Open letter to New York: Stop freaking out about your bike share program
Hey, New York City:
You're doing this bike share thing wrong.
Take it from us. Our Nice Ride program launched back in June 2010, when the only other one like it in the country was in Denver, Colo. We don't want to rub it in, but you're late to this party: 20 other cities and counties across the U.S. got bike share programs going before you did.
We know the delays weren't totally your fault -- there was that whole thing where the company you hired decided to break up with its software developer and build its own software from scratch, adding nearly a year to the launch date -- and anyway, you have them now. Six thousand of them, blue bikes that look much like our lime green ones, but with "Citi Bike" slapped down the side.
They're at 330 docking stations throughout your city, like so many alien spacecraft that landed overnight.
And you're treating them that way.
On May 31, two days after they soft-launched, the Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz opined in a video that she could not "enter the mind of the totalitarians running this government of the city."
"Look, I represent the majority of citizens," Rabinowitz continued. "The majority of citizens are appalled by what has happened."
By the end of the bikes' first week, New York magazine created a five-way Venn diagram to dissect the backlash. The bikes are, the magazine concluded, the nexus of "Mayor Bloomberg," "Environmental," "Sharing," "Healthy," and "Vaguely French": a conservative's heart attack on two wheels.
The situation has gotten so dire that last Thursday, Jon Stewart gave up the first section of The Daily Show to dissect the controversy. When correspondent Al Madrigal confronted West Village residents about their resistance, they countered with complaints that the bikes are ugly. That they take up parking for cars. That they showed up overnight. "Apart from the 159 meetings," Madrigal replies in the Stewart segment, "[the city] didn't say a word."
We're here to tell you: It doesn't have to be this way. When Nice Ride launched in Minneapolis, it was met with some pride -- we were then, like you are now, home to the nation's largest bike share system, after all. But mostly, people didn't know exactly what the things were, and so they held their tongue and waited to find out.
We did share some of your complaints. A few stations had to be moved because they were crowding sidewalks. There were a couple of re-docking snafus. And some -- like you -- worried that, as a resident of Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood says in The Daily Show segment, "Ain't no Citi Bike in the hood."
But in the program's second year, Nice Ride added stations on the North Side. People stopped biting their tongues and started clamoring for stations in their neighborhoods. The program expanded beyond the Minneapolis downtown, into parks and even St. Paul.
Sure, there are still some Twin Cities drivers who grouse about bike lanes. But a lot of people use those neon cruisers. Our program hit 500,000 rides last summer (we know you have 8+ million residents, but a half-million trips isn't shabby for a city our size). This year, it expanded by 24 stations. And now, when the bikes return to our streets in April, it's one of our favorite signs of spring.
The weird thing is, despite all the shouting naysayers, someone's riding your bikes, too. As of this writing, Citi Bikes have gone on 162,248 trips.
So all of you New York cyclists: Tell the Dorothy Rabinowitzes of your city to shut up, already, and get back on the bike. Or just head to Bed-Stuy and do wheelies.
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