The Big Apple’s Little Gambles

New York is experimenting with a bike share program and a peak-rate parking scheme — will either of these ideas get implemented for real?

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As the New York Times’ indomitable City Room blog reports New York City is testing out a new bike-sharing program. Frankly, when I saw the headline “Dozens Turn Out for Bike-Sharing Experiment” I was nonplussed. Dozens? In a city of more than 8 million, only dozens? The program, sponsored by the Urban for Forum Design, allows for bike sharing for four days. So why aren’t more people interested?

I have a few ideas. First off, the project — while completely and totally commendable — seems a little small-fry for the Big Apple. There are four locations, all below 23rd Street in downtown Manhattan. This is not a bike share per se but a free-joy-ride share. As someone who often made the commute from Ft. Greene to 23rd Street over the (occasionally grueling) Manhattan Bridge only to fear that my bike would get stolen in Manhattan, this kind of program would be perfect for commuters, but the way Bike Share 2008 is set up you get a half-hour bike ride and then have to return the bike to its original spot. What’s the use in that? Is this aimed mostly at tourists or New Yorkers? Last I checked much of the congestion in New York is caused by outer borough residents driving into the city — wouldn’t it be great if the bike share program allowed people who don’t live near public transit to pick up bikes and ride them to the nearest subway station? Or even ride into Manhattan?

The program’s Web site notes that in Paris there are 10,000 bikes available for sharing at 750 stations around the city. Paris is roughly 35 square miles. New York City is roughly 300 square miles. You can do the math and realize that New York would require about nine times as many bikes and stations as Paris to get the same level of program with the same kind of availability.

Again, not to be too down on this project, but what bothers me is that people who determine whether New York City should implement such a program will look at the measly returns this program is getting as a measure of the kind of success a true bike-sharing project could have. Case in point:

A spokeswoman for the City Department of Transportation said the city is working with Cemusa, which has a contract to provide bus shelters and shelters, to learn if a ride-share program would work.

According to a NYT article published the same day, the city is exploring a bike share program. There is a real need for bike sharing in the city — just on a greater scale.

— There’s one more interesting experiment in the works: congestion pricing for parking. Using a swath of Manhattan and one of Brooklyn as guinea pigs, the city is testing out whether charging more for parking during peak times will affect congestion. Apparently people cruising for parking cause a lot of congestion. It sounds like a pretty good idea.

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Diana Lind is the former executive director and editor in chief of Next City.

Tags: new york citypublic transportationbikingcommutingbike-sharebrooklyndowntown revitalizationparis

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