Bike Share in the Big Apple

The City That Never Sleeps has officially requested proposals from private companies with the expectation of implementing a twenty-four hour, 365 day-a-year bike share program by the spring of 2012.   With bike share programs already prospering in many of the world's metropolises, the New York City Department of Transportation is set to begin developing its own automated system intended to provide residents and visitors with access to bicycles throughout the city "to encourage bicycle use as an environmentally-friendly and congestion-reducing transportation option in keeping with the Mayor's PlaNYC 2030 goals," states the Request for Proposals (RFP).

Like many programs, including DC's Capital BikeShare and Denver Bike Sharing, NYC's RFP also stipulates that the program operator should structure the user fees to promote shorter, point-to-point trips through daily, monthly, and yearly membership options with extended use fees assessed to cyclists after a short period of use.

NYC Bike Commuting
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The RFP is guided by a study titled "Bike-Share Opportunities in New York City," which was researched, produced, and released in 2009 by the New York City Department of City Planning.   The report outlines the potential benefits of bike share in densely populated cities as well as the current bicycling conditions in NYC.   Possible methods of funding, recommendations for implementation, and case studies from other bike share cities are also included in the report.   Not surprisingly, the study finds that the City is ideally suited for a well-executed bike share program, as approximately half of NYC's workforce lives within a reasonable riding distance of their workplace. In addition, bike commuters and bike lane coverage figures are both on the rise in NYC.   While the percentage of regular bicycle commuters is lower in New York City than it is in many other major cities, the population density, the traffic congestion, and the tourism industry are all factors indicative of an area poised to support bike sharing.

While the plan is still in the proposal phase, there are a few interesting elements of the report and the RFP.   First, the RFP calls for a "financially self-sustaining" program.   No tax dollars will be used to fund the bike share program in NYC, and the private operator to win the five-year contract will share revenue with the city.   Additionally, they study found that "small programs do not work."   Therefore the RFP calls for approximately 600 stations with 10,000 bikes in the initial phase of the program.   To maximize the usefulness of the program, the stations should be positioned every three or four blocks throughout much of Manhattan and into at least one other borough.

Bixi Bike Share Station
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The deadline for proposals is mid-February of 2011, so we'll all have to sit tight and wait for more official details, but the imminent arrival of bike share in one of the most exciting cities in the US is great news for bicycle, transportation, and environmental advocates in New York–and just about everywhere else.   It is a huge step forward in bringing more awareness to cycling as a feasible transportation solution in a progressive and very densely populated metropolis.   And, although each bike share program will be unique based on the structure and needs of its host city, seeing a bike share program succeed in New York City (which has certainly had its fair share of good and bad cycling press) will do much to help convince other US locations that bike share can be a realistic, healthy, job-producing addition to its transportation options.

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