06 June 2013

Citi Bike: Where's the Downside?

I've been watching the roll-out of Citi Bike with interest.  I don't have an account myself (as my folding bike goes everywhere), but I've spoken to several people who are using the bikes, and I've been watching.

The bikes are heavy, I'm told, and the solar-powered docking stations can be a bit glitchy.  But in just ten days, 32,000 people have signed up for memberships, and local residents and visitors have ridden 270,000 miles during 100,000 trips using the bikes.  Casual observation bears that out -- every time I go out of my Lower East Side Apartment, I see several of them.  And in just ten days, the people using them seem to be getting more accustomed to the bikes, riding faster and with more confidence and better predictability.

I have to say I'm baffled by the naysayers.

Some owners of bike shops are worried about the effects of the program on rentals, though others say they've already seen an increase in bike-related sales, and research from other cities suggests a short-term dip for bike shops followed by long-term increase in business.  People who have tried to use Citi Bikes for all-day trips have discovered it doesn't really work -- so those who want to spend a day touring are still likely to rent bikes the conventional way.

Drivers are protesting because some of the Citi Bike stations take up parking spots, and because bike lanes occasionally replace driving lanes.  But in fact every time someone bikes to work instead of driving a car or taking a cab, drivers benefit: more parking spaces free up and there's one less car on the road in front of them.  The inveterate drivers should be happy every time someone else decides to give up on a trip in the car.

People are complaining the bikes and the docking stations are a visual blight on their neighborhoods.  Hmmm... because parked cars are so much better looking?

Despite the crazy amounts of publicity every time a biker collides with a pedestrian, in fact the presence of bikes and bike lanes on city streets calms traffic and makes the streets safer for people on foot.  A 2011 study found that around 500 pedestrians a year in NYC are treated in hospitals after collisions with bicyclists.  On the other hand, 15,000 pedestrians and cyclists were injured in collisions with cars last year, and more than 150 died as a result.

I can't find statistics on how many pedestrians are killed in collisions with bikes; all I can find is reference to one death in 2009. That's one death too many: I don't want to trivialize it. But it's a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people killed in collisions with cars.

Drivers, like everyone else, will breathe cleaner air, suffer fewer heart attacks and respiratory diseases, if there's a significant transition from driving to bicycling.  And since regular exercise also prevents and mitigates a myriad of health problems, health care spending will also go down.