New Yorkers, grab your helmets and reflective gear. A long-anticipated bike-sharing program will begin in the Big Apple next summer, the largest initiative of its kind and one that will empower city residents to opt out of more traditional modes of public transportation. While the impending launch of NYC Bike Share is a clear victory for city planners and environmentalists, it is also a Cinderella story of the American city and a lesson in innovation. Twenty years ago, the implementation of a bike-sharing program in crime-ridden Gotham would have seemed ludicrous. Yet, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has successfully debunked the myth that American metropolises are poorly planned, polluted dead zones, stagnant in creativity and perpetuating stagnant lifestyles.
In a public-private partnership run by Portland-based Alta Bike Share and New York City’s Department of Transportation (DOT), NYC Bike Share will bring some 10,000 bicycles to 600 stations around Manhattan and northwest Brooklyn, with plans to expand to Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx in coming years. While the bike sharing program is the City’s latest effort to get residents on two wheels, it is by no means the first. The Bloomberg administration has put a premium on transportation alternatives and sustainable solutions that improve the quality of urban life.
In 2009, DOT completed 200 miles of bike lanes in all five boroughs, only three years after the plan was announced. The agency’s CityRacks program provides free sidewalk parking and the Bikes in Buildings initiative helps expand parking indoors. DOT has also given away over 50,000 helmets to promote bicycle safety and has shut down swaths of Manhattan during Summer Streets to show solidarity with cyclists.
There is good reason for Mayor Bloomberg and DOT to continue paving the way for a cycle-friendly city. Five billion gallons of fuel are wasted each year from cars idling in traffic, a problem that is especially pronounced in densely populated Manhattan where stop and go traffic is the normal ebb and flow. An estimated 54% of all trips made by New Yorkers are less than two miles long, so a convenient bike-sharing program solves the transportation conundrum of how to get from point A to point B when it is too far to walk yet too close to take the subway or a taxi.
It is no surprise that a health-conscious mayor who has banned smoking virtually everywhere in the five boroughs, waged a war on artificial trans fats, and placed fruits and vegetable carts in low-income neighborhoods would be a relentless force behind bike sharing. What is surprising is the lengths to which he is willing to pedal to achieve his vision. Bloomberg’s idea of a “greener, greater” New York has resulted in a physically changed city that emphasizes public infrastructure and has, at times, put him at odds with his constituents. Bloomberg’s keen awareness of rising above short-sighted partisan politics for long-term results is true leadership. With this ethos, New York City will continue to invest in infrastructure that will ensure it remains competitive in the global arena and a truly visionary place to live and work.
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