Think ‘Bike The Drive’… That Is Initially What NYC Bike Share May Be…

Background Reading


Keith Bedford for The Wall Street Journal Toby Miller returns a bicycle to a bike-sharing kiosk on Monday.

Keith Bedford for The Wall Street Journal
Toby Miller returns a bicycle to a bike-sharing kiosk on Monday.

Everyone is giddy with excitement about the roll-out of the NYC Bike Share Program. It is historic and provides a chance for the people of the City of New York to have affordable transportation around Manhattan Island and into the 5 Boroughs. And yes there are detractors who simply hate the idea of bicycles flooding their streets and their sidewalks.

Some small business owners worry about the effects these bikes will have on business. And of course everyone is churning out as much statistical information as possible in the hopes that you can lay down enough “skewed information” to make your side the winner.

But frankly given the history of efforts like this in Chicago I am not holding my breath that things will go faultlessly. I believe that there will be problems that are troublesome but not insurmountable. It just depends on whether the “pro” side of the argument is willing to get beyond merely wanting to “win at any cost” to the point where they are cognizant of their stated goals (i.e. bringing safety to all three segments of the traffic landscape, simultaneously by means of bicycle infrastructure.)

I believe that infrastructure alone is not the answer. I think the Dutch model includes something that we are sorely amiss if we ignore. Even in grade school Dutch children are taught how to ride their bikes to and from school. We do not do this sort of thing. We should but it is happening in sporadic bursts here and there but nothing uniform has been adopted. What is amazing is that we are not more focused on the training side of the equation.

Girls begin to lose their parity with boys at about 14 years of age where cycling is concerned. This should be cause for concern in our world because it means that messages we send both the overt and subliminal kind are causing young women to decide against biking. One other thing that bothers me more than anything else is that we are unwilling as a Cycling Community to address the issues of the uniformity of design and use that is common in Bicycle Heaven.

Bike Share Fallout

Certainly the Bike Share program will give us a glimpse into what the bicycle as an appliance really “looks and smells” like. But here are some things that I would bet no one is talking about just yet:

  • Large numbers of bikes will make for a parking problem. This issue has already surface in Bicycle Heaven. The typical bike rack installation here in Chicago is pathetic in terms of its ability to “scale“. Outside of places like the McDonald’s Cycle Center there really is no uniform and protected place to park larger numbers of bikes. Bike Share will make this problem even more evident. Because Bike Share will allow a fairly large number of bikes to be parked safely near buildings in the Loop it will mean that the average renegade bike rider will stick out like a “sore thumb” when they attempt to commandeer a lamp post or street sign for parking purposes. As compared to the Bike Share parking spots their choice will look like what it really is, both “ugly” and “dangerous“. Be prepared for the City to begin asking the car parking lots assign a portion of their space to bicycles and that those using this space will have to “pay“. That is one aspect of Bike Share that no one will be talking about anytime soon. Urban Cyclists are unwilling at the present time to walk a mile to their buildings after parking, preferring instead to carve out a spot on a rickety bike rack just outside their building. If the numbers of cyclists increase dramatically this situation will have to be addressed in a “uniform manner“.
  • Public Transportation Bike Accommodations Are Not Scalable. What made sense a scan year or two ago will be simply unworkable moving forward. If large numbers of riders decide to use a “mixed mode” plan to reach the city having a two or three bike rack on the front of a given bus will not make it easy to accommodate the level of ridership expecting to be able to ride their bikes for part of the way while using public transportation for the remainder of their journey. Even the Metra trains in the area are really not equipped to handle large numbers of riders during rush hour. At the moment bicycles share their storage space on trains with those in wheelchairs. There is going to be a bit of friction going forward if someone does not address this issue.
  • Bike Lanes That Are Not “Complete” Will Spell Disaster For “Newbies”. Large parts of the bicycle infrastructure in Chicago will suddenly become “exposed” as being either unrideable because of surface conditions or dangerous because their design does not safely accommodate rider turns. The more riders there are “running late for work” the less likely they are to tolerate intersections which either lack a required “Bike Box” or will be using the ones in place because they “slow down their progress“. At best these represent a “kludgy fix” to a weak design. If the number of riders attempting to deal with them simultaneously goes up drastically you will find that drivers and cyclists are going to have to be cautioned to show patience.
  • Cyclists Will Have Difficulty With One Another, Not Just Cars. Human beings by nature are self-centered. Asking anyone to share “their space” creates stress. We will suddenly find that personal bikes and Divvy bikes do not offer the same kinds of “visual cues” for drivers. Bike Share bikes have lights and fenders and perhaps horns or bells. Lacking these “renegade riders” are going to stick out like sore thumbs. What is more important however is the fact that riders will no longer be able to “get away with” ignoring the hand signals and other acts of “bicycle etiquette” largely ignored before. Urban Cyclists are “going to get their fixed gears in a twist” because Bike Share bikes will be along for the ride and there will certainly be a culture clash if everyone is unwilling to accommodate each others riding styles. Scofflaw behavior from long-time riders will “stick out like a sore thumb“. Expect older Bike Share riders to grouse about this behavior and want to report it.