Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ode to a Citibike - A Fan Tells All

Cup of the Day #124 - City Bikes
Colored India ink of used paper coffee cup

It has been just a few months since I saw my first Citibike rider and hailed him on 10th Avenue in Hell's Kitchen. He was exhilarated by his outing, a rapid run up from 14th Street on Memorial Day, and he declared himself perfectly satisfied with the sturdy blue three-speed. My husband and I were early adopters. For a $100 annual fee we would be able to use any Citibike for 45 minutes free of charge. As soon as we got our keys in the mail we were out on the streets during the preview week exploring new bike lanes and the quirkiness of the solar-power-operated docking stations that sprang up all over Manhattan below 59th Street and in parts of Brooklyn. Everywhere we rode, people quizzed us about the experience. In no time we became diehard fans.

First sighting - bike share rider on 10th Avenue at 47th Street, on Memorial Day, 2013

Do I have complaints? Well, since you ask - we kind of wish the program wasn't so popular! At peak times - mornings and on beautiful summer evenings - it is hard to find a bike in our neighborhood. It is a sad feeling to arrive, helmet in hand, at a completely empty docking station, or one with two or three bikes remaining. On most occasions those few bikes will show the accursed red light and sport a flat tire or seat swiveled backwards to denote a mechanical problem. But by using the map on the cellphone app we usually find bikes and get underway. Conversely, when it comes to returning after a night out, it is a blow to find every single docking spot taken! Again, a walk ensues to find a less frequented station.

  Empty bike docking station at Spring and Lafayette.  
I confess that this shot was taken before the bikes arrived, 
but it's not an unfamiliar sight around town at certain times of day

But quibbles out of the way, I have to say I love this shared bike thing. The Hudson River Park is a top favorite route to anywhere, even if it means a detour. Nothing beats the long stretches of open pathway with few traffic lights to interrupt a journey. What can be better than whizzing to your destination while leaving rush hour traffic jams behind you, feeling a summer breeze on your face instead of sweltering on the subway or sitting in a cab watching the meter climb?

Minerva of Spring Street Studio stages a "draw-in" 
on the corner of Spring and Lafayette Street last Spring, 
to protest the loss of public art space to a bike station

This weekend I decided to take a Citibike to the Lower East Side on a sunny afternoon following a rehearsal in Midtown East. It was a straight shot down Third Avenue, dodging some bike traffic coming the wrong way (mostly deliveries) and an array of left turning motor vehicles (they were yielding to bikes, but I always were a helmet). The greatest hazard of all was the unpredictable appearance of texting pedestrians (please look both ways before stepping off the sidewalk!!)

Riding an Avenue in the bike lane. Photo Credit: Dimtiri Gudov

Once on the Lower East Side it was a delightful ramble through the shady streets along designated bike-lanes. And on arrival at Suffolk Street, my chosen destination, all I had to do was dock the bike firmly, get the green light and walk away. No need to worry whether it would be stolen within thirty minutes of parking it outside, as happened with the only bike I ever owned in NYC!

Cup of the Day #124 - City Bikes
Verso - Bikes chained to a street sign, the old fashioned way
Colored India ink of used paper coffee cup

My intention was to visit some of the many art galleries that have sprung up on the Lower East Side in the last few years. Some can feel like a longish walk from subways, but the bike share gets you there with ease. So I did a tour, albeit somewhat sweaty and disheveled and carrying a bike helmet, which made for some interesting reactions when I entered galleries. For warm reception, despite how I looked, I have to give a shout-out to Leah Oates, director at Station Independent on Suffolk, John Baber at Lesly Heller Workspace and Valerie McKenzie at McKenzie Fine Art, both on Orchard Street. I have already decided what I am going to do with all the money I am saving by not using the MTA and taxis so much - I am going to buy art! And to start, I have my eye on something by one of the artists in Reticulate at Mackenzie Fine Art. Talk about a transportation revolution!

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