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Trip Doctor: Biking in the Big Apple With NYC's New Bike Share Program

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New York City is launching its bike share program sometime this month (no details on a date yet), bringing 6,000 two-wheelers to the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Citi Bike, so-named due to a hefty sponsorship from CitiBank, is the country’s largest bicycle-sharing program. While there is a great FAQ on the project’s website, T+L had a few follow-up questions that we’ve answered here:

Where can you pick Citi Bikes up?

The website’s station map is impressive to say the least. There seem to be Citi Bike stations at almost every block! Until you zoom out, that is. The 330 stations stretch from the Battery up to Central Park South in Manhattan, and from the Brooklyn Bridge down to Atlantic Ave and east to Norstrand Ave in Brooklyn. Riders will never be more than a few blocks from a bikeshare station thanks to the highly concentrated layout, but residents of Uptown Manhattan, the vast majority of Brooklyn, and all of Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx are left bikeless.

What are the helmet laws?

Citi Bike “strongly encourages” all users to don helmets, and it offers annual members a $10 coupon to buy them in any New York City bike store. But there is no legal obligation to wear helmets. New York State laws require cyclists under the age of 14 to wear helmets, but Citi Bike members must be at least 16. Last year, NYC rejected a proposed mandatory helmet law last year. Still, helmets may decrease the risk of head injury to cyclists by as much as 85%, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

How safe is it to bike in New York City?

2011 saw 22 biking fatalities and 369 severe injuries. While up slightly from 2009, those numbers still reflect a downward trend in bike risk, according to city data. The NYC Cycling Risk Indicator, which reflects biking safety while taking into account increased cyclists, has fallen by 73% since 2000. Research from UC Berkeley cited in the Wall Street Journal shows that with ever-more bike lanes, and now thousands of more bikers, New York City’s bike accidents will decrease as drivers adjust their behavior and become more aware of bike riders on the roads.

Users have 45 minutes to ride Citi Bike before needing to check back in to a station. How far does that take you?

Theoretically, a rider can travel from Columbus Circle to the Whitehall South Ferry Terminal building in under 35 minutes, meaning that all of Citi Bike’s Manhattan stations are accessible within the 45-minute limit. From Columbus Circle to the stations in Brooklyn Heights takes just under 40 minutes, while the longest possible ride, from West 59th Street at 11th Avenue to Norstrand Avenue in Brooklyn Columbus Circle could run as little as 55 minutes.

Will it work?

Only time will tell, but all signs point to Yes. Similar programs in Boston, Washington DC, Paris, and Hangzhou, China, have all proven very successful and popular. Here's hoping Citi Bike follows in their footsteps—er—bike paths!

Peter Schlesinger is an editorial intern at Travel + Leisure.

Photo credit: Lars Klove /New York City Bike Share

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