Those who have traveled to Amsterdam, where bicycling is ingrained in the culture, know about the simple bicycles called Omafiets (above), or grandma bikes, that citizens own and use for daily transportation. They’re a classic, upright design that’s sturdy, durable, simple to maintain and built to be ridden at a leisurely pace. They’re as ubiquitous on the streets as teapots are on range tops. People step onto the bikes in their ordinary clothes and shoes and go. Easy.
Close your eyes – change black to blue and bulk out the frame (a lot) — and that description could fit the fleet of 6,000 Citi Bike share bikes that are about to roll onto the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn on Memorial Day, first for a week of preview rides for those who have already purchased and received annual membership keys, and then on June 2 for public use.
Citi Bikes are accessible, fully equipped, simple to ride, and largely free of security and storage woes.
The Blur of Choice
Utility. Uniformity. Ease. Those aren’t exactly the hallmarks of bicycling in New York City to date. People who ride bikes around town here – especially those who’ve been doing it since the bad old days before the introduction of bike lanes – wear independence like a badge. But on the broader scene, daily scrutiny of the bike lanes and bridges reveals that bicycles and apparel are often an extension of riders’ personalities, providing a canvas in motion for personal self-expression that’s a marvel to observe, and a source of endless inspiration. In other words, the opposite of Amsterdam.
But it is also this variety, this blur of different bikes and clothing and gear, that leads to thoughts of “Where do I start with all this?” that must sometimes appear intimidating to people who may have been sensitized to riding bicycles as a transportation option by the dramatic growth here, but for whom the cares of buying, outfitting and maintaining a bicycle serve as a barrier to entry. Where is the spirit of simple, ubiquitous Omafiets for them? (By the way, this in no way implies “dumbing down,” but rather wising up.)
Is it possible that Citi Bike, with the grab-it-and-go characteristics that are engineered into the DNA of bike sharing for quick trips around town might attract some of those people, and perhaps even encourage them in the longer term to go to the next step and buy a personal bicycle?
Luring First-Time Riders
If other cities are any indication, that’s a possibility. Just one example: A recent article in Streetsblog on the excellent safety record of bike share systems in other cities noted that in Washington DC 70 percent of Capital BikeShare users were not bicycle owners before joining. What’s even more intriguing, but the topic for a different post, is that 45 percent of Capital BikeShare members are women, even though women represent only 23 percent of the cycling population there. The convenience and freedom from storage and maintenance concerns that are associated with bike share were noted as possible enticements to female riders at our recent panel on women’s cycling at Bike Expo New York.
Much of this will be elucidated over time as Citi Bike user and GPS data is analyzed.
But in the mean time, the idea that a simple new, no-muss, no-fuss way to use a bicycle for transportation in New York City might bring new riders into the fold is exciting — not only for the users themselves who will come to enjoy all the personal benefits and joys of cycling, but also, in the longer term, and especially as the system is slated to expand to 10,000 bikes, for the broader civic advantages of improved street safety and less congestion.
Bring on the new blue Omafiets!