May 27th, 2012
By David Byrne
THIS summer the city’s Department of Transportation inaugurates a new bike-share program. People who live and work in New York will be able to travel quickly and cheaply between many neighborhoods. This is major. It will make New Yorkers rethink their city and rewrite the mental maps we use to decide what is convenient, what is possible. Parks, restaurants and friends who once seemed beyond plausible commuting distance on public transportation will seem a lot closer. The possibilities aren’t limitless, but the change will be pretty impressive.
I’ve used a bike to get around New York for decades. There’s an exhilaration you get from self-propelled transportation — skateboarding, in-line skating and walking as well as biking; New York has good public transportation, but you just don’t get the kind of rush I’m talking about on a bus or subway train. I got hooked on biking because it’s a pleasure, not because biking lowers my carbon footprint, improves my health or brings me into contact with different parts of the city and new adventures. But it does all these things, too — and sometimes makes us a little self-satisfied for it; still, the reward is emotional gratification, which trumps reason, as it often does.
More than 200 cities around the world have bike-share programs. We’re not the first, but ours will be one of the largest systems. The program will start with 420 stations spread through the lower half of Manhattan, Long Island City and much of western Brooklyn; eventually more than 10,000 bikes will be available. It will cost just under $10 for a day’s rental. The charge includes unlimited rides during a 24-hour period, as long as each ride is under 30 minutes. So, for example, I could ride from Chelsea to the Lower East Side, from there to food shopping, later to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and after that, home. This system is not geared for leisurely rides up to the George Washington Bridge or to Coney Island. This is for getting around.
I’ve used bike-sharing programs in London, Ottawa, Washington, Toronto, Barcelona, Milan and Paris. In London, where they introduced a public bike program two years ago, I could enjoy a night out without having to worry about catching the last tube home or finding a no longer readily available black cab. In Paris, the Vélib program has more than 20,000 bikes and extends all the way to the city’s borders. Significantly, the banlieues, the low-income housing projects that surround that city, aren’t included, so the system reinforces a kind of economic discrimination, but maybe more coverage is coming.