In the spirit of that inveterate observer of urban behavior, William “Holly” Whyte, New York City’s Project for Public Spaces took to the streets recently to see how actual humans use some of the 300-plus Citi Bike stations. In brief, PPS found that, “People — not just bike-share users, but everyone passing by station docks — are adopting the bike-share system as part of the social infrastructure of the city.”
Among other behaviors spotted in the wild:
- Resting on bike stanchions.
- Eating lunch on or around the bikes.
- Setting the stations as meeting places.
- Using the kiosk maps as walking navigation aides.
- Pulling on bungee cords.
- Pedaling in place.
The Citi Bike stations have, somewhat unexpectedly, created little gathering spots in the city, ones that seem to encourage a sort of active, playful hanging out. In the system’s early days, people were drawn to the spots to gawk and ask questions. Fascinatingly, though, they still act as magnets even though the initial thrill seems to have largely worn off. PPS plans a fuller study next year. It’s intriguing to think about how to foster even more lingering, maybe by displaying bike data or giving each bike a funny honk. Or maybe trying so hard would ruin the effect.
Nancy Scola is a Washington, DC-based journalist whose work tends to focus on the intersections of technology, politics, and public policy. Shortly after returning from Havana she started as a tech reporter at POLITICO.