Beautiful Weather Brings Citi Bike Gridlock

Monday, October 21, 2013 - 11:31 AM

citibike, bike_share, bike share, docking, A Citi Bike station (Kate Hinds)

I had about as bad an experience as I've ever had docking a Citi Bike this morning -- it took nearly an hour to find a docking station in Lower Manhattan. The supervisor in the Citi Bike call center said it was an unusually busy morning, brought on, no doubt, by the picture-perfect crisp autumn weather.

I picked up a bike around 9 am at 59th and York. Despite the traffic, I was feeling pretty euphoric about my ride -- clear skies, weather in the 50's, just about perfect for biking. Hope against hope, I brought it over to MacDougal & Prince, near our studios. That one's pretty much always full after 9, so no surprise. (You can see the usage pattern of that one, and all the docks, in this cool graphic.)

Then over to Broome & Sixth. No dice. On to West Broadway & Spring. Full. At that point I looked up docking stations on the app, and pretty much everything within a mile radius was showing fewer than five docks -- likely meaning there were no bikes, since several docks at each station were broken.

So I called Citi Bike's customer service to ask what I was supposed to do. While I was standing there, at least half a dozen others fruitlessly tried to dock bikes. "This is worse than parking in Queens," a onlooker observed. "Woise," he added for emphasis. 

I was directed to Grand & Greene. Nada. The same scene with multiple users showing up and cursing Citi Bike repeated itself. 

I called again. I was directed down to the City Hall area. Not wanting to go that far, I tried all the docks near my office again. I was finally directed to a West Village station, a good 20-minute walk from my office. Total time spent looking for a free docking space: 55 minutes.  

There's a theory of (car) traffic management  that says if you make parking difficult enough, people will seek alternative modes of transportation.   There are only so many docking failures I can risk before I give up the idea entirely of using Citi Bike in the morning on the way to work.

Last week, Transportation Alternatives released a survey showing two-thirds of Citi Bike users are frustrated with encountering either full or empty docks. TA's Caroline Sampanaro says rebalancing bike share is difficult everywhere.

"With the subway and the bus, it's public transit, but its not on-demand," she said. "Bike share presents an opportunity for us to have more transit but on our own schedule. And that is, in terms of a planning problem, a very difficult one."

I've reached out to both the NYC DOT and NYC Bike Share, but so far I haven't gotten any answers on whether there are efforts underway to step up the pace of rebalancing in the morning.

Last week, officials said they were still working to add more bikes, which they say would alleviate some of the congestion. But no word on a timeline for that.

In the meantime: is anyone else having this experience?




Comments [8]

iSkyscraper from New York

Agree 100%. As a rule I only use Citibike on bad weather days in the summer and early fall, although now that the cold weather is finally here I am enjoying available bikes and docks at nearly all times. No doubt about it, the system is buckling under commuter demand (which is really isn't designed to handle) and the ridiculous rate of dock failure is the icing on the cake.

Citibike needs to figure out why they can't keep docks running and get the failure rate down to 1%, not 10%. This will have a big impact. Beyond that, more bikes, more stations. The program is working, more please.

Nov. 19 2013 05:44 PM
Kenneth Fingerman

Don't ride on the street, you'll be arrested. Kenneth Fingerman

Oct. 28 2013 11:13 PM
TOM from Brooklyn

Why are the "working to add more bikes."?

Oct. 22 2013 10:11 PM
AMHess from New York, NY

"...everything within a mile radius was showing fewer than five docks -- likely meaning there were no bikes..."

Don't you mean [i]no free docks[/i]?

Oct. 22 2013 12:32 PM
Sam Schwartz

I love bike share! But, until the docking problems are fixed I can't rely on bike share if I am to get to a meeting on time. I frequently use the bike share docking station on MacDougal that Andrea tried. I can't recall the last time I didn't see tape on some of the docks.

Oct. 22 2013 11:15 AM

It is time to expand Citibike, and use government money to do it. If we can double the number of stations per square mile, we could help alleviate this docking problem.

Oct. 22 2013 09:47 AM
John Z Wetmore from Washington, DC

Bike share systems have their biggest problems when there are large directional flows at certain times of day. So they work much better for running errands in random directions during the day than for commuting, where the flow is often in one direction. With more experience, the system can get better at rebalancing to try to counter the directional flows. However, for some trips like commuting, personal bikes might be a better choice than shared bikes. Providing convenient secure bike parking at both ends of the trip will make it easier for individuals to make that choice.

Oct. 22 2013 09:34 AM

Have you considered purchasing a folding bike? This way you can carry into work and store it under your desk.

Oct. 22 2013 09:06 AM

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