01 March 2019

Citibikes Are Nice, But We Need More Bike Racks

In New York City, my hometown, 460,000 daily trips were made by bicycle.  That is up from 270,000 trips in 2011--a 70 percent increase.

Some of that, of course, has to do with the Citibike share program, which launched in 2013.  The operative word here is "some":  Many more cyclists are riding to work on their own bicycles.

During the past four fiscal years, the city has set up an average of 1633 new racks.  Now, what do you think the average was during the previous four years?

2808.  In other words, 42 percent fewer racks have been installed during the past four years, which have fallen squarely in Bill de Blasio's administration, than in the previous four, which were mainly under Mike Bloomberg's administration.

What that means is that the city lacks "essential infrastructure" needed if bicycling is truly to become a transportation option, according to Bike New York spokesman Jon Orcutt.  "Everybody's talking about Citibikes and scooters, but it's the humble rack that needs more attention," added Orcutt, who served as the city's Department of Transportation policy director under Bloomberg.

Citibikes are fine for commuting if there's a bike port near your home and another near your workplace--that is, if there are available bikes when you leave for work and if there's an available space in the dock when you get to your job.  

You can ride your own bike, but there might not be a dedicated bike rack or other safe facility at your destination. Or, if there is such a facility, there might not be any space available when you arrive--or it might simply be unusable for whatever reason.

So, you look for a signpost, lamppost or other seemingly immovable object--which aren't as impervious to bike thieves as they seem.  And they might be full, too. Then, you lock to fencing, scaffolding or even a waste basket.  I've even seen a bike locked to the chain that holds the cap to a fire hydrant.

Those things, of course, are easy work for a thief who has the time you spend in your workplace or classroom.  Rose Uscianowski, an organizer for Transportation Alternatives, learned that the hard way when she locked her bike to scaffolding in front of a building on John Street, in the city's financial district.  "I came out of my office and found a bar of scaffolding on the floor and my bike missing," she lamented.  "The only reason I locked up to scaffolding is that there are only a few racks on John Street, and they're always taken up."

Even scarcer are racks by subway stations or other public transportation facilities.  For people who live in areas that are a mile or more from the nearest subway or bus station--which is the case for people in the outlying areas of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, and for nearly everybody in Staten Island--truly having the option of riding to transit and feeling more or less certain that your bike will be there when you return might do as much, or more than, congestion pricing or other proposed methods to reduce traffic.

Plus, I think that making bike-parking facilities available at public transportation stations will help the public to see that cycling is a transportation alternative for people from all walks (pardon the pun) of life rather than the plaything of the young and privileged, and tourists.

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