New York City Hopes Bikesharing Will Make Streets Safer

Citi Bike, the country's largest urban bike-sharing system, will soon be rolling in New York City after almost a year of delays. The idea has worked elsewhere, including Paris, Washington, D.C., and Montreal. But critics wonder if it's safe to add tens of thousands of new cyclists to the crowded streets of New York.

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Hundreds of blue bicycles began appearing this morning at docking stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. On Memorial Day, New York City will launch its long-awaited bike sharing program. It's certainly not the first U.S. city to try the idea but its plan may be the most ambitious. And critics wonder if it's a good idea to add thousands of new cyclists to some of the nation's most congested streets, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: So here I am on my bike on Bergen Street in Brooklyn in the bike lane. The last few months I've been biking to work a couple days a week. Most of the time, people are pretty good about sharing the roads, I have to say. But every day there is at least one incident where there is some friction.

ARI ROBINOWITZ: I'm worried for other people who aren't used to it 'cause it is tricky, biking in Manhattan.

ROSE: Ari Robinowitz(ph) should know. He's been riding a bike in New York for over 40 years. So do you think it's wise to put all these blue bicycles out there with new riders on them or...

ROBINOWITZ: I'm reserving my judgment on that. I think it's going to be an interesting experiment. Hopefully, it'll work well and be safe for everybody.

ROSE: Earlier this week, Robinowitz and about two dozen other New Yorkers attended a class at a local bike shop on how to use the new system known as Citi Bike.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: So I'm going to tell you that it can be really comfortable and fun and lovely riding a bike in New York City if you follow a few simple steps.

ROSE: Here's how it works. There are 6,000 blue bicycles parked at hundreds of docking stations around Manhattan and Brooklyn. If you want to ride from one station to another, you can spend anywhere from $10 for a one-day pass to $95 for an annual membership. Individual trips are fee up to a certain time limit. Yvette Boychahovsky(ph) is signing up for the annual membership.

YVETTE BOYCHAHOVSKY: I think New York is ready for it and I want to see less cars in New York and have people, you know, respect bicyclists as well.

ROSE: That seems to be exactly what New York officials are hoping will happen. Janette Sadik-Khan is the city's transportation commissioner.

JANETTE SADIK-KHAN: There's safety in numbers. The more bikes that we have on the roads, the safer our streets are. And so we think that this is actually going to improve safety on the streets of New York.

ROSE: There is some evidence to suggest that the presence of more bikes on the streets causes the rate of cycling accidents to decline and New York is hardly the first city to try this. Boston, Montreal and Washington, D.C. have successful systems up and running. New York's program will be bigger than any of those, though smaller than the systems in Paris or London.

But critics of Citi Bike say New York is different.

SONNY KUMAR: There's already too much traffic. I don't know what's going to happen in the city.

ROSE: Sonny Kumar(ph) drives a Yellow cab. He's still angry about the protected bike lanes that have replaced car lanes on some busy streets in Manhattan over the past few years.

KUMAR: The city already has so much construction, so much traffic, then you put in the bike lane. It's just, you know, the little space in the city and so really close.

ROSE: Citi Bike has drawn other kinds of opposition, too, from apartment buildings that have threatened to sue over the docking stations placed near their doors and from residents who say that the bike's bright blue color scheme and the prominent corporate logo of their main sponsor Citi Bank clash with historic neighborhoods around them.

The transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, says these are the complaints of a vocal minority.

SADIK-KHAN: New Yorkers love their bikes. They love their bike lanes and they love Bike Share. I mean, poll after poll after poll that is taken shows majority of support, 72 percent of New Yorkers support Bike Share. So they're clearly voting with their pedals and we think that that's only going to continue.

ROSE: There does seem to be pent up demand for Bike Sharing. Sadik-Khan says 13,000 people have signed up for memberships already and the program doesn't even launch until Monday. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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