Thursday, March 24, 2011

Velibs are coming to New York

When I was home last August, I couldn’t help but notice all of the new bike lanes and bicyclists in the city. The friends I chatted with about it and I agreed: it’s so cool that Bloomberg and the City are making such efforts and that New York is getting more bike-friendly.

Then earlier this week, I was doubly excited to read that NY’s pilot for a shared bike program launches this summer. Woohoo! 600 bike stations south of 60th Street; memberships will be available—like the Velibs—daily, weekly or annually; and, again like the Velibs, the three-speed bikes will be uniquely designed for the city—but ours will have GPS. Sweet!

But. The reality is, the city isn’t more bike-friendly just because there are more bike lanes. In fact, as a couple articles I’ve recently read illustrate, new lanes and more bicyclists are pissing a lot of people off. The reasons are as varied as lost business, lost parking, renegade bicyclists, to the lanes being an “eyesore”.

I see both sides of the debate. Of course I’m all for more people biking—to work, for enjoyment, as a simple, healthy, efficient mode of transportation. But I also think New York is such a “concrete jungle". On some level, it is about the cars and buildings and grit and lawlessness, and that’s what we love about it. At the end of the day, it’s not supposed to be a soft, easy place to live.

But there must be a happy medium right? (Separate but related, someone on the Today Show this morning had a sign that said “happy median”. I started giggling but then I panicked and thought maybe I’ve been using the wrong phrase all these years. If Yahoo! Answers holds any cred, then I have, in fact, been saying it right. Phew.)

I’m keen to see how the “Velib” pilot program changes things. For some reason, I think I’ll be more likely to ride these bikes than I am my own Café Racer. I think there will be greater safety in numbers. And I hope drivers and pedestrians get more used to the bicyclists, making things safer and more pleasant all around.

My personal solution would be to have one avenue on the east side and one avenue on the west side closed to vehicular traffic and devoted largely to bicyclists. The other avenues would be for cars, and bicyclists would have to share (ride at their risk as they always have).

In any case, I’m thrilled that the shared bike program is coming. There’s nothing dreamier than pedaling around the city you love.


  1. As a green enthusiast, I love this idea! The vélib program is a great way to get people moving. However, as a pedestrian, I shudder. Bike riders are the bane of my walking life -- silent, swift and deadly. I say bring on the bike sharing program -- as long as bike riders learn proper street-sharing etiquette.

  2. I agree with Ann - the feedback in Paris since its inception in 2007 has been mixed. Their insouciance on the road has caused accidents, deaths and pedestrian frustration :) BUT I think if they can work out a way to hold cyclists accountable and ensure they follow the rules, everyone should adjust. NYC was already full of bikers weaving in and out of traffic, at least this way bikers won't scrape the sides of cars!

    Just wear a helmet!

  3. ps; Auto-lib is arriving in Paris by the end of the year and I'm REALLY interested to see what kind of damage that causes! Zip car has worked in the States (I think?) but I can already see worse traffic, vandalism and outcry in my head for these cars !

  4. Oooh, yet another reason to hit up NYC in 2011!
    Do you think it would be scary to cycle there? Although, having conquered Charles de Gaulle Etoile on bike, I'm sure I'm ready for anything!

  5. I wish the City of New York would talk to the City of Portland , Oregon. They manage to have bikes and pedestrians and cars all on the same routes and while car people always resent bike/walkers, they seem to have it all down pretty well.

    Sadly it is the Aggressive Driver mindset that is at work, that is what it is about.
    Put someone behind the wheel of a large car/SUV/etc and they think everyone else has to get out of their way.

    I don't think I would want to ride the streets of NYC on a bike, being in a car is dangerous enough :)

  6. I loved that photo in nymag :)) bikes and cyclists will be a novelty for a while in the cities not used to both, but will eventually accept them. Lanes an eyesore?? And mentioning Copenhagen-I was there last year and loved it. Plus the fashionable crowd and girls treat their bikes as an accessory. Beautiful.

  7. This is my theory as to why people are also pissed: there's just more aggression towards cyclists because bike messengers in cities like NY and LA have played a huge role in advocating bike lanes/cyclists' rights and even tho they've made huge strides for the rest of us, bike messengers tend to be super aggro guys who love to ruffle the feathers of already road-ragey car people. I've gone on rides like Critical Mass in SF and some of the dudes love starting fights with drivers.
    But I wonder how this bike scheme will do in NY? I felt like I could be super girly riding in Paris and even tho I loved cycling in LA, it was truly terrifying most of the time and I felt like I had to be really tough. I loved Velib-ing as I never felt like drivers were aggressive towards cyclists in Paris, whereas it definitely felt that way in LA. What's it like in NY?