Today, New York City’s bike-sharing program, Citi Bike, turns 1! Go ahead and have a cupcake to celebrate. (The program is offering free ones today at Citi Bike stations on 17th and Broadway and West & Chambers Streets, in Manhattan.)
On this one-year anniversary, there are many reasons to celebrate Citi Bike, and to seek to expand it. For NRDC, improving air quality and public health in New York City and the region has long been a top priority. And bike-sharing is an important spoke in the smart-growth wheel that, as my colleague Kaid Benfield has described, helps make cities better and greener places to live.
And we also celebrate how Citi Bike has improved the quality of life for so many New Yorkers, including the freedom and the mobility, the low-cost transportation and the outright fun that it adds to New Yorkers’ lives. For many of us at NRDC, Citi Bike provides a much-needed excuse to get outside and experience the city where we work and live from a new perspective. For me, a Citi Bike ride from NRDC’s office on 20th Street along the Hudson River Parkway and across the Brooklyn Bridge to my home in Park Slope provides a chance to clear my head and reflect on the day. My colleague David Murray loves the “wind-in-your-hair” of a Citi Bike ride and saved enough money on subway fare in two months to pay for his annual membership. And Citi Bike inspired my colleague Marie Weinmann to become a serious biker who commutes to and from work most days and most seasons from her home in the South Slope.
Citi Bike has come a long way in a year. Despite the initial predictions of some nay-sayers, Citi Bike has attracted more than 104,000 annual members. In the last year, riders took almost 9 million trips, covering 14.7 million miles of the Big Apple. The carbon pollution prevented, traffic congestion averted and calories burned have all been substantial. By all accounts, the Citi Bikes’ presence has also made cycling safer for all of us. There’s safety in numbers, many studies have found, and the blue bikes have helped sensitize drivers to cyclists’ presence on the roads. In fact, cycling has gotten significantly safer in the Big Apple over the last decade, with the risk of serious injury falling by 73 percent between 2001 and 2011. That’s thanks, in part, to the pioneering work of Mayor Bloomberg’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, who oversaw the installation of more than 350 miles of new bike lanes between 2007 and 2013. And thanks, also, to the great biking advocacy work expertly done over the last decade by our friends at Transportation Alternatives. We look forward to even more improvements under the de Blasio admistration’s Vision Zero pedestrian and cyclist safety program that new Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg will oversee.
Even though Citi Bike wasn’t the first bike share program in the country—Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Tulsa Townies was established in 2007—New York City’s prominence has inspired cities across the county to explore bike sharing as a legitimate, carbon-free and cost-effective public transportation option. Now, about 65 cities are in the process of planning, constructing or launching bike-share programs, according to Russell Meddin, founder of the Bike-Sharing World Map.
In New York, the question for the moment is how to ramp up. There are currently about 6,000 bikes at more than 325 stations in Manhattan south of 59th Street and in a few western Brooklyn neighborhoods. But that’s just a tiny portion of the Big Apple—residents (and tourists) in Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, and throughout the many neighborhoods of Manhattan and Brooklyn that are currently excluded from Citi Bike are rightfully clamoring for more.
That’s not to say that the program is perfect: like all start-ups, the program has had some growing pains and glitches. But these kinks and growing pains are being worked out. The program is currently funded by revenue from riders and the program’s corporate sponsors, Citigroup and MasterCard. But it’s time now to give serious consideration for government to contribute as well. After all, federal, state, and local governments subsidize all kinds of transportation. And none of them keep us and our planet as healthy as bike sharing. (2014 federal highway spending, for instance, topped out at almost $38 billion.)
Government support can be key to system growth. Last fall, Chicago’s pale blue Divvy bikes got a $3 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant that will allow it to overtake Citi Bike as the nation’s largest bike-share program. (Chicago, we New Yorkers love you. But the idea that your program should be bigger than ours is just wrong.)
So, as we celebrate Citi Bike’s first birthday, let’s not just enjoy the cupcakes. Let’s develop a plan to move New York’s bike-share program to the next level, making it more accessible for more New Yorkers.