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Why Aren’t American Bike-Share Systems Living Up to Their Potential?

This chart shows the performance of the world's bike sharing systems. U.S. systems, by en large, are lagging. Image: ?

U.S. bike-share systems, which tend not to have dense networks of stations, also tend to lag behind other bike-share systems on ridership. Graph: Institute for Transportation and Development Policy

As policy director at the New York City Department of Transportation from 2007 to June, 2014, Jon Orcutt shepherded the nation’s largest bike-share system through the earliest stages of planning, a wide-ranging public engagement process, and, last year, the rollout of hundreds of Citi Bike stations.

That makes Orcutt, formerly of Transportation Alternatives and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a leading U.S. expert on bike-share. In a recent exchange about what some cities are passing off as bike-share, Orcutt told he has some concerns about how bike-share systems are being rolled out in cities around the U.S. Intrigued, I asked him to elaborate in an interview.

Here’s what he had to say about what separates a successful bike-share system from one that’s not meeting its potential:

So you’ve come to some conclusions about how certain bike-shares are functioning?

They’re not my conclusions. There’s a fair amount of research out there now and you can see pretty clearly what some of the variables are. There’s a huge variation across cities, especially in the United States.

Can you summarize the research?

The most useful metric is rides per bike per day. You can compare a system with 600 bikes to 6,000 bikes in different size cities pretty easily. You just see, how many rides is it getting?

I’d say the breaking point internationally is about three-and-a-half or four rides. High performing systems are seeing four rides per day on average or more, and then there’s everybody else. A lot of them in the United States are under two.

Read more…

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Will de Blasio’s Bike Lane Network Keep Pace With Citi Bike Expansion?

Will Mayor de Blasio fix huge infrastructure gaps in the bike lane network as Citi Bike expands? Image: Transportation Alternatives. Click for full-size version.

Will Mayor de Blasio fill huge gaps in the bike lane network, especially in western Queens and Manhattan above 59th Street, as Citi Bike expands? Map: Transportation Alternatives. Click to enlarge.

A City Council hearing on bike infrastructure is about to get underway this afternoon, where council members will “focus on ways to improve” NYC bike infrastructure, according to a press release from Ydanis Rodriguez, the transportation chair.

One issue that Transportation Alternatives will be highlighting at the hearing is the mismatch between the existing bike network and the upcoming expansion of NYC’s bike-share service area. This morning, TA released a map of the current and future Citi Bike zone, overlaid with a map of current bike lanes. With the bike-share coverage area set to double in size in the next two years, the de Blasio administration has much to do if it intends to keep up.

From the TA press release:

Unfortunately, there are not enough safe places to ride in many of the areas where bike share is set to expand. To make matters more serious, very little new cycling infrastructure is currently planned, in spite of demand for more bike lanes and active requests from communities around the five boroughs. In fact, the administration has only committed to 50 miles of new bike lanes annually, with only five miles of protected lanes.

Also today, DOT is expected to announce a program to improve bike access on bridges. Trottenberg told WNYC that the “Bikes on Bridges” campaign will concentrate on the 16 Harlem River crossings that connect Manhattan and the Bronx.

Transportation Alternatives has been working with local partners in the area to identify where bridge access needs to be safer for biking and walking, and former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt has recommended using the Harlem River bridges as the backbone of a safer bike network Uptown and in the Bronx.

Hopefully council members will ask DOT about lag times between street repavings and restripings, which has left cyclists in some neighborhoods wondering when bike lanes will return.

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Michael Frumin Hired to Get Citi Bike Tech Back on Track

The company that runs Citi Bike has made a big hire, bringing on someone known for improving the customer experience by introducing new technology to the MTA. No, not new CEO Jay Walder. The newest employee at Alta Bicycle Share is its first-ever vice president for technology, Michael Frumin.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Walder said the company would be hiring for the position this week. It looks like he meant “immediately.”

Frumin has his work cut out for him at Alta. Citi Bike has struggled with a poor user interface at kiosk screens and flawed software that causes problems throughout the system.

Frumin is best known for leading the MTA’s Bus Time project, which brings real-time arrival information to riders. (Streetsblog’s parent organization, OpenPlans, helped develop the technology behind Bus Time.)

When Frumin joined the MTA in 2010 to work on Bus Time, Walder was the agency boss. The MTA rolled out the first Bus Time route in 2011, then expanded the capability borough by borough starting in 2012. With most of the work on Bus Time complete, last year Frumin took on a new position as deputy director of recovery and resiliency for subways at the MTA.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Frumin is a graduate of Stuyvesant High School. He received a computer science degree from Stanford before going to MIT for a masters degree in transportation and operations research. He lives in Brooklyn.

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As Citi Bike Expands, So Should NYC’s Protected Bike Lanes

When Citi Bike launched last year, ridership numbers quickly surpassed levels seen in other cities. New York’s system had a number of advantages — more stations, more bikes, more places to go, and more potential customers, for starters. But there’s another reason so many people felt comfortable hopping on the blue bikes: For years before bike-share’s launch, the city had been installing miles of protected bike lanes on several key north-south avenues in the Citi Bike service area.

At Tuesday’s Citi Bike announcement, DOT chief Polly Trottenberg said the presence of protected bike lanes would factor into station siting as the system expands, but she didn’t commit to adding more protected lanes in tandem with bike-share growth. Photo: Stephen Miller

As Citi Bike expands beyond the city’s core, the protected bike lane network should grow along with it. The logic of the pairing is so clear to New Yorkers, noted former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt in a Streetsblog post this summer, that when the city sought to add protected lanes for Midtown avenues after bike-share was already in the works, the proposals “sailed through their respective community boards.” Will the de Blasio administration also make the connection between bike-share and building out safe bicycling infrastructure?

At Tuesday’s Citi Bike press conference, I asked Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg if DOT would grow the protected bike lane network as bike-share expands to more neighborhoods. “One of the big steps with Citi Bike in terms of safety and ease of use has been connecting wherever possible with protected bike lanes,” she said. “As we site stations, that is going to be one of the criteria.”

It wasn’t exactly a commitment to expand the protected bike lane network in tandem with Citi Bike.

Earlier this week, Mayor de Blasio didn’t bring up protected lanes when I asked what his administration is doing to improve bike safety in light of the fact that bicyclist deaths have doubled in 2014 compared to the same time last year. De Blasio cited enforcement against dangerous driving before adding that NYPD has issued more tickets to “bicyclists who have acted inappropriately” and that the city would employ “equal opportunity” enforcement against bike riders.

The administration has gone on the record saying the protected bike lane network will expand at about the same rate as it has since 2007. At a press conference celebrating New York’s “best biking city” ranking last month, Trottenberg said DOT has committed to adding five miles of protected bike lanes every year.

So far, however, the de Blasio administration has yet to put its stamp on the bike network.

Read more…

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Citi Bike 2.0: New Owners Hire Jay Walder and Promise Major Expansion

With new ownership and a new CEO, Citi Bike expansion is back on track. DOT has even started taking suggestions for bike-share expansion again. Image: DOT

With new ownership from executives at real estate giant Related and a new CEO in former MTA head Jay Walder, Citi Bike expansion is back on track. DOT has already started taking suggestions for new bike-share stations. Image: DOT

It’s official: Alta Bicycle Share, the company that runs Citi Bike, has a new owner, an infusion of cash, and a fresh face at the top — longtime transit executive Jay Walder. At a press conference this afternoon, the new team promised to correct Citi Bike’s blunders and double the system’s size by the end of 2017.

The same ownership group will also be running Alta bike-share systems in Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, and Boston, among other cities. While today’s news signals potential changes in those cities as well, the most immediate changes — along with Alta Bicycle Share’s headquarters — are coming to New York.

Citi Bike’s reboot has been months in the making. Top executives from Equinox Fitness, itself a division of real estate giant The Related Companies, burst onto the bike-share scene in April with an unsuccessful last-minute bid for Bixi, the bankrupt Canadian supplier of Alta’s bike-share components. Related execs resurfaced in July, when word came that they were on the verge of buying out Alta. After months of negotiations, the deal is now official, with a company backed by Related executives and other investors, called Bikeshare Holdings LLC, acquiring all of Alta Bicycle Share.

Alta is getting a major cash infusion — $30 million from Bikeshare Holdings LLC, which is led by Equinox CEO Harvey Spevak, Related CEO Jeff Blau, and investor Jonathan Schulhof. Citi has extended its initial $41 million, five-year sponsorship of NYC bike-share by promising an additional $70.5 million through 2024, contingent on system expansion. Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, which has already helped finance Citi Bike, is increasing its credit line to Alta by $15 million. The deal includes $5 million from the Partnership Fund for New York City, an investment fund backed by the city’s big business coalition, to expand Citi Bike to more neighborhoods.

That expansion is set to roll out in stages over the next three years. Today, the system has 330 stations and 6,000 bikes. Alta and DOT promised today that by the end of 2017, it will double to over 700 stations and 12,000 bikes. The first round will bring the system to neighborhoods that have long been promised bike-share, such as Long Island City and Greenpoint, as well as additional parts of Williamsburg and Bedford Stuyvesant. The second phase will expand the system to just north of 125th Street in Harlem, south to Red Hook, Park Slope, and Prospect Heights, and to a large section of Astoria. It does not include Roosevelt, Randalls, and Ward Islands.

Read more…

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Citi Bike Expansion Map: 375 New Stations for Uptown, Queens, and Brooklyn

citi_bike_map

Photo: Stephen Miller

The rumors were on target and the wait is over for New York City bike-share: With new management and new capital, the system is on track to cover a lot more ground. Here’s the map of the expanded Citi Bike service area that’s in the works, courtesy of Streetsblog’s Stephen Miller.

City officials including Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg are at Queensbridge Houses this afternoon to announce that REQX Ventures is buying out Alta Bicycle Share, the operator of Citi Bike. As first reported by the Daily News, former MTA Chair Jay Walder will be running things now, so the bike-share system is gaining not only an infusion of funds but a serious management upgrade as well.

Once completed, the bigger bike-share zone will reportedly have about 12,000 bikes and more than 700 stations. The first new stations will be installed next year, and the implementation of all of phase two will stretch into 2017, according to the Citi Bike blog. The price of an annual membership will rise from $95 to $149, but the $60 discount membership for NYCHA residents will not change.

Stephen and Clarence Eckerson are at the presser and will have more details later today.

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Sources: Alta Buyout a Done Deal; Citi Bike Fleet to Double

The REQX Alta purchase bodes well for bike-share in NYC and beyond. Photo: Brad Aaron

The REQX purchase of Alta bodes well for bike-share in NYC and beyond. Photo: Brad Aaron

The buyout of Alta Bicycle Share rumored since July is finally a done deal. REQX Ventures, an affiliate of the Related Companies and its Equinox unit, and Alta Bicycle Share, the company that operates Citi Bike, have agreed to terms on the purchase, according to published accounts and sources familiar with the negotiations.

The injection of capital from REQX is expected to help resolve lingering problems with Citi Bike’s supply chain, software system, and operations, which until now have prevented any expansion of the bike-share network.

The sale was reported Friday by Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein, and Streetsblog has confirmation from two people with knowledge of the deal.

Rubinstein reported that REQX plans to double the size of the Citi Bike fleet to 12,000 bikes. In July, the expansion was rumored to reach up to 145th Street in Manhattan and into western Queens and another ring of Brooklyn neighborhoods adjacent to the current service area. Annual membership prices are expected to increase about 50 percent.

New management and an infusion of funds from REQX bodes well for all Alta bike-share programs over the next year after a stagnant 2014. Alta’s supply chain troubles have hampered system expansions in Chicago, DC, Boston, and San Francisco, among other cities.

The city is expected to make an official announcement soon. However, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg refused to discuss the Alta deal at a press conference earlier today about NYC’s new 25 mph speed limit.

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One City, By Bike: Citi Bike Beyond the Central Business District

This is part two of a five-part series by former NYC DOT policy director Jon Orcutt about the de Blasio administration’s opportunities to expand and improve cycling in New York. Read part one here.

citi_bike_9th_ave

The pending expansion of Citi Bike to at least 12,000 bikes is an obvious reference point for further bike network development (if the city and other parties can show the urgency and leadership to close the deal — they have been said to be “close” since June).

The initial Citi Bike launch provided an impetus for substantial cycling improvements in Midtown during 2012 and 2013, as well as projects that anticipated expansion of the bike-share system, like the two-way bike lane on the 72nd Street route across Central Park. These plans sailed through their respective community boards because the bike-share/bike lane dynamic seemed so obvious it went virtually undebated.

Citi Bike would not have been adopted so abruptly by so many New Yorkers without extensive development of the bike lane network within the Manhattan central business district and nearby parts of Brooklyn from 2007 to 2012.  A recent observational study of Manhattan cyclists concluded that “bike-share riders display a greater tendency to ride on more ‘secure’ street or avenue environments than their general cycling counterparts” (Bike Lanes + Bike Share Program = Bike Safety, Hunter College Sociology and Planning Departments, 2013).

citi_bike_proximity

The new Citi Bike plan will extend the station network north to mid-Harlem in the vicinity of 140th Street, encompassing the entire Upper East Side and Upper West Side as well, and expand both south into Brooklyn and north from the Williamsburg Bridge to the North Side of Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Long Island City, and Astoria.

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Buenos Aires: Building a People-Friendly City

Buenos Aires is fast becoming one of the most admired cities in the world when it comes to reinventing streets and transportation.

Just over a year ago, the city launched MetroBus BRT (constructed in less than seven months) on 9 de Julio Avenue, which may be the world’s widest street. The transformation of four general traffic lanes to exclusive bus lanes has yielded huge dividends for the city and is a bold statement from Mayor Mauricio Macri about how Buenos Aires thinks about its streets. More than 650,000 people now ride MetroBus every day, and it has cut commutes in the city center from 50-55 minutes to an incredible 18 minutes.

That’s not the only benefit of this ambitious project. The creation of MetroBus freed up miles of narrow streets that used to be crammed with buses. Previously, Buenos Aires had some pedestrian streets, but moving the buses to the BRT corridor allowed the administration to create a large network of shared streets in downtown where pedestrians rule. On the shared streets, drivers aren’t permitted to park and the speed limit is an astonishingly low 10 km/h. Yes, that is not a misprint — you’re not allowed to drive faster than 6 mph!

Bicycling has also increased rapidly in the past four years — up from 0.5 percent mode share to 3 percent mode share and climbing. Ecobici is the city’s bike-share system which is expanding to 200 stations in early 2015. Oh, and add this amazing fact: Ecobici is free for all users for the first hour.

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The Citi Bike Deal Is Great News for Other Cities Too

Bay Area Bike Share, shown here in San Jose, is one of several systems that should be able to fulfill expansion plans quicker after REQX Ventures acquires a controlling stake in Alta Bicycle Share. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

Andrew Tangel at the Wall Street Journal had an encouraging update this week on the Citi Bike buyout plan first reported by Dana Rubinstein in Capital New York. It looks like the city is days away from announcing a deal in which REQX Ventures, an affiliate of the Related Companies and its Equinox unit, will buy out Alta Bicycle Share, the company that operates Citi Bike. The implications are big — not just for bike-share in New York, but for several other major American cities as well.

REQX would acquire a majority stake in Alta Bicycle Share, bringing new management and a much deeper reservoir of financial resources to the company. Vexing problems with Citi Bike’s operations, software, and bike supply chain are expected to be addressed, though it’s not clear yet where the next round of bikes will come from.

For New York, the terms of the deal mean the price of Citi Bike annual memberships will rise from $95 to the $140 range, while the service area will expand substantially. A source familiar with the situation said the plan is to get new stations operating by next spring. The larger service area could reach as far north as 145th Street, according to the source, while extending into western Queens as well as a ring of Brooklyn neighborhoods around the current boundaries.

One aspect of the news that hasn’t been getting much notice is that several other bike-share systems will also be affected. As Payton Chung noted last week, Alta-operated systems in Chicago, DC, Boston, and San Francisco have all been hamstrung by bike supply problems the company had been unable to solve. The buyout should break the logjam holding back expansion plans in those cities and allow system launches in Baltimore, Portland, and Vancouver to progress.

The last two years have been simultaneously thrilling and frustrating for American bike-share, with rapid adoption in major cities accompanied by performance glitches and long waits for system expansions. The outlook for 2015 seems a lot sunnier.