The Three (and a Half) Citi Bike Usage Patterns

You can tell the kind of neighborhood from Citi Bike docking data

Sunday, July 28, 2013 - 04:00 AM

(WNYC Bike Share Map/WNYC)

Like commuters and migratory birds, Citi Bike riders flock together in predictable flows. An early look at the available NYC bike share user data point to three (-ish) patterns. 

WNYC's Data News team charted the average number of available bikes by time of day for every station in the Citi Bike system. As you might expect, different docks are used differently, depending on where they are and what kinds of bike riders are likely to be using them most. (Click around this map to see how your docks look).

What wasn't so expected was how stark and how uniform the usage patterns were across the network. Three patterns pop up for most of the stations. A small number of stations have a seemingly random squiggle that isn't really a pattern (see #4 below). 


1) The Hump

(Financial District, Most of Midtown, Brooklyn Navy Yard, SoHo)

Commercial neighborhoods have a hump. The docks start empty and fill up as the work day starts, remaining full until it's time to roll home (or to happy hour) and are mostly empty until morning. 


2) The Canyon 

(E. Village, Brooklyn Heights, Ft. Greene, places far from subway stops)

It's the reverse of the hump. In more residential neighborhoods, the docks start the day mostly full and clear out during rush hour as users pedal to subway stations and commercial neighborhoods. 


3) The Flatliner

(Edges of the usage area, Fulton St, BK,)

A small number of docks don't fluctuate that much in the way of available bikes. This could be because they aren't used very much or because they are used very consistently. It tends to happen at the edges of the coverage areas -- particularly in Brooklyn -- in the neighborhoods with less volume of foot and transit traffic. 


4) The Jagged Edge

(Chinatown, Williamsburg, several stations very close to subway stops)

A few stations have erratic usage patterns that reveal lots of people are taking out and bringing in bikes there, but not in any migratory flock like with the Hump and Canyon. This erratic scribble of a pattern tends to show up in neighborhoods that are a mix of commercial and residential, and also docks close to mass transit stops. 


Comments [7]


> Comments are written either by bikers or drivers. So it's endless subjective view. RJ from Manhattan is definetly biker only. Cars go through red light? Solid red light without braking or slowing down? Get tickets and points and lose license. Red light ahead means somebody got the green right to go free of any object crossing or on the way. 95% Bikers who think they can go through red light without any slowing down and yielding are menace to whom have green light. It is difficult to share the road with whom don't understand and share ABC of rules and norm on the road but they think they are doing right without understanding even the concept of right of way.
> Only If you own a car but ride a bike when you can, then you deserve all the right. But otherwise bikes are blue not green. Because you were not burning gas to start with. "NYC" Bikers make congestion worse and I meant NYC for Manhattan. Pedestrians have predictable speed to deal with. But bikers move faster than waliking in all direction.
> Human face with two eyes in front unlike fish on both side can't have all angles to watch but humans need to move neck to cover all around. Bikers themselves don't understand this is pathetic. When pedestrians cross the road running, only able to look one direction turning head. Please try to ride same direction as cars.
> Cars generate much more income to the city and many are small cars like Smart, Fiat, Scion and hybrid to more electric in future, environmentally friendly.
> I'm not writing to say bikers have no right to be on the road. Bikes and horses have been on the road longer than cars. But not like now promoting for everybody without sharing simple rules made for cars and insensitive, reckless way.

Nov. 27 2013 12:13 AM
Dave from Inwood

Great work, but keep in mind that the true patterns are even more pronounced than what your data shows because of the frequent dock failures. Most stations that show 1 to 3 bikes on the official database are in fact empty - the bikes are stuck in broken docks. Similarly, most stations showing one to three empty docks are usually full.

One good example of a flatliner dock is in Battery Park City at South End and Liberty. Because this dock is next to the enormous World Financial Center but also enormous apartment towers it tends to see a perfectly even flow of self-replenishment. Meanwhile, the next dock a few blocks down is in a purely residential area that is a long walk from subways but a short bike ride from work. The "canyon" at West Thames St station is one of the most extreme in the city.

Aug. 14 2013 09:24 AM
RJ from Manhattan

sonali -

These are not new problems. However, simply complaining about the etiquette of those who choose to bike baffles me. Don't pedestrians jay-walk? Cars certainly speed and go through more red lights than bicyclists, and I would be amazed if there are more injuries (immediately physical and long-term environmental) from bikes than there are from cars.

As a city, we should look toward new ways of getting around the very crowded spaces we live in. Tolerating those who choose to find a reliable, useful, affordable way to do so is a first step. Hatred breeds hate, just as empathy leads to empathy.

Jul. 30 2013 05:24 PM

I've noticed some changes in availability in the northern East Village. For awhile many stations were almost full in the early AM. For the last few days the same stations are nearly empty at the same time. Does this mean that usage has changed or is Citibike falling behind in restocking the stations?

Regarding "blowing through red lights" etc., I once heard that cyclists could stop then go if the way is clear at red lights. Is this true?

Also, as a former cyclist now aged pedestrian, I don't object to cyclists going the wrong way on side streets as long as they are careful to watch for pedestrians.

I certainly agree about riding on sidewalks.

Jul. 30 2013 01:03 PM

How did you get access to the docking data? Is it public?

Jul. 30 2013 09:24 AM

The three patterns I've noticed are:
1. Riding on the sidewalk
2. Riding the wrong way on one way streets
3. Blowing through red lights

Jul. 29 2013 01:16 PM

Great visualization. I'd be very interested to see how the "humps" and "canyons" move over time as the number of subscribers increase. Anecdotally, it seems that stations are gradually emptying/filling earlier in the day.

I created a site that allows me to very quickly see available docks/bikes at the stations closest to me. Speed is the primary factor here—I already know where the stations are and I don't want to fiddle through a map before deciding which direction to turn as I head out the building.

Jul. 29 2013 11:28 AM

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