Bike-Sharing, Promised for Late July, Is Delayed
By MATT FLEGENHEIMER-The new York Times
Published: July 16, 2012
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced details of the city’s long anticipated bike sharing program in May. It was to start by the end of July, but the city said Monday that it would begin in August.
By late July, city officials said, a long-awaited bike-share program would arrive, adding a new public travel alternative to the city’s streets.
But with only two weeks remaining to accomplish that goal, the city acknowledged on Monday that the program, Citi Bike, would not begin as scheduled. “We’re working on the launch plan and will update the public as soon as we finalize all the details,” said Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, who confirmed the program would not begin in July.
After advertising a July start date since the spring, the city had begun to hedge in recent days. On Friday, MayorMichael R. Bloomberg was asked during a radio interview if he knew when the program would begin. “Not yet, still working, trying to get it done,” he said. “With any big system there’s always things that you’ve got to make sure work before you turn it on. We’re not going to turn it on until it’s ready.”
Last week, officials at the Transportation Department would not say whether the program would begin on time. It was pointed out that the department’s Web site still featured a splashy photograph of a bike-share vehicle, with the headline, “Citi Bike is launching in July!”
Yes, the spokesman acknowledged, the Web site did say that. (The headline remained until Monday evening, when it was rewritten as “Citi Bike is coming!” and exiled to less prominent placement on the site.)
But Citi Bike’s own Twitter feed tipped the city’s hand on July 9. “Look for the launch in August,” the account, @CitibikeNYC, said in response to a user’s question. Now, with an uncertain start date and little explanation being given, community leaders, program partners and eager riders find themselves with more questions than answers. Where are the bikes? When will the dock stations be installed? And can it all fall into place while the quiet streets and accommodating weather of summer remain?
“It’s almost like getting that bicycle that you wanted for your birthday or for Christmas,” said Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, which has worked alongside the Transportation Department to promote the program.
The program, which is expected to include 10,000 bicycles by next summer, will allow members who pay an annual fee of $95 to shuttle between stations for up to 45 minutes without an additional charge. A map of proposed station locations, in neighborhoods across Lower Manhattan, Midtown, northern Brooklyn, and a small area in Queens, wasunveiled in May. Some community members have requested changes since then, citing concerns about placements in some residential areas.
Last month, the New York City comptroller, John C. Liu, warned that the Transportation Department might not have adequately prepared for litigation that could result from accidents under the program. The department has rejected Mr. Liu’s assessment.
The program appeared to have “hit some snags,” said Councilwoman Letitia James, whose district includes Bedford-Stuyvesant and Clinton Hill in Brooklyn, where stations are proposed.
“I’m hoping it’s before the end of the summer,” she said of the start date. “I’d like to cycle in the park.”
The lack of physical evidence of the project, only weeks before an expected watershed for the city’s transportation system, speaks to a unique quality of the bike-share program: There is no sprawling infrastructure, as there typically is with a transportation upheaval, like the Second Avenue subway project. And because dock stations can be assembled so quickly, neighborhoods are unlikely to notice many visual markers of progress before the program begins.
“Oh, yeah, it’s July 16,” Jennifer Brown, the executive director of the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, said when asked about the program on Monday, recalling the department’s July target. “They haven’t told us when that’s happening.”
In his radio interview on Friday, Mr. Bloomberg suggested that impatience was a sign of the city’s growing acceptance of bicycles.
“It’s fascinating,” he said. “The people who did not want bicycle lanes at all are now screaming, ‘Well, where are they? Where are they? I want them quickly.’ ”