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The Lowdown on the Bike Share (Part II)

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Since the announcement of NYC’s imminent bike share program, expected next summer, DOT Commish Janette Sadik-Khan’s team has been setting up pop-up shop in neighborhoods within the pilot phase zone (below 79th Street in Manhattan and east to Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn).

With seemingly endless rain, this fall has not proven to be the easiest time to rally the community to these outdoor show-and-tells. Several were rained out. Yesterday, on Columbus Avenue at 76th Street, we hit up the last one of the season.

Featuring a rack of shiny multicolor bikes (each from a different city where Alta is the share system operator) and an automated station prototype, the bike share demo was staffed by four cheerful staffers from the NYC DOT Bicycle Program.

Part of the demo is the chance to take a bike for a test ride, which involves not looking like a total creep and leaving your credit card or ID with one of the DOT staff. Unexpected spins around the block in Manhattan traffic are always a little harrowing, but the quick-response brakes and easy-to-turn frame were unexpected gifts.

The bike weighs about 50 pounds and has three gears, certainly not built for speed, which is probably best when you think about all the unpracticed riders who will now be zipping around the city.

Being the Upper West Side (a particularly loud and effective NIMBY constituency), there were a lot of questions at the demo, some of them involving complicated hypothetical situations featuring graphically detailed accidents, flat tires, and full or empty bike racks. The general take-away was that people are pretty excited about the bike share; a sentiment that a Bicycle Program staffer said had been the same at other demos.

DOT has an obviously well-rehearsed but quite informative spiel about the share: There will be 10,000 bikes at 600 stations with the pilot area, each station will be spaced 2-3 blocks apart, each rack will differ in size depending on the anticipated demand from the rack (eg.: racks adjacent to subway stations will have more bikes).

Once questions veered off the beaten path of this information, things got a little cloudier. There didn’t seem to be a consensus among the DOT staffers how access to the bike share would work. It will be via membership (yearly, monthly, weekly, daily), but the cost and access details seemed blurry.

To sign up, yearly members will pay their fee and be mailed a plastic key that allows them to access the share system and keeps track of the bikes they have used. Shorter-term users, who will insert a credit card into a machine at a bike share rack, will be given a receipt printed with a pin code to access their bike. But it seemed unclear how system mechanisms unfold beyond that: would users just reuse the same PIN? What if they forgot it? The monthly and weekly membership prices also seemed foggy: Yearly membership costs $100 and daily membership costs $5, which leaves some room for confusing or seemingly unreasonable intermediary price points.

Regardless of membership type, rides will be limited to either 30 or 45 minutes, with a small per-minute charge after the limit. As the DOT folks on hand said, the point is to share the bikes, not use them as if they were your own.
· The Lowdown on the DOT's City-Wide Bike Share [Curbed]