Bike sharing comes to NYC

In 1894, New York City created the country’s first bike path. It was designed by Central Park’s architects, Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. The bike path lays in a median on Ocean Parkway to this day and is landscaped with trees and shaded benches. It stretches five miles from Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s answer to Central Park which was also created by Olmsted and Vaux, to Coney Island.

Olmsted considered himself more a civil servant than an engineer and was always trying to improve a citizen’s quality of life with his design. As such it stands to reason that he would have been quite fond of New York City’s new bike sharing program scheduled to begin in Spring of 2012. But just as Olmsted’s visions were often met with resistance, so are those by one of the city’s current visionaries.

Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s Transportation Commissioner, has been vigilantly working since her appointment in 2007 to make New York a bike friendly city. She regularly speaks of the benefits of streets that serve all the city’s residents and not just automobiles. Sadik-Khan added over 250 miles of bike lane to New York’s roads to date and is responsible for the creation of several pedestrian plazas in areas like Herald Square and Times Square. Her ideas are praised by many yet she’s received some strong resistance in City Hall and from a group in Park Slope that opposed the placement of a bicycle lane. Still, Kahn has paved the way, literally, to bring bike sharing to New York and it seems to be a reality.

Just recently, New York accepted a bid from Alta Bicycle Share, a company that runs bike sharing programs in Washington DC and Boston. Capital Bike Share, their program in DC, just celebrated its first year and the program seems to be going strong:

The bike sharing program allows members to take a bike and ride it anywhere they want in the city where they can drop it off at the nearest docking station. The President of Alta Bicycle Share, also notes that bike sharing will make the city “a healthier, cleaner, greener and safer place.” An NYC pricing plan has not been finalized but in DC, a yearly membership costs $75 or $5 for the day. The first half hour of the bike share is included in the cost of the membership. After that the price starts to go up. At first there’s only a $1.50 uptick for the second half our. But then it’s three dollars for the third and six for every half hour afterwards. The idea being, take your bike, get where you’re going and then give it back. This must also be comforting to bike rental companies who make a significant amount of their income renting bicycles at Columbus Circle, the most requested share station submitted via the DOT’s bike share website. Though they may lose out on some shorter term rental business depending on the pricing structure in NYC. Central Park Bike Rentals, the company that officially rents in Central Park currently charges $20 for a two-hour walk-up rental.

Are you excited about the upcoming bike share program? Do you think there will be an uptick in share bikes being used in the park? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Olmsted and America’s Urban Parks

PBS Thirteen recently produced “Olmsted and America’s Urban Parks”, a documentary about one of the founders of Central Park, Fredrick Law Olmsted. Olmsted was not an architect like the park’s other designer, Calvert Vaux. He grew up in a fairly well to do home and eventually became a journalist who wrote about working class Americans. This documentary talks about how he became New York’s first Parks Commissioner (on September 11th 1857 actually), and eventually partnered with Calvert Vaux to create Central Park. Later in his life though, Olmsted went on to create parks in cities across America including Chicago, Boston and Washington DC. PBS Thirteen has made the documentary available online and we’re happy to share it with you here:

Watch the full episode. See more THIRTEEN Series.

BONUS: Came across this very interesting article that alludes to the suicide of Calvert Vaux on Ephemeral New York. Knowing this adds an interesting moment to the later part of the Olmsted documentary.

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