Bikeshare: Another Half-Baked Economy Booster for NYC

New York City transportation bloggers and tweeters have been absolutely titillated over the past few days by the announcement that the four boroughs (sorry, Staten Island) will be getting a new bike share system next summer.  The city has decided to partner with Alta Bicycle Share based in Portland, Oregon to create the system.

Mayor Bloomberg argues it will be a huge boon to the economy, creating jobs, adding advertising revenue, and alleviating traffic problems.

The model is similar to dozens of systems that have been rolled out around the world over the past decade.  Velib in Paris and Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC are two of the most popular programs and both served as a blueprint for the NYC system.  Blah blah. Look it up. I’m tired of explaining.

So here’s my gripe: do they really think this public/private partnership is going to work? This rinky-dink company actually has the track record to take on New York City?

Let’s think worst case scenario: these Alta folks pour $50 million into hiring contractors to build infrastructure, hire an army of mechanics, operators, consultants, and engineers. Then it all goes belly up. Why? Because there is absolutely no precedent for a bike share project this big.

Don’t get me wrong: I ride a bicycle in New York City every day. I have also written extensively about bikeshare programs and I worked for Transportation Alternatives.  Nevertheless, my glasses aren’t rosy enough to believe it is a good idea to strap just any old bunch of mocha-fueled greeno left coasters to the nightmare that is the streets of New York.

This place is not Paris or DC. This is New York City, an animal of epic proportions. The city is putting itself in a position of undeniable risk. Why are they intent on starting with 10,000 bicycles? A pilot program seems like it would suffice until we all get a rough idea of how many yahoos are going to die and how much the city will have to subsidize this program. Oh that’s right, it will be self-supporting.  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

The potential is huge. This could create a sizable new work force in New York City.  Let’s just hope they understand that they’ve only got one shot. Screw this up and we won’t see another cycling initiative until the next century.