000 bikes, the scheme will, according to two people briefed on the plans, stretch from the Upper East and Upper West sides down to the tip of Manhattan and over the bridges into Brownstone Brooklyn, reaching as far as Greenpoint and Crown Heights. “The whole point is it needs to be dense,” a city official told The Observer. “It needs to serve a lot of different trips in order to be viable.”
The city has selected Alta Bike Share of Portland, Ore., to install and manage the system in a public-private partnership. The firm launched the popular Capital Bike Share in Washington, D.C. last year, which was expanded again this year, and this summer it opened the New Balance Hubway in Boston. With 110 and 61 stations respectively, both are considerably smaller than New York’s planned roll-out. Capital Bike Share is currently the largest such program in the country.
The New York system is expected to be similar in that 24-hour, multi-day or annual subscriptions will be available, and as with Boston or London, where Barclays is the partner, Alta will be seeking a sponsor to help bring in revenue, with any profits to be shared with the city. As with its two U.S. systems, the first 30 minutes are expected to be free, with nominal fees for each 30 minutes after.
An annual membership should cost less than the price of a monthly MetroCard, according to the official.
A call to Alta’s offices in Portland confirmed that the firm was the winner and said that an announcement would be made today, though the woman who answered the phone said that was all she knew. A DOT spokesman declined to comment.
Gene Russianoff, spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, said he did not know anything about the specifics of the city’s bike sharing program but whatever the program, would be a boon for the city’s mass transit system. “Not to sound to policy wonky, but it extends the reach of the subways and buses because these things tend to be placed near the stops,” Mr. Russianoff said. “What might have been a schlep isn’t so much anymore.”
Concerns have been swirling in the city about a bike share program, particularly after The Times published a story in June pointing out that Montreal’s Bixi system, in which Alta is a partner, had been losing money and had to be bailed out by the city for more than $100 million.
The bigger issue will be deciding where to put all those stations. “DOT and Janette Sadik-Khan’s problem is they say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing, take it or leave it,’” said Sean Sweeney of the Soho Alliance, a frequent DOT critic. “Instead, it should be, ‘Here’s 20 racks, where would you like them?’” He expressed concern about whether the stations would be located on too-narrow sidewalks or in valuable parking spaces or other inopportune locations.
Still, he said it would be nice if done right. “I walk a lot, I’ll walk from 59th Street downtown,” Mr. Sweeney said. “Let’s say I don’t want to walk or take the subway, then a bike sounds nice. But it’s still a matter of giving over public space to a private company, so we have to be careful.” He added that no stations should be place in Soho.
The department has long argued that it goes out of its way to work with the community on project siting, but just last week it went a step further and agreed to coordinating with the City Council before placing any of the bike stations. “There are plenty of wide sidewalks or plazas, little underutilized corners of the streets where these would be perfect,” the city official said. “It’s like a bus station, though. You can’t tell us you don’t want them anywhere in your district.”