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October 23, 2014
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News + Views

Denver Has It: Why Not Us?

By Jed Dougherty

B-Cycle's bike share bliss in Denver
Photo courtesy of B-Cycle, America's largest bike share program operator

Paris, Dublin, Barcelona, Stockholm, Oslo, and about 195 other international cities: What do they have that we don’t? A bike share program. In these cities, the government and/or private companies provide bikes at bike stations, you pick them up for free or a small fee, ride them, drop them off, easy breezy. Pollution-free, low-cost travel.

New York City is considering proposals for such a bike share project, but has not yet revealed whether Brooklyn will be included. Contrary to reports by several Brooklyn news sources, Brooklyn has not been promised a part in the project, which will be centered in downtown Manhattan.

The city received proposals from companies who want to run the bike share program in February. Details will not be released until the Department of Transportation comes to a final decision on who will run the program and where it will be located, according to DOT spokesperson Monty Dean.

Back in November, the New York City Department of Transportation released a request for proposal (RFP) for private companies to provide a bike share system by Spring 2012, and stated that the program should initially include Manhattan south of 60th Street and the surrounding neighborhoods. Whether those “surrounding neighborhoods” end up including parts of Brooklyn will depend on the proposal the city selects.

A meeting with the DOT in December included representatives from B-Cycle, the largest Bikeshare operator in the United States; Clear Channel Outdoors, which runs the Washington D.C. bike share program; and JCDeceaux, which operates a massive Paris program and a popular Dublin program.

Bike Path along Brooklyn waterfront near Pier 1

B-Cycle, which ran a test program on Roosevelt Island last year, submitted a proposal to take on the NYC bikeshare project. Neither Clear Channel Outdoors nor JCDeceaux submitted a proposal for the project, although Clear Channel is still considering the request.

Bike share programs are based on a grab-anywhere, leave-anywhere concept, in which bicycle stations are spaced around a densly populated area in such a manner that they can be picked up and dropped off at will.

“Biking has become a serious transportation option in New York and bike share is the clear next step,” said City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in the RFP announcement. “New York’s ideal geography, high residential and commercial density and growing bike infrastructure make it the perfect option for short trips since over 50% of trips in NYC are under two miles.”

Probably here, bicycles will be rented from automated auto-locking racks with a credit card swipe and a nominal fee – in B-Cycle’s Denver program the first 30 minutes are free, with a $1 fee for the next thirty minutes. Users also pay a small membership fee. Prices rapidly increase if a bike is checked out longer than an hour to encourage short trips and quick returns.

Although Brooklyn has not been promised a place in the service, chances are good that any successful rollout will include New York’s largest borough. The DOT has noted that is particularly interested in systems that span more than one borough, and Brooklyn, with its high bicycle ridership and strong cyclist community seems like the natural first choice. In fact, in a preliminary study by the city, the waterfront area from Redhook to Greenpoint was included in the first tier of a three level bicycle rollout program.

Internationally, according to Wikipedia, several European cities, including the French cities of Lyon and Paris as well as LondonBarcelonaStockholm and Oslo, have signed contracts with private advertising agencies (JCDecaux in Brussels, Lyon, Paris, Seville and Dublin; Clear Channel in Stockholm, Oslo, Barcelona, Perpignan and Zaragoza). The companies provide free bikes in exchange for the right to advertise on the bikes and in the city.

In other cities, an advertising company is not involved, and the city pays for the bikes.

Some programs attempt to reduce bike theft by requiring the purchase of a subscription via credit card or debit card. Sometimes the subscriptions require a large deposit. Often, the bikes are equipped with anti-theft and bike maintenance sensors.

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