Next year, spring showers will bring a flood of bikes.
Despite years of planning and the highest hopes, New York City’s bike share program will not be launching this year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on his radio show this morning. “We are just not going to put out the system until it works,” the mayor said. “We were going to try a partial launch, but we’re just not going to do it if it doesn’t work.”
John Gambling, Mr. Bloomberg’s radio partner, than asked if the launch would be in the spring, which Mayor Bloomberg affirmed.The reason for the delays were software issues, which have plagued the bike share program’s operator, Alta Bikes, in other markets, as well, most recently Chatanooga, Tenn., where their system launched months after expected.
“Unfortunately there are software issues,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “The software doesn’t work. Duh. Until it works, we’re not going to put it out.”
The mayor said he genuinely believed the program would have rolled out on the streets when expected and seemed disappointed it had not. “We did think there would be a possibility we would have bikes on the streets this summer,” the mayor said.
Yesterday, the mayor seemed to portend this fate, at an unrelated press conference in Coney Island for an expansion to the New York Aquarium. There, he reiterated the technical glitches and swore there was no big conspiracy underway, according to Capital New York:
“We’re getting very close,” he said. “Look, everybody wants to say there’s a secret agenda here. The software doesn’t work. And putting it out when the software doesn’t work, it wouldn’t work. Period. And so we’re trying to find out when we can put a date that we’re sure or reasonably sure that it will work. And we’re trying.”
The mayor also marveled, as he had before, that people were first screaming that they did not want bike share, and now they are screaming about where the heck is it.
Update 9:40: A release from the city’s Department of Transportation reveals the system will launch in March 2013, with 7,000 bikes at 420 stations. This is the same size as the initial plans for a first phase rollout that was supposed to have launched in July. Already cyclists on Twitter were hoping for a complete rollout come the spring, but it does not look like that will be the case.
“New York City demands a world-class bike share system, and we need to ensure that Citi Bike launches as flawlessly as New Yorkers expect on Day One,” DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said in a statement. “The enthusiasm for this program continues to grow and we look forward to bringing this affordable new transportation option to New Yorkers without cost to taxpayers.”
In a separate statement, Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, stressed the challenges of the bike share project.
“While we are eager for Citi Bike to begin, it’s more crucial that this ground-breaking transit system be launched correctly, not quickly,” he said. “New York’s public bike share program will not only be the largest bike share system in the Western Hemisphere, it will also be the city’s first brand-new, full-scale form of public transit since the subway’s debut more than 100 years ago—this is not a moment to rush.”
Update 10:05: And the pile on begins… Comptroller John Liu issued a report critical of bike share earlier this year, says now the administration should take a second look at their program. Via a spokesman: “While the delay may have been caused by poor planning and software problems, the City should take this opportunity to address the remaining safety issues associated with the plan in order to lower the number of accidents and fatalities that may result from the Bike Share program.”
Meanwhile Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign echos Mr. White on the need to wait: “With all eyes on the country’s largest bike share program to date, NYCDOT is right to ensure that the rollout of bike share is smooth and efficient. Waiting until all software issues are resolved is a responsible move that will help guarantee the success of the city’s first bike share. Tri-State looks forward to seeing the program roll out in the spring–perfect timing for putting the drab days of winter behind.”
Update 10:30: Going back over the audio from this morning’s radio show, the mayor explained just how challenging creating a bike share system for 7,000 bikes is: “It really is very advanced technology. Each station is like a dock, each place you stick in a bike is a computer, and everything runs on solar power so you don’t need a lot of wiring and there’s no burden on the electrical system. There’s an enormous number of transactions you have to communicate in real time to central computers.”
He also mentioned the possibility of including speed bumps to slow down cyclists, particularly in Central Park before dismissing the idea. He then argues that bikes, and bike share, are the future:
“Every place where it’s worked is very popular. And the world is going towards more bicycles. They’re not gonna replace cars, but you can’t get more cars on the streets and you have to have other means of transportation. Walking is one thing, bicycles another and buses, subways, those kinds of things. And the streets are there for everybody. The streets are there for people and not just for automobiles.”