Someone in the Bloomberg administration must have finally made the right occult sacrifice to a powerful, ancient weather god: After a streak of hot, muggy days borrowed from July and a couple of cold ones leftover from early April, New York City’s bikeshare program launched on a perfect, sun-soaked Memorial Day. There were probably other pagan gods involved, too: Almost a year behind schedule, the much-awaited bikeshare withstood attacks from tribes as diverse as the New York Post and historic-district-living car owners.
Yesterday, on their first day of existence, the bright blue, corporate-branded Citi Bikes bore riders a total of 13,768 miles. Trips averaged about 2.2 miles (my calculation) and 20.48 minutes (Citi Bike’s). Bike-sharing reporters beat subway-riding and taxi-hailing competitors in test races. “Rode up! Zomg so fun,” one friend texted me after his first spin. “It’s going to be a big success.”
Today, it rained.
Today is the type of day that only dedicated riders will bike through — wet, soggy, puddly. I walked by the station that was the most popular in the city yesterday, at 17th St. and Broadway on the north side of Union Square. With a number of bike slots open and the available bikes stashed irregularly down the line, the station didn’t look totally lifeless. But I’ve yet to see a bright blue bike head on down the street.
Anthony Weiner was going to take bikeshare for a spin:
But thought better of it:
This isn’t to say that the biggest bikeshare in the country is a failure on its second day. It’s just that its planners lucked out.
New Yorkers, though they pride themselves on their resiliency, are not particularly amenable to change. They remember when that bar used to be a laundromat, when that Brazilian restaurant used to be a pizza joint that used to be a bar. Although a large contingent of people here are excited about the program (which already has more than 16,000 annual members signed up), there are probably more people who are confused or — shocking to those of us who’ve been waiting for months for the program to launch — totally unaware. There are also people who look at the $10-per-day, 30-minute-limit option and balk at the price, not realizing that it’s meant primarily for tourists.
It helped that the first day of bike-sharing was a pleasant day, a day when people waiting on street corners asked riders about their bikes and about joining the program. But there are reasons to be skeptical. One friend, a dedicated rider, is worried that the New York streets are too tough for sunny-day cyclists. She’s an extremely careful rider, and she’s been hit by a car here more than once. Imagine that happening on your first jaunt on a bike, or when you’re just starting to feel comfortable with the idea.
Still, if New Yorkers hate change, they also hate admitting they can’t handle whatever the city throws at them. Heck, there’s already one bikeshare missed connection on Craiglist.
And here’s a sure sign that a New York bikeshare will succeed in a big way: Real estate agents are already advertising proximity to the stations as a perk for apartments. In a few years, residents who petitioned the city to move stations off the street may well be kicking themselves as property values rise that much more the next block over — and they have to walk that much farther to hop on a bike.
Get Grist in your inbox