Volume 78 / Number 7 - July 16 - 22, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Villager photo by Laurie Mittelmann

Sarah Tompkins, a supervisor for the pilot bike-sharing program, right, helped a man sign up in the West Village to take a bicycle for a free ride last week.

City rolls out bike-share program on European model

By Laurie Mittelmann

Bicycles available for free rides up to one hour long lined the sidewalks outside four different Downtown storefronts Thursday through Monday, with banners reading “Free Bikes.”

“At worst, people are like, ‘What’s the catch?’ which really speaks highly of the program,” said Stefan Talman, 25, of Brooklyn, a volunteer helping to inform passersby about the experimental bike-sharing program. Organized by Forum for Urban Design, a group of about 300 architects, designers and planners, the program offered 30 bikes.

Cities around the world like Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona have been adopting bike-sharing programs that allow members, for an annual fee, to check out a bicycle from one station, and ride it and return it to the same or a different station.

Last week the city’s Department of Transportation released a request for expressions of interest, or R.F.E.I., calling on companies to describe a feasible New York City bike-sharing program, including costs and how to provide helmets. Responses are due by Aug. 15.

“We’re dense and we’re flat; we’re a great city for bicycling, but most of us have tiny apartments not conducive to bicycle storage,” said Wiley Norvell, community affairs director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group for bicycling, walking and public transportation. “In New York, we’d need thousands of bikes at hundreds of stations,” he said.

Bike and Roll, a bicycle rental and tour company, donated the bikes used for the pilot program. Storefront for Art and Architecture, a nonprofit Soho gallery, and City Bakery and its two eco-friendly Birdbath bakeries donated the space for the stations in Soho, Chelsea, and the East and West Villages.

Marc Yankus, 51, a photographer who lives at W. 10th St. in the West Village, stopped cycling to commute because seven of his bicycles were stolen. After a doctor’s appointment in Chelsea last Thursday, he noticed the bike station outside City Bakery at 18th St. and Fifth Ave.

“It was serendipity,” he said. He pulled his white sock over his right pant leg, gave his credit card number to a volunteer at the station for a safety deposit, and then rode to Birdbath Bakery at Charles St. and Seventh Ave. South, a short walk from his apartment.

“The range of people who are interested is really funny,” Talman said. “You have your normal city kids, but also a big guy with a handlebar mustache and a cigar in his mouth and businessmen in formal pinstriped shirts wanting to ride the bike to work and wondering if there are stations on the Upper East Side.”

At times, only one bicycle stood for rental at the West Village location, where people were borrowing bikes to ride on the Hudson River Park greenway.

“In Paris, the streets feel slower, more elegant and safe,” said Norvell. “In New York City, 131,000 people ride bikes, but there’s a potential for it to be 200,000. It’s a really attractive future.”

Washington, the only current host for a bike-share in the United States, offers 120 bicycles at 10 locations through its Smartbike program, launched this spring, that costs $40 to join.

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