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Nation's Largest Bike-Share Program Launches in New York City

by Connor Ryan
A A
Bike path in New York City.

Connor Ryan, WFUV

Annual membership: $95. Day pass: $9.95.

After being delayed for almost a year, Citi Bike -- the nation's largest bicycle-sharing program to date -- launched late Monday morning in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. The initial launch, which set loose 6,000 bikes in 330 docking stations, is so far open exclusively to those who signed up for the program in advance. Anyone will be able to purchase day passes starting June 2.

Officials hope the privately funded program will expand to include 10,000 bikes in 600 docking stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

Matt Flegenheimer, a transportation reporter for The New York Times, says the fate of Citi Bike could have a great impact on how the pages of history are written for Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"If you look back in a few years and this has taken off in the way other programs have taken off in parts of the world -- in D.C. and London -- he'll be prophetic," Flegenheimer said. "This will have been a major investment that they made that didn't seem obvious at the time and that a lot of people suggested was foolish."

Over the past five years, city officials have added more than 300 miles of bike lanes -- a move they say has greatly reduced the risk of injury for cyclists and pedestrians. Despite the increase in bike riding over the last decade, the risk of serious bike crashes has been reduced by 73 percent, according to the city's Department of Transportation. On First Avenue alone, traffic injuries are down 21 percent as bike ridership has increased by 177 percent.

And while the added lanes may be improving street safety, the criticism from neighborhood residents and businesses has been unrelenting.

"I see this bike lane has become an issue for us because now our guests getting from the front of the hotel just to the street is a common fight with the bikes," Chris Espaillat, a bellman of six years at the Hampton Inn on Eighth Avenue, said recently. 

Mere feet from the front of the hotel -- one of the many businesses housed on Eighth Avenue -- is a bike lane, a narrow column of green paint that guests and employees must navigate in order to jump in a taxi or get to the other side of the street. 

"Bikes are flying by the lane," Espaillat said. "It's bad enough we have the yellow cabs in the city, which they're crazy -- now we've got crazy bikes too."

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