Getting around New York: Citi Bike

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Have you ever considered yourself as a risk taker. Would you ever consider riding a bicycle in one of the world’s busiest cities where the drivers are renowned for their road rage? I had never really considered it until one day I thought I just had to give Citi Bike New York a go, and I am so glad that I did. Since that day I haven’t looked back – except when making sure no cars are coming behind me when I’m on my Citi Bike.

What is Citi Bike

New York is synonymous with the iconic yellow taxi cab, whether it be for getting around town between meetings or home after shopping, or after your 20+ hour journey from Australia the New York taxi is an easy but expensive way to get around the Big Apple. The taxi’s along with cars, vans, buses and trucks have been choking New York streets for decades and in the mid 2000s the New York City Council decided to finally do something about it.

I must admit that I was a reluctant user, especially with the ease of the subway accessing almost everywhere I needed to go, but after using now for over 18 months on my trips to New York, it is my preferred way of getting around the city.

Buoyed by the success of shared bicycle programs in other parts of the world, the New York City Council approved a plan for a privately owned and operated public bike sharing system in 2008. The system was designed to start with approx. 6,000 spread across 330 docking stations across Manhattan, with an expected start date of 2012. During the start-up phase of the project there were significant issues with the software which was being designed and implemented for the New York project which saw the initial start date to be pushed back. After further delays caused by Hurricane Sandy, which significantly damaged bikes where had been kept in storage in Brooklyn, the project was completed and the public got their first look at the new Citi Bike system on May 27, 2013.

Citi Bike docking station in West Village

Opening with 332 stations housing across Manhattan (South of 59th Street) over 6,000 bikes Citi Bike estimates that in the first month of operation there were a total of over 27,200 rentals. The service has proven so popular that Citi Bike is now available through the Upper East and Upper West Sides of Manhattan as well as recently opening docking stations in Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and Jersey City. Citi Bike has also announced that for the first time they have recorded over 50,000 trips per day over 7 days, whilst at the same time confirming their first stage of expansion to over 12,000 bikes.

How to use it & how much

The system is built around the concept of rental periods, which are either 30 minutes (for short-term members) or 45 minutes (for annual members) with the idea being that instead of jumping in a tab, on the subway or waiting for a bus you’ll take a bike.

For New York visitors and tourists the short-term membership is the perfect option. You can purchase either a 24 hour pass for $9.95 or a 7 day pass for $25. Each ride is limited to 30 minutes before additional charges are incurred (see image below).

Source: Citi Bike New York

To rent a bike it is as simply as going to a kiosk (which is located at the end of each docking station), choosing your rental time (24 hours or 7 days) and providing a valid credit card, similar to how an increasing number of Australian council run car parks are operated. Once your rental has been confirmed you will receive a unique unlocking code of 4 digits. This can either be printed out or remembered, all you then need to do is select a bike, enter your unique 4 digit code and pull the bike back out of the dock, and you are ready to ride.

Citi Bike New York rental station

Each time you dock your bike you will need to retrieve a new code when you want your next hire period to commence. Once you have used a code you will be unable to use it again. If you are running close to your time limit of 30 minutes (for a short-term member) you will need to dock your bike and wait 5 minutes before you can rent again (the system will tell you that you need to wait 2 minutes, but in my experience it was closer to 5 minutes before I could regenerate another code).

Returning the bike is even easier. All you need to do is find a docking station that has docks available, place the front wheel into the dock and wait for the docking mechanism to click and the light on the station to turn red, and the bike is returned – ready for you to explore a new New York neighbourhood.

Citi Bike docking station

If you find that you have gone over the 30 minute rental period – don’t worry, the bike won’t self destruct, all you will do is incur additional costs of $4 (for 30 – 60 minutes), $9 (for 60 – 90 minutes) and $12 (for each additional 30 minutes). Something important to note is that for each rental period you sign up for either a 24 hour period or 7-day period Citi Bike will hold a $100 guarantee on your credit card, similar to how a hotel will take a credit card guarantee on check-in.

In conjunction with developing the rental stations, the bikes and the payment processing for the project, the company, with the assistance of the New York City Council, also took on the massive task of developing dedicated bike lanes throughout Manhattan to encourage not only Citi Bike use but also personal bicycle use to combat the growing strains on public transport, car and truck usage in the city and in no small part playing a greater role in fighting the growing health concerns in New York.

Manhattan now has dedicated bike paths (marked in green on the streets and generally protected from traffic by a small island) and bike lanes (which are painted onto the road but are shared with other vehicles).

New York bike lane

The New York City Department of Transport has put together a very helpful guide to cycling in New York it provides information on bike paths and lanes and other handy information.

Where to find a docking station

As mentioned earlier when Citi Bike New York was launched it was done so with over 330 stations across Lower and Midtown Manhattan this has now expanded to well 600 stations found across New York and New Jersey.

Citi Bike has developed a great app that will not only tell you where your nearest docking station is, but also how many bikes are currently available and how many stations are available if you are looking for a station to return your bike at.

The app is available for both iOS and Android devices and NewYorkConcierge.com.au highly recommends downloading the official Citi Bike New York app once you have arrived in the United States.

The Bike

The bike itself is pretty basic with an adjustable seat, multiple gears (3-speed) and a handy rack / basket that will comfortably carry a medium satchel or backpack and each bike comes with a small handlebar mounted bell.

The New York Citi Bike

The bike also has built in (kinetic) powered lights to assist during the evening or in low light conditions. The bike also comes with a handy chain guard so that if you are wearing jeans or pants you won’t get grease marks on your pants, or worse get them caught in the gears altogether.

Important things to remember

  • Whilst it is not a legal requirement for anyone over the age of 13 to wear a helmet it is highly recommended by the NYC Department of Transit, and us at NewYorkConcierge.com.au (There are multiple bike shops throughout Manhattan that sell helmets)
  • Always ride with the traffic. If you are unsure of what way the traffic is meant to be flowing (if it is early in the morning before the peak hour rush starts) an easy way to tell is just look at the direction in which the cars are parked).
  • Do not ride on the sidewalks
  • Use your bell to notify other pedestrians of your presence
  • Observe all the normal road rules
  • Don’t ride with earphones in/on both ears
  • Always have a back-up dock in mind. Certain docking stations can be very popular especially around tourist areas such as Chelsea Piers and the last thing you want to do is spend another 15 minutes trying to find a dock at the end of your rental period.
  • Don’t leave the bike unattended.

Why Citi Bike is great for Australians visiting New York

I must admit that I was a reluctant user, especially with the ease of the subway accessing almost everywhere I needed to go, but after using now for over 18 months on my trips to New York, it is my preferred way of getting around the city (as long as its not snowing or raining).

The simplicity of use, the cost (you can’t go past the value of a 7-day ticket) and the flexibility is perfect for someone who knows their way around New York (even with a basic knowledge of how the streets and street addresses work) and knows where they need to be. It is also another way you can feel like a local in the greatest city in the world.

The biggest surprise that I found was how accommodating drivers had become to cyclists, one of my biggest fears was that I would get into an argument with some New York taxi or delivery driver, but at no time did I feel like there was ever an issue even when riding on streets and avenues that did not have any bike lanes or paths marked.

If you are looking for an easy, and inexpensive way to get around New York I highly recommend the Citi Bike New York system, plus if you have ridden around New York for most of the day it makes having some famous New York Cheesecake for dessert easier.

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