The Bikes Have Arrived. But Will New Yorkers Ride Them?

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Most of the people I know in New York City were largely indifferent to the bike lanes that began appearing in 2011 as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to remake the city streets.

Sure, there was some occasional grumbling about riders who ignored traffic signals and seemed to only grudgingly consider the rights of pedestrians, but everyone was already immune to such behavior based on their encounters with the bike riders’ car-driving cousins.

But today, May 28, Bloomberg may raise the hackles of the city’s bikers and non-bikers with the introduction of a European-style bike-sharing system. Known as Citi Bike, after the primary sponsor, Citigroup Inc., the system is now officially open to the public, with 6,000 bikes spread across more than 300 stations.

The New York Times notes that in his weekly radio show, Bloomberg said, “It is the free market, if you think about it...If people want to use them, they’ll use them. If people don’t, they don’t.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

In fact, The Times reported two weeks ago that many New Yorkers are against bike sharing because they don’t like the look of the rack stations. “The critics say the kiosks are a blight. They clash with the character of residential areas of the West Village or Fort Greene, Brooklyn. They are already magnets for pigeons, garbage bags and dogs in need of relief. Lawsuits have been prepared. Kiosks have been defaced.”

Aesthetics aside, it’s possible that more people will be put off by the rules and instructions that accompany the program.

Let’s start with the cost: According to The Times, “An annual membership costs $95 before tax, and allows riders to rent bikes for as long as 45 minutes with no additional charge. Access for one week costs $25, and a 24-hour pass is $9.95. In these instances, riders are allowed only 30 minutes of use before overtime fees start.”

I’m not sure about you, but this already seems too complicated to me.

To return the bike, you’re supposed to give it a “vigorous shove” as you push the front wheel into the dock and wait for a green light. If you get a yellow or red light, try, try again. For anyone who has repeatedly slid a MetroCard many, many, many times and still not been granted access to the city’s subway system, this is not an encouraging sign.

Another thing to watch out for: If you don’t return the bike within 24 hours, your credit or debit card will be charged $1,000. That better be one nice bike!

But don’t worry about the expense of a helmet. Those are encouraged, but not required. Proof once again that New Yorkers really are crazy.

Finally, if you have an accident, you’re supposed to call 911 within 24 hours. That is if you’re not unconscious.

Yet, many people are obviously undeterred since according to Bloomberg’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, over 14,000 annual memberships have been sold.

Personally, I think I’ll stick with the subway.

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