Although New York City’s new bike share system has been successful so far, it has generated a lot of complaints.
The Wall Street Journal made a splash last week with a video in which editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz managed to bring up just about every gripe we’ve heard voiced about bike share, and cyclists in general.
Let’s note that cycling reduces medical costs and eases the burden on our country’s health care. It takes cars off the road and carbon emissions out of the atmosphere, and reduces our dependence on foreign oil. It’s fun.
Every kilometer cycled in Denmark earns the country €.23 (partly because cyclists have been shown to spend more money in local stores). That’s the kind of money every American city could put to good use.
Rabinowitz — and those who share her views — are wrong to complain about the arrival of bike share in New York. Here’s a look at what they’re saying, and why it’s bogus.
The first six complaints are all mentioned in the WSJ video.
1. Citi Bike has been sneaked under the radar, and the public was not consulted.
To those who did not attend any of the 159 public meetings at which officials discussed the program, this might seem true. According to the New York Times, the city said it also held 230 private meetings with officials, property owners, and others.
Citi Bike planners took more than 10,000 online suggestions for where to put stations, and those locations were revealed back in May 2012. The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) has even moved at least one station due to complaints.
2. No studies were undertaken before the program was implemented.
Actually, in Spring 2009, the city released a 142-page study on bike share opportunities for NYC. It addressed case studies, current conditions, demand, financing, and lots of other relevant topics.
3. The stations prevent emergency responders from accessing buildings.
The New York Post headline “Bike racks block EMS at victim’s co-op” supports this view. But Brad Aaron at Streetsblog followed up with the FDNY, whose spokesperson denied having any trouble: “We had no operational or response issues to this call. Period.”
4. The racks and bikes are ugly.
This one’s harder to reject, because beauty is subjective. But remember that most Citi Bike stations are replacing parking spots, not public art works. There are lots of really ugly cars in the world that could be there instead.
5. Cyclists are a dangerous menace.
To quote Rabinowitz, “Every citizen knew — who was in any way sentient — that the most important danger in the city is not the yellow cabs…it is the cyclists.”
In April 2013, 32,653 vehicles were involved in accidents in New York City. 1,278 of them were taxi cabs. 358 were bicycles.
6. Cyclists are reckless.
This is a valid but specious point. As a NYC resident (and Business Insider’s car reviewer), I drive in the city. I walk, too. And I bike. I do all three recklessly at times.
So do many, many people. Drivers speed and blow through yellow lights. Pedestrians jaywalk, and step into the street when they don’t have right of way. That’s New York City.
Everyone should follow the rules, but few do — that’s as true for cyclists as for other groups.
To its credit, the NYPD has stepped up its ticketing of cyclists (not without controversy). The DOT has put “Safety Managers” on the street to keep cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers where they belong.
And urban cycling has become safer. According to the city, the average risk of serious injury for riders dropped by 73% between 2000 and 2011, even as the rate of biking more than doubled.
7. Citibank’s corporate logo should not be plastered all over the city.
But again, most racks are replacing cars. Cars have corporate logos on them. Try Ford, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, or Volvo, to name a few.
8. It’s taking away parking.
Another complaint registered by the Times at a Brooklyn town-hall meeting, it’s true, though the 330 initial stations don’t take up too many of the more than 80,000 metered parking spots in New York.
In any case, it’s more efficient: You can put many bikes in a parking spot that fits just one car.
9. Cyclists should be wearing helmets.
Adults are not required to wear helmets while biking in the city, and Citi Bike (open to those 16-years-old and up) does not provide them. The DOT does encourage their use, and gives out a lot of free helmets.
In a 2012 PolicyMic op-ed, Whitney Sher wrote, the fact that Citi Bike rides are unlikely to wear helmets “is alarming considering the NY Department of Transportation (DOT) found that in 97% of fatal cyclist accidents, the rider was not wearing one.”
But the helmet issue is a red herring. The best way to keep cyclists safe is to prevent crashes by building bike lanes and enforcing traffic laws, not with a last resort measure to keep accidents from causing serious brain injuries.
10. Citi Bike costs too much.
Citi Bike may cost more than London’s bike share, but getting a year of unlimited 45-minute rides for $95 is still a good deal, especially compared to a MetroCard ($112 per month) or a car (a lot more). There are also discounted memberships, for residents of the NYC Housing Authority and others.
11. More cyclists in New York City will bring “total carnage.”
This one comes from an op-ed published in the Huffington Post, which argued, “New York roads are not built for cyclists and New York drivers don’t know how to coexist with cyclists.”
New York roads weren’t made for driving originally, either — that change took place in the past century. A few years ago, Paris was a terrible place to bike, but it made the 2013 Copenhagenize Index of the world’s most bike-friendly cities.
Mikael Colville-Andersen, CEO of Copenhagenize, told Business Insider that once Paris embraced a “whole new mentality” and started building bike lanes, its image changed. Now it’s a fantastic place to travel on two wheels. New York can do the same.
12. There’s no room for bikes in New York City.
There’s plenty of room for bikes in New York City. At the moment, it’s being used by cars.
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