Citi Bike, 10 Years Old and Part of New York’s Street Life

Author: Yuvi May 26, 2023 Citi Bike, 10 Years Old and Part of New York's Street Life

Good morning. It’s Friday. We’ll look at something that a transportation advocate told me was “an idea that seemed impossible, and now New York City can’t live without it.”

On Wednesday, we said happy birthday to the Brooklyn Bridge and celebrated how transformative it was. Citi Bike is only 10, as of tomorrow, but it, too, has changed the city in many ways.

Citi Bike, operated by the ride-share company Lyft, has tried to count those ways.

It says its initial fleet of 6,000 bicycles went out on 46,854 rides in that first week on the streets, enough to put the entire population of Palm Springs, Calif., or Charlottesville, Va., on two-wheelers.

Since then, ridership has exploded: Two weeks ago, Citi Bike customers went on 867,840 rides, a record. And the company now has just under 30,000 bikes. About 6,000 of them are e-bikes.

“It’s been extremely transformative,” said Sarah Kaufman, the interim director of the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University. “It’s opened up New York to a viable alternative mode of transportation. It’s opened up areas of the city that were previously underserved by transit. And it was instrumental in 2020 when the pandemic hit and people were seeking socially distanced modes of travel.”

It also had New Yorkers saying that cycling was cool. “When it launched, it was like lightning in a bottle,” said Edward Skyler, a former deputy mayor who, as an executive vice president of Citibank, now oversees the bank’s sponsorship of Citi Bike. Social media posts with celebrities — “Leonardo DiCaprio taking a ride on a Citi Bike with his new girlfriend,” as Skyler described one — provided “promotion we hadn’t anticipated,” he told me.

Citi Bike’s hipness quotient has continued, most recently with a cameo appearance on the HBO series “Succession.” Citibank is so committed to Citi Bike that Skyler said it has already extended its sponsorship arrangement through 2034. The deal that expires next year was worth $70.5 million. The terms of the new deal have not been disclosed.

‘An idea that seemed impossible’ that New York can’t live without

Danny Harris, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, a bicycle and pedestrian safety advocacy group, called Citi Bike “another one of those great examples of an idea that seemed impossible, and now New York City can’t exist without it.”

But he followed that sentence with “and yet.” Citi Bike is still not in every neighborhood, he said, and the city is behind on its commitment to build protected bike lanes.

The blue bikes became familiar sights in Manhattan soon after the program began, but Citi Bike got off to a wobbly start. After nearly 18 months, The New York Times said it had been “pedaling toward oblivion since the day it began.” Lyft took over in 2018 and announced a $100 million capital infusion intended to double the size of the Citi Bike service area and increase the number of bikes.

Lyft’s arrival roughly coincided with rising frustration about subway and bus delays, which prompted more people to take up biking. Some who have followed the Citi Bike evolution say that along the way, the attitude on the streets changed. Janette Sadik-Khan, who was the city’s transportation commissioner when Citi Bike made its debut, said it used to be that riding a bike in New York was “blood sport, like a Mad Max warrior on a city street.”

Now, she told me, more than half a million people ride bicycles in the city every day, more than the number of cars on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Cross Bronx Expressway combined. The city Department of Transportation says bicycle traffic over the East River bridges reached new highs last year, with more than 24,000 bike trips a day.

Lanes to ride on

The city has worked on building up its network of bike lanes, although critics like Harris say that the new lanes did not come fast enough and that not enough of them are protected, meaning they have barriers to keep bicycles and automobiles apart.

In 2013, the city had about 830 miles of bicycle lanes, with roughly 500 miles of protected lanes, the vast majority in parks and open spaces: Only 30 miles of protected lanes were on streets. Now the city has 1,500 miles of bicycle lanes, with more than 200 miles of protected lanes on streets.

Harris says the city fell short last year, putting in fewer protected miles of protected lanes than the 30 called for in the NYC Streets Plan, a transportation master plan mandated by the City Council in 2019. A spokesman for the Department of Transportation said the city installed 26.3 miles last year, “quite close to the 30.”

Under the streets plan, 50 miles of protected lanes are supposed to be installed this year. Harris said that only four miles have been created so far; The group’s website says 22 miles are under construction. The department spokesman said “there is going to be a record production of protected bike lanes” in 2023, adding that “the goal is to make it to 50.”

‘Reflects the population of New York City a lot more than it used to’

Like Citi Bikes themselves, Citi Bike docking stations became part of the landscape. But the company was criticized for seeming to cater to wealthier neighborhoods. It didn’t expand to the Bronx until 2019.

“It has improved, but it is not improved to the level we think it should,” Olivia Leirer, the co-executive director of New York Communities for Change, which issued a sharply critical report on Citi Bike’s neighborhood coverage in 2019, told me .

Citi Bike now has more than 1,800 bike stands around the city, not quite six times the number it started with in 2013. Caroline Samponaro, Lyft’s vice president of transit, bike and scooter policy, said the company has “radically shifted the demographics.” Citi Bike, she said, “reflects the population of New York City a lot more than it used to.”

The company says that 51 percent of its riders now come from communities of color, that 64 percent of its station network is outside Manhattan and that Citi Bikes will be available in 70 percent of city-run public housing by the end of the year.

Citi Bike sees more of an electric future ahead. It is looking into “in-station charging” — bicycle docks that can charge the batteries on its e-bikes.

These days, Citi Bike sends vans from one docking station to another with workers who check the batteries and the chains, pedals and tires. They take out batteries that are running low and put in fully charged ones. Samponaro said that electrifying 20 to 30 percent of the docking stations would reduce battery swaps by nearly 90 percent.


Enjoy a sunny day with a high near 72. At night, expect mostly clear skies and a low around 58 with light wind.


Suspended today and tomorrow (Shavuot) and Monday (Memorial Day).

Metropolitan diary

Dear Diary:

I was at a bagel shop on Lorimer Street on a very busy Sunday morning. The crowd of people waiting for their orders was packed to the walls. I and another young man had been waiting up against the counter for a while.

“What did you order again, babe?” the woman running sandwiches called out in our direction.

The other guy began to answer.

“No,” she corrected him while indicating that she had meant me, “the other babe.”

“Lotta babes in here,” he said in a thick Brooklyn accent. We both laughed.

Several minutes later, he was the lucky one: His order was ready.

“Later, babe,” I said casually as he walked past me. He was facing the other way, but I could still hear him laugh.

Author: Yuvi

My name is Yuvi, I work as Sub Editor at

26 May, 2023, 10:00 am

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