Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Citibikes - A Review

Citibikes are pretty frustrating. It is no fun to wait at the kiosk for some idiot to cycle through the menu three times before getting his ticket, and then being unable to adjust the seat, and then being unable to park your bike at the next station because of a machine malfunction.

That is, until you realize that the whole program was practically gifted to the people of New York City, and that for $10 for a day or $90 for a year, you can traverse the city without having to worry about bike locks, storage, train fares, or pollution. I took my first CitiBike trip today, across the Brooklyn Bridge, around Williamsburg, and back to the East River. There were some kinks, for sure, but it is important to remember that bike stations across the city are a progressive, ambitious luxury that will affect the lives of thousands of people and improve New York City, and I should be happy just to be along for the ride.

We start in my hood, Battery Park City, which responded after 9/11 with overwhelming strength and now is booming at cosmic levels. There used to be empty lots across the street, but now there is a school, new hip restaurants, and swanky new lofts.

A run through the financial district reveals seven-days-a-week bankers in suits scurrying back from lunch—they’re probably part of the reason that the Fulton Street station is getting a huge makeover. We head for the Brooklyn Bridge, but not before we stop to see a street performer working up a sweat in full Michael Jackson gear.

A tour through Brooklyn Heights and down Flushing Avenue reveals high and low culture: the always adventurous Brooklyn Art Museum, mom-and-pop pizza stores, and the Navy Yards, where towering, clanking cranes, are doing god knows what—hopefully putting up beautiful condos to mirror those on the other side of the river, but then again, maybe they are building something more important.

Brooklyn has fully embraced bike culture. We cruise on our green-colored lane without a hitch, past both hipsters with mustaches more aggressive than my friend Jacob’s, and older residents toting boomboxes.

We finally reach some streets that I’m all too familiar with—Berry, Bedford, Havermeyer—where we get freshly cut meatballs and organic, pasteurized specialty ice cream. We sit on someone’s stoop and talk about the aesthetic merits (actually, demerits) of earrings on guys, and there’s a little voice in my head that asks if I’m part of the gentrification. I mean, riding around someone else’s neighborhood and taking in the culture doesn’t make me na├»ve or destructive, right? Right?

We coast over the Williamsburg bridge—which is way nicer than it looks from the outside—and devour some fresh mozzarella pizza on the Lower East Side. The sun is down, and I head home, where there’s a kiosk right outside my building door.

There are pros and cons to the Citibike system. The cons are that it is slightly systematically flawed and that it induces (unnecessary?) upper-middle class guilt. The pros are that it made my Sunday afternoon, and that it’s improving the connectivity, attractiveness, cleanliness, and goodwill of the city, one ride at a time.

-Written by Andrew Chow, Harvard College, TV Guide Magazine
-Edited by Kelsey McKinney, The University of Texas at Austin, Reader's Digest

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