As New York politicos attempt to follow London’s lead and pass a bill that would charge a congestion toll for motorists who enter the busiest parts of Manhattan, two urban design organizations let their imaginations drift to a different European city: Paris, which will implement a massive bike-share program this month.
The Forum for Urban Design and the Storefront for Art and Architecture collaborated on The New York Bike-Share Project — a five-day experiment that explored the feasibility of a free (or mostly free) bike share system in New York.
The experimental program in New York allowed people to borrow one of 20 bikes for a 30-minute period and drop it off either at the Storefront for Art and Architecture’s Kenmare Street location or at one of several satellite stations (which changed each day). In addition to providing bikes for trial runs, they ran an exhibit of successful bike-share programs in eight European cities, including Paris (the largest program, with 10,000 bikes and 750 stations), Barcelona, Copenhagen, Frankfort, and Oslo.
During the its five-day run, an average two dozen riders used the bikes each day, many of whom did not own bicycles of their own, but “overwhelmingly said they would participate…if they didn’t have to worry about theft or storing a bike in their apartment,” David Haskell, Executive Director of The Forum for Urban Design, said during a presentation on July 11.
The Bike Share project aimed to both raise awareness and demonstrate why a program like this is so important in New York: specifically “crippling traffic,” over-crowded public transportation, and neighborhoods that are underserved by the current subway and bus lines. During his presentation of the results, Haskell emphasized four “non-negotiables” of a permanent program:
1)The first half hour must be free.
2)There must be a sufficient density of bikes and stations (approximately one on each avenue and every four streets).
3)The program must be independent of the MTA.
4)It must be accessible to both tourists and residents.
While the benefits of such a program are self-evident, the feasibility (and likelihood) is less clear. New York abounds with bikers, but the cultural attitude towards them is not necessarily positive. Some of this is, of course, derived from riders who stubbornly refuse to follow traffic laws (sometimes out of defiance, sometimes just stupidity), but a large part of it must be attributed to the city’s apparent desire to actively combat cyclists instead of working with them (as the new parade regulations and recent Critical Mass rides have illustrated).
As New York grapples with issues of congestion, over-crowding, and pollution, it is imperative to consider greener alternatives than simply a congestion charge (which is unlikely to pass, according to a Times story today). Let’s follow Paris’ lead and move towards a progressive, comprehensive bike-share program, but first, let’s work towards making New York a bike friendly city.