Whether we recognize it overtly or not, competition is a key to New York City’s transit success. The MTA doesn’t necessarily care too much if bus ridership is down if the subways are capturing those trips, but if, for example, the combined New York City Transit ridership declines while some other mode share increases, Transit loses out on revenue. If auto trips increase, the New York City society on the whole loses as well due to the impact of increased congestion and decreasing environmental conditions. The equation grows a bit more complicated when bike trips enter the picture.
Over the past few years of the Bloomberg Administration, biking in New York City has taken center stage. Reimagining street space for pedestrians and cyclists is something the city can do without interference from Albany. We may need a “home rule” message to institute a congestion pricing scheme or enforce bus lanes with cameras, but city planners do not need such approval to reapportion space as they see fit. So where biking was once a rather terrifying proposition in the city, an ambitious expansion of dedicated bike lanes and traffic-calming measures had made cycling safer and saner.
For transit both with a capital T and without, the rise of biking is a mixed bag. Most folks cycling to work are doing so not at the expense of a car but at the expense of a MetroCard swipe. I’ve heard many stories of riders switching to pedal power who are fed up with slower and less frequent subway service, more crowded trains and more expensive fares. Now that the city has unveiled its initial plans for the ambitious bike-share network, we have an even better sense of what the future will hold in New York City.
The details have been covered extensively elsewhere, but I can summarize: In late July, the first bike-share stations will hit the streets, and by the end of the year, the city will have 420 docking stations in the southern half of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens. The initial map — available here — clearly shows how the Citi Bank-sponsored initiative will, at first, compete with transit. By targeting Manhattan south of 59th Street and the readily-accessible areas in Queens and Brooklyn, the bike-share network readily imitates the subway system.
Over at his Spaciality blog, Steven Romalewski charted bike-share docking stations against distance from subway entrances and came up with the map below.
He also offered up the following commentary:
Here are the stats:
- 89 locations (22%) between 14 and 250 feet (length of a typical Manhattan block);
- 117 kiosks (28%) between 250 and 750 feet (the average distance between Manhattan avenues);
- 97 kiosks (24%) between 750 and 1,320 ft (a quarter mile);
- 89 kiosks (22%) between 1,320 and 2,640 ft (a half mile); and
- 21 kiosks (5%) further than 2,640 feet.
(The percentages do not equal 100% due to rounding.)
- The proposed kiosk closest to a subway entrance is in lower Manhattan, on the west side of Greenwich St near Rector St (ID 12364), 14 feet from the Rector St entrance to the 1 train.
- The kiosk furthest from a subway entrance is on Manhattan’s west side, in the Hudson River Greenway near West 40th Street (at the West Midtown Ferry Terminal; ID 12092), almost three-quarters of a mile (3,742 feet) from the 40th St entrance to the 42nd St/Port Authority Bus Terminal station.
In other words, half of the proposed kiosks are within an avenue of a subway entrance, one-quarter are within two avenues, and the rest are further away.
As Romalewski notes, a bike-share system is well designed if it works within the existing ideological framework of “first and last mile.” The bike-share isn’t supposed to be a replacement for transit; rather, it’s supposed to deliver people too and from transit in an cost-effective, efficient and quick manner. At some places, the early kiosks will do that; in other places, the first docking stations may make it easier for riders to eschew transit all together.
Eventually, as docking stations spread out to the areas of the city not so conveniently located to the Manhattan Central Business District, the “first and last mile” concept will become more important. Can bike share convince travelers in the areas of the city with poor transit connections to eschew their cars? Will potential drivers in Sheepshead Bay and beyond be willing to use bike-share to reach the B or Q instead of their cars to reach Manhattan? When we know the answer to those questions and can ascertain usage patterns, we’ll have a better sense of how bike share meshes with the transit network and how it competes as well.
At first, it will be tough to gauge the impact CitiBikes has on New York City Transit and mode share. It may, in fact, shift potential straphangers out of the subway. After all, it’s cheaper to join bike share than it is to buy monthly MetroCards, and many riders don’t often take particularly long trips. But eventually, bike share should increase transit usage as it brings people from isolated areas to the subway. If all goes well, bike share won’t compete with the subway system as much as it will enhance it. That last mile may wind up shorter yet.