New York City’s new bicycle-sharing system, Citi Bike—a.k.a. the Mike Bikes, after Mayor Michael Bloomberg—has been the source of great anticipation, fear, and derision. The rollout was delayed by Hurricane Sandy and software glitches. New Yorkers moaned about the loss of parking spaces as room was made for bike docks. Tabloid reporters eagerly awaited the first thefts, which they duly reported.
But the haters and critics were generally missing the point. This is a major addition of transportation infrastructure to New York. And compared with some other projects (the Second Avenue subway line has been under construction for decades), it’s cheap and relatively unobtrusive. The cost to taxpayers is negligible. Sponsors, namely Citi (hence Citi Bike) and MasterCard, helped pay for the rollout, and, as New York City notes, “sponsorship and revenues will cover the entire equipment and operations cost of the system.”
I’ve been excited about the prospect of bike sharing for a while. My office is on the far west side of Manhattan, not particularly close to any subway station, and adjacent to the unobstructed bike path that goes along the West Side Highway. A bike-sharing system would offer a way to shorten the trek to and from Grand Central Station, whence my train departs, all while getting some exercise, avoiding expensive cabs, and being carbon-free.
I signed up in early May—$95 for an annual membership—and received my key last week. On CNBC yesterday I showed it to the skeptical New Jersey–based hosts.
On Monday the bike-sharing system was opened to annual members like me. So this morning I gave it a trial run. As my train rolled into Grand Central at about 7:15, I opened up the free app on my (natch!) iPhone and found there was a station at 43rd Street and Vanderbilt, just outside Grand Central, with several bikes available, and that the docking station across from my building on 18th Street and 11th Avenue had several open slots.
The instructions aren’t very detailed. But even I was able to figure out that you’re supposed to stick the rectangular key into the rectangular slot. The small light flashed green, and I pulled the bike out of the docking station. Fifteen seconds later I was on my way across town via 43rd Street, which has some formal bike lines and some blocks where outlines of a bicycle are painted on the road.
At Sixth Avenue, I crossed paths with another Citi Bike member, and we nodded in recognition: a fellow dorky early adapter. At Eighth Avenue, I rolled to a stop next to yet another Citi Bike member, and he gave me a helpful hint on parking at the dock (it’s not locked until the light turns green). I waited for the long light to get across the West Side Highway, and then cruised down the bike path, overtaking several joggers and cyclists who, frankly, were no match for my 45-year-old legs.
Fifteen minutes after picking up the bike, I rolled up in front of The Daily Beast’s headquarters, shouted at a colleague on a smoking break to come take a picture, and then parked the bike in the docking station. After the light turned green, I gave the bike a few tugs to make sure it was secure.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Visa was a sponsor of Citi Bike. The program is sponsored by Citi and MasterCard.