It's Time to Expand Citi Bike with Public Dollars

The City Council's Committee on Transportation held an oversight hearing this past Monday on the present and future of Citi Bike, and StreetsPAC was there to testify in favor of allocating public funds to expand the bike-share system in New York.

When Citi Bike's Phase II rollout is completed in 2017, the system will have 12,000 bikes and more than 700 stations. Much of the city, however, will still lack access to bike share, and no concrete plans have been made public for a third phase of expansion.

At the hearing, New York City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg estimated that it would take upwards of 70,000 Citi Bikes to fully cover the five boroughs. The 2009 Department of City Planning study that paved the way for Citi Bike's launch in 2013 envisioned a 49,000-bike system aimed at medium- and high-density neighborhoods (those with 32,000 or more people per square mile).

Either scenario – and the density-focused system makes far more sense than a buckshot attempt to cover the city's entire geography, some of which is not conducive to a successful bike-share program – would represent growth of several magnitudes from the current system, and would certainly require a substantial public investment. That said, the 2009 DCP study projects that a 49,000-bike system would require just $200 million in capital costs and $100 million in annual operating costs, the latter of which, the study predicts, could be fully offset by sponsorship and membership and user fees.

citibikewsrag.jpgFor comparison, the de Blasio administration projects that the capital cost for the proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector streetcar would be $2.5 billion, for a system that would serve at most 60,000 riders a day – a daily figure that the current Citi Bike system has topped 23 times in 2016. Even if a significantly expanded bike-share system required an ongoing operational subsidy, it would be a fraction of the subsidies consumed by ferries, commuter rail, and, to be sure, private automobiles.

Paul Steely White, testifying on behalf of Transportation Alternatives on Monday, wisely pointed out that broad expansion of New York City's bike-share system will also require a significant investment in safe infrastructure. Many of the areas of the city that a 49,000-bike system would cover lack even rudimentary bike lanes, let alone the kind of protected paths that make cycling such an attractive and accessible option. Implementing these complete-street treatments is also critical to achieving Vision Zero, however, and should be a priority regardless of Citi Bike's expansion.

The time for planning that expansion, though, is now. We urge the administration and the City Council to begin laying the groundwork for an equitable, citywide (or close to it) bike-share system without delay.

Read our full testimony from Monday's Council hearing here.

StreetsPoll: You Believe in Subsidizing Citi Bike, too

In anticipation of Monday's Council hearing, last week's StreetsPoll asked if you thought the city should invest public funds in Citi Bike. And your collective answer was a resounding "YES!"

To date, 96% of respondents to the poll agree that the city's bike-share system should receive public subsidies. But don't just tell us. Let City Hall know by sending a message to the Mayor here, and let your Council Member know, too. You can find your Council Member here.

Congratulations to Meredith Sladek of Staten Island, the randomly selected winner of a StreetsPAC t-shirt from among respondents to the StreetsPoll who signed up for our bi-weekly email updates.


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