How You Know You’re A CitiBike Pro

By raw numbers, New York City’s new bike share system, CitiBike, has been a runaway success. In the first 10 days of operation – some 35,000+ riders have logged 100,000 rides and travelled more than 270,000 miles – enough to get to the moon (and partway back).

The research staff at the Rudin Center – transportation nerds that we are – all signed up the day CitiBike registration opened, and have been actively using the system since Day 1. As an East Village resident from 2000 to 2010, I was an avid biker on the streets of Manhattan. But when I moved across the river to Hoboken in 2010, I lost touch with New York’s bike culture. Dragging a bike on the PATH is a major headache. Taking one on the ferry, a major expense. So my new acquantanice with Citbike has also become a re-acquaintance with how utterly wonderful and simultaneously awful New York City is as a place to ride a bike.


Log of my first 10 days of CitiBike trips.

Nonetheless, according to my CitiBike account logs, I’ve taken a total of 15 trips in the last 10 days – some as short as 3 minutes. And it occurred to me today how quicky I’ve integrated the system into my daily movements around the city. I feel like I’ve already become a Citibike Pro User.

And in honor of that realization, I’ve come up with the Rudin Center’s Top 10 List “You Know You’re A CitiBike Pro When….”


#10 -You’ve Worked CitiBike Into Your Commute, Deliberately to Deprive the MTA of Subway or Bus Fare

Bikeshare at the Christopher St & Hudson St corner = happy PATH commuters!

For me, getting to my office at the Puck Building used to mean a 25-minute walk across SoHo from the Christopher Street PATH Station, or a transfer to the F train somewhere along Sixth Avenue. Now, as long as the skies are dry, I’m keeping the $2.50 the MTA wants to take me 10 blocks. The MTA has been sticking it to us for decades. Time to stick it back! Thanks Citibike!

While we’re on the MTA…




#9 – You’ve Jumped Off A Crawling Crosstown Bus to Make the Trip to the [insert: East/West Side] By Bike Instead

Just yesterday I tried getting from Grand Central Terminal to the 39th Street Ferry Terminal on the M42. What a cruel joke. 20 minutes later, barely past Bryant Park, I hopped off and grabbed a bike on W. 43rd street. Five minutes and 36 seconds later, I arrive on the banks of the Hudson. Straight onto the boat, having purchased my ticket at a red light on the NY Waterway app, I’m out of the city – it was like some kind of postmodern urban escape rocket.

#8 - You’ve Scared the Daylights Out of at Least One Pedestrian

This is New York. We are mean people. Size matters. Speed matters. Get out of my way.

#7 – You’ve Realized The Stunning Number of Things Other Than Bikes That Inhabit New York City’s Bike Lanes

Postal trucks, pedestrians, construction barriers, UPS trucks, taxis loading/offloading, food carts, food trucks, dead pigeons, etc. etc. etc. Sometimes I think they should call them “Bikes and Stuff”  lanes.

#6 – Despite Your Best Intentions to Obey Traffic Laws, You’ve Riden the Wrong Way Down A Bike Lane or A One-Way Street

I told myself from Day 1 I’d obey the rules, but sometimes the detours needed to stay legal can double the length of a short trip between two CitiBike stations (for instance, the contortions needed to get to the station in front of the Puck Building when coming from the northwest add 4-5 minutes). And so, I’ve just given in and started (like everyone else on a bike) riding south on the Lafayette Street bike lane.

New Yorkers are jaywalkers, and everyone accepts that, right? This is just New York’s timeless mobility culture expressing itself in a new medium. Or at least that’s what I tell myself at night.

#5 – You’ve Figured Out That If A Dock Is Full or Empty at Either End of Your Journey, There’s Almost Always One Available 2-3 Minutes Away

Proceed to the next station, then. No big deal. Quit whining.


#4 – You’ve Dropped Your Coffee and Broken Into A Sprint When You See This

Or this.

‘Nuff said.

(p.s. Unlock bonus points if you’ve zoomed in far enough to see the cool 3-d building detail in the CitiBike app’s maps.)

#3 – You’ve Figured Out What the F—ing Inscrutable Light System Means

Oh you mean the one that isn’t documented -anywhere-? Not on the stations, not in the app, not on the CitiBike website?

Yeah that one. Sure to get the “Worst UX” award this year.

(And BTW, its “Green = please steal me, the guy trying to rent me got bored waiting for the yellow light and walked away but I’ll unlock anyway after he’s gone”, “Yellow = please wait, my crappy wireless Internet is slow/not working”, and “Red = I’m broken…. again”)


#2 – You Have Reconciled In Your Mind the Irony of Those Who Would Criticize CitiBike (What Is Essentially A Giant Roving Bank Advertisement Pushed By a Billionaire Mayor)… as “Socialism”

(thanks to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang @askpang in Silicon Valley for that detached observation)

and the winner…

#1 – You’ve Figured Out How to Unlock the Bike and Simultaneously Adjust the Seat Height With A Single Well-Timed Yank

It’s like learning how to snap your fingers for the first time. Look me up in SoHo, I’m happy to show you how it’s done.


Workshop on New Data for Bicycling Research: Crowdsourcing, DIY Sensing & Apps

On March 12, Anthony Townsend of the NYU Rudin Center and Aaron Naparstek of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning convened a workshop on New Data for Bicycling Research: Crowdsourcing, DIY Sensing & Apps to assess the demand and availability for a wide range of data about bicycle ownership and use in New York City. There was active participation from a broad range of stakeholders including the city’s transportation and IT agencies, leading bicycling advocates, and civic tech and hacker groups. In the coming months, the Rudin Center will be developing a research plan devoted to improving the supply and quality of data for bicycle research in New York City.

A Prezi of the workshop proceedings can be found at
Workshop Participants

Neil Bezdek, New York City Department of Transportation
Justin Brandon, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Wendy E. Brawer, Green Map System
Alison Cohen, Independent consultant
Neil Freeman, New York City Department of Transportation
Melinda Brooke Hanson, NYU Rudin Center
Frank Hebbert, OpenPlans
Noel Hidalgo, Code for America
Mike Infranco, Transportation Alternatives
Charles Komanoff, IGC
Dan LaTorre, Project for Public Spaces
Stephanie Levinsky, New York City Department of Transportation
Aaron Naparstek, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Andrew Nicklin, New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecomunications
Brian Riordan, Strava
Caroline Samponaro, Transportation Alternatives
Dani Simons, Independent consultant
Claudio Silva, NYU Center for Uurban Science and Progress
Anthony Townsend, NYU Rudin Center
Chris Whong, NYU Rudin Center
Matthew Willsee, Cyclee
Susi Wunsch, Velojoy

A Modest Proposal: Transportation Enterprise Zones

It’s a quiet week here at NYU and the Rudin Center, with the students still out on break and many of my colleagues in Washington, DC for the annual Transportation Research Board conference. I skipped the conference, but did make it to George Mason University’s School of Public Policy on Saturday morning for Transportation Camp DC, an un-conference organized by Frank Hebbert of NYC-based Open Plans.

Like all unconferences, Transportation Camp’s sessions were hit-or-miss. But I managed to end up in three that were quite interesting.

The first was on crowdsourcing strategies for mapping bike travel, organized by Kari Watkins and Alex Poznanski of Georgia Tech. They have been updating the CycleTracks app first launched by the city of San Francisco (which has received tens of thousands of trip logs from bikers) to map bike trips in Atlanta. This is a topic that’s dear to my heart, and I’m thinking actively about how Rudin can advance similar strategies here in New York to lay a baseline understanding of how bikes are used before the CitiBike launch this spring.

The second was about tactical urbanism and its meaning for transportation (I missed the organizer’s name unfortunately). Most of the discussion was about how tactical or informal and formal urban interests can interact. One participant suggested the need for a national organization like Project for Public Spaces to step up and develop a toolkit for helping community activists cross the bridge from tactical intervention to pilot, and how to connect with organizations like arts councils, business improvement districts, etc. that can inter-mediate their relations with authorities to get needed permissions and funds to evolve beyond one-offs.

The final conversation was about what session leader Andrew Jawitz of Car Free Maine called “civic hardware” – using cheap DIY technologies like Arduino and Raspberry Pi to build automated vehicle trackers for under $200. (Perhaps the best example was the Transit Appliance  that turned the beloved Chumby into an ambient next bus display for your desk or night stand)

• • •

The real epiphany of the day for me popped into my head during the tactical urbanism session, and really gelled during the civic hardware chat. Just like the old American maxim that “states are the laboratories of democracy”, by corollary “blocks are the laboratories of a city”, someone said.

Well then, why don’t we change the rules for transportation in the places that are really problematic?

What if we designated “transportation enterprise zones” and encourage experimentation and innovation by loosening some of the regulations that stifle mobility innovation? Immediately, a bunch of recent examples where this approach might have helped came to mind. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, huge swaths of New Jersey’s Hudson County were cut off from Manhattan due to the months-long knockout of PATH commuter rail (service to Hoboken, where I live, has still not been fully restored nearly three months after the storm). While buses, ferries and licensed taxis filled many of the gaps, and informal vans (so-called “dollar vans”) already carry many passengers across the river to New York each day (because as interstate commerce they cannot be regulated by the Port Authority or either state), I wondered if there might have been other rules that could be relaxed – parking, pickup and dropoff locations, even labor and safety regulations – that might have spurred additional providers to pick up the considerable slack left by the PATH’s destruction.

More prosaically, I wondered if a transportation enterprise zone might have been a way to steer a course through this fall’s squabble between San Francisco-based electronic taxi hailing app Uber and the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. The conflict arose over the app’s end-run around the city’s decades-old separation of taxi fleets, designed to ensure a steady supply for street hails by prohibiting yellow cabs from making pre-arranged pickups. A citywide rule change, spurred by a left coast startup’s complaint, seemed premature. But why not pilot it for rides originating in a limited zone, perhaps one that by luck of the geographical draw (say Lower Manhattan south of City Hall) has suffered from a chronic shortage of empty trolling cabs?

Other potential test beds come to mind – Detroit’s buses are an endangered species. Could more lax rules entice some budding entrepreneurs to fill the gaps? New York’s airport taxi dispatching schemes are an over-regulated mess, with numerous shady operators operating at the margins – why not de-criminalize them and work on improving the flow of vehicles through the terminals instead of punishing drivers and passengers alike with archaic queues?

Where else might this work? The enterprise zone idea originated in the 1970s, when British geographer and urbanist Peter Hall proposed that the model of Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan might be re-imported to the United Kingdom to spur investment. He argued that “fairly shameless free enterprise” might be used as an “extremely last-ditch solution… only on a very small scale.” (1) People like Paul Romer (here at NYU’s Urbanization Project) have more recently argued, in the developing world at least, for the opposite – that they are a high priority strategy to be implemented expeditiously and on a massive scale. The result is the so-called “charter city”.

I object to charter cities. In the name of anti-corruption they throw the baby out with the bath water. As Rudin Center visiting scholar Greg Lindsay has argued, they work great on paper but are destined to failure when they get entangled in the messy land struggles of developing nations. But targeted deregulation is something worth trying when nothing else works. And enterprize zones are a viable pragmatic response to stagnation and partisan paralysis. As one analysis conducted for the Minnesota state legislature noted “…enterprise zones have received support from both ends of the political spectrum. Professor Hall was a Fabian Socialist. The Thatcher government, on the other end of the political spectrum, enacted legislation adopting the zone program in Britain. Both the Reagan and Clinton administrations proposed zones with the latter succeeding in enacting them. Congressmen Jack Kemp (a conservative Republican) and Robert Garcia (a liberal Democrat) were coauthors of the initial federal proposals.”(2)

Why not give it a shot? What would you propose for a transportation enterprise zone?


  1. Stuart M. Butler, “Enterprise Zones: Pioneering in the Inner City,” Economic Development Tools (1981): 25-41.
  2. “Enterprise Zones: A Review of the Economic Theory and Empirical Evidence”, Don Hirasuna and Joel Michael (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department), January 2005,