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Archive for July, 2014

Sitting on the Docks by Eight…Wasting Time: Day 20

I remember in the last 80’s I took a trip in high school to the Soviet Union. I remember all over Moscow witnessing people standing on line for basic things like bread.

It felt like deja vu all over again this past Thursday. I got to work early today and found this at Penn Station.

line for a citi bike

 

That’s right…a line of people waiting for their turn at a bike being delivered by a rebalancer. It was depressing. Here’s a solution that’s supposed to save me from the time of walking and the annoyance of waiting for a crowded subway, and it manages to be more of a waste of time and a bigger annoyance.

After about a 10-15 minute wait, I finally got my turn, as a bunch of rebalancers came at one time.

scramble to get a citi bike

Lesson learned–do not take the early train again.

I decided to bike crosstown and up the East side again.

ride to work

The annoyance du jour going crosstown were food trucks and moving trucks blocking the bike lanes–when there was plenty of room in the shoulder for them to park. Another annoyance–since there’s no bike lane on Third and lots of cars double- and triple-parked, I found myself weaving and and out of cars to stay moving, and there’d be times I’d literally be within an inch of my life because a truck is squeezing itself as tight as it can.

It’s funny, but I’ve heard that one of the reasons Citi Bike isn’t doing well financially is because not enough tourists are buying passes. To the bright folks who projected hundreds of tourists plopping down money for the privilege to ride their bike across town, I’d invite them to ride up Third in the morning.

After a harrowing ride, I figured I’d treat myself to another Frappucino. I love how Starbucks has convinced all of us that this is a legitimate coffee drink and not just a chocolate milkshake in disguise.

reward myself with a frapp

I decided to take Lexington home and cross over on 35th. Pretty uneventful ride, except for a few more tight squeezes and a lot more hills than I figured were in the City. I parked the bike my Macy’s and enjoyed their cool AC as I cut across to Penn Station.

ride home

 

Cost per ride: $95/31=$3.06/ride

Aggravation level: 6 of 10

Stress level: 6 of 10

 

Late to Bed and Late to Rise is the Only Way You Get a Citi Bike: Day 19

With apologies to Otis Redding…

I’ve been working odd hours this last week, and among other things it meant coming into work around noon.

Sadly, when I got up to the Citi Bike station outside of Penn Station it was empty.

empty citi bike docks at penn station

Even more maddening, there was a Citi Bike truck just parked there and the person sitting inside just stared at me. I felt like walking up, pounding on the window, and saying, “Um, shouldn’t you be out there bringing more bikes to this station?”. But alack, like a good Citi Biker, I got used to the disappointment.

So I walked across 34th, from Eighth to Seventh. Happily, there was a handful of bikes available at 33rd and Seventh.

a few bikes at seventh

So I got on one and biked East. I didn’t get far because at Sixth, there was the wonderful Broadway Bites street food festival set up.

broadway bites

I enjoy this thoroughly each year, and I figured since it was lunchtime and since this season I didn’t get to partake as much as I usually like to, I figured I’d stop and fuel up for my ride. I have to admit, it feels a lot better paying $20 for an opulent lunch than it does paying $20 for half a tank of gas.

Now being paranoid about the scarcity of Citi Bikes, I decided to hang on to my bike, which meant lugging the big fat monstrosity (the bike, not me) into a lunchtime crowd. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone so I wasn’t sure if they were giving me dirty looks. Luckily, my food stand of choice, Red Hook Lobster Pound, was right near the throughfare, so I rolled up the bike and got myself a $20 lobster roll, chips, and soda.

Of course, the one time I need a kickstand, I pick a Citi Bike where someone decided to steal it. Seriously, has the City gone so far downhill that people are stealing kickstands now??

citibike without kickstand

So I leaned the bike against me and enjoyed my lobster roll.

lobster roll in the city

As I stood there eating, I noticed that right across the street was–you guessed it–a Citi Bike station with plenty of bikes and plenty of docks.

citi bike docks by herald square

They certainly do a good job of hiding these things.

After lunch, I rode across to Madison on 34th. The midday traffic was wonderfully light, so I actually enjoyed the ride (I think only 1-2 cars almost made blind turns into me, which I consider a good number).

Of course I get to 53rd and Madison and all the docks are full, although I did manage to grab the very last dock. Again Citi Bike, would it KILL you to do a little rebalancing during the day??

53rd and madison bike docks

 

The ride home was a no-go, as there were no docks available anywhere at 6 PM. Curse you Citi Bike.

 

Cost per ride: $95/29=$3.28/ride

Aggravation level: 4 of 10

Stress level: 2 of 10

 

A gorgeous and cool summer day: Day 18

There’s a word I haven’t used yet for my Citi Bike experiences: uneventful. And yet this morning’s ride was just that.

The weather when I got out of Penn Station was a beautiful 64° and sunny.

a beautiful day in the neighborhood

I got a bike at Penn station with no problems and proceeded to bike down 30th and across to Madison. Other than a car that almost made a blind right turn into me, the ride was really smooth. The sun was out, the air was crisp, and I actually had a great time. I even found a dock at 47th and Park. I treated myself to a Frappicino at Starbucks, with no guilt feelings given the workout I just had.

Well, as usual the ride home was not as nice. I got out of the office a little early at 5:50. But I guess because it was such a beautiful day every single bike around me was gone. I did see on the Citi Bike map that there were plenty of bikes at the Broadway and 49th station.

broadway and 49th

The problem is I forgot how long a walk it is from Madison to Broadway. So I made my way crosstown on foot, an utter waste of time considering there were three stations within two block of me that were gutted. I did get a bike at 49th and Broadway and biked to Ninth, where there was a whole bunch of bikers fast and slow in the bike lane.

I made my way back to Penn station with several minutes to spare before my train. Overall it was a very nice ride, but I am still miffed that Citi Bike still can’t get bikes in Midtown when and where we need them the most.

Cost per ride: $95/28=$3.39/ride
Stress level: 2 of 10
Aggravation level: 6 of 10

McDonalds Run at Midday: Day 17

With torrential rain in the forecast I decided to leave my bike helmet at home and take the subway today (I also had a lot of stuff to lug with me). Of course it’s a beautiful sunny day outside, although very, very humid so I don’t regret it.

A few months back I bought some Groupons to McDonalds here in the City. I’d been planning to use them at the McDonalds at 47th between 5th and Madison, but lo and behold ,they refused to take them. The next nearest one was all the way across town at Broadway and 46th.

I decided to walk it, forgetting how realllly long that Avenues are to walk. Madison to 5th, 5th to 6th, 6th to Broadway seems like it should be pretty quick, but add traffic and pedestrians and you’re talking about a 20 minute walk at least, which I did going there.

So I ordered my Quester Pounder Extra Value Meal (why is it I’m always taking these side trips for fast food?) and walked up to the Citi Bike station at 49th and Broadway. Being midday there were plenty of bikes, so I picked one up for the ride back to the east side. I decided to do a straight show across 50th and dock at 51st and Lexington.

There were still about half a dozen open docks (again, it’s nice to be doing this midday) so I docked the first one. I saw the green light flash, and pulled on the bike to make sure it was secure, and it was.

I went back to the office and enjoyed my spoils:

quarter pounder with cheese and fries at work

Problem is, when I pulled up Citi Bike’s website, it said that my ride was still open.

citibike trip still open

Now I made sure that when I docked my bike the light was green, but evidently the dock didn’t register. There’s no way that I was walking all the way back to Lexington to check. Happily, later the web site corrected itself and just said “Trip Completed” instead of showing my destination, which I’m guessing means the bike was docked but a problem in the software prevented it from registering. Bottom line, no $1200 bill is always a good thing.

Dock snafu notwithstanding, once again the midday ride to run some errands is proving to be the best application for Citi Bike.

Cost per ride: $95/26.5=$3.58/ride

Stress level: 2 of 10

Aggravation level: 3 of 10

 

 

A Beautiful Summer Day to Spend Slamming Bikes into Docks: Day 16

The weather today was beautiful again–beautiful clear skies, a little on the warm side but nothing out of the ordinary, and a wonderful summer breeze (which in fact, did makes me feel fine).

I got out of the house really, really late this morning, mainly because for the past few days I’ve been waking up at ridiculously early hours and going home late. Since we have summer Fridays, I figured instead of starting early and ending early, I’d come in late, stay to the regular time, and go to Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse with my wife (who’s driving into the City tonight).

There were plenty of bikes in the dock on Eighth and 33th which is always full, one of the perks of coming in late.

IMG_2432

 

I decided to go up Eighth, which wasn’t all that bad this time of day. I crossed over on 40th, which as usual was hit or miss, and today was miss. Again, cars squeezed in within an inch of my life to the point where I was forced to go and walk my bike on the sidewalk.

I went left on Madison, which again wasn’t horrible, still an elevated stress level as you constantly need to stay alert for trucks who want to squeeze as close to you as they can.

I decided as usual to forego 52nd and 5th, and try my luck at 51st and Lexington. As I rode in there were four docks left. Then there were three as someone coming from the East side took the first one (no hard feelings, first come, first served). The first dock had a red light. The second dock didn’t. I put my bike in. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing.

Okay, on to the last one. No red light. I put the bike in. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. YELLOW AND NOTHING. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing.

I’m not just being cute in my writing here. I really did try this many times. There was no way I was biking all the way to the next bike station.

Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing. YELLOW AND NOTHING. YELLOW AND NOTHING. YELLOW AND NOTHING. Yellow and nothing. Yellow and nothing.

So, I got on the bike and biked my way to the next station at 47th and Park. Only I lost my bearings and ended up going to the 47th and 2nd station, and then had to walk 15 minutes to the office. You know, the 15 minutes that it would have taken me to walk halfway to the office from Penn Station. That 15 minutes. But I guess it was consolation when I walked past the 47th and Park docks to see they were all filled up. Although had I checked my phone I would have seen that there were plenty of open spaces at 52nd and 5th.

IMG_2435

I read in the news that Citi Bike may be receiving a “bailout” infusion of several million dollars, which they’ll presumably use to open up new bike stations uptown and in the outer boroughs. So help me, if they add more docks to those places and don’t add new docks to the ones in midtown AND fix the broken ones, they’re going to be throwing money at the total collapse of this whole idea.

Here’s the long road I traveled.

IMG_2434

I decided to walk to dinner. Had there still been a station at 49th and 5th it would have made sense for me to bike there, but with 52nd and 5th empty and no other stations on the way it was just easier for me to walk, sadly enough.

Cost per ride: $95/25.5=$3.73

Stress level: 2 of 10

Aggravation level: 7 of 10

We’re moving on up, to the East Side: Days 14 and 15

On Wednesday the 23rd I had a big presentation in the morning so I took the subway to work so I wouldn’t be panting and sweaty during the presentation. Thank God, the presentation went well, and since I’d gone to work at 5 AM that morning I decided to leave the office earlier, around 4 PM. Of course there were plenty of bikes available at all the docks.

Feeling a little adventurous, I decided to go east again and picked up a bike at 48th and 3rd. The ride south was not bad at all from a traffic perspective–the lanes are wider, cars and trucks generally stay out of your way, and pedestrians seem generally more well-behaved. The one downside is that Third is a LOT hillier than I thought. It felt I was really giving my thighs and legs a real workout.

Still, the roads were pretty clear and it was neat having a new vantage point. I got to ride by the UN and other east side sights, and then hung a right on 33rd. I gently rode my bike right into the dock, and it clicked and locked instantly.

On Thursday the 24th I had to go to work early again for a morning meeting. I wanted desperately to head out early again, but I was so busy I didn’t get out until around 6. I opened the Citi Bike map at my desk starting at about 4:00 and watched helplessly as bikes started disappearing one by one and stations started emptying. I saw there were 8 bikes left at 47th and Park so I walked briskly there to find there was two bikes left without a red light on. As you guessed, the first one I tried didn’t undock. But the second one did.

But as soon as I got on the second one, something seemed weird.

defective bike

If you look carefully you’ll seee that somehow the handle of this bike had bent downward so that it felt more like one of those tiny bicycles that clowns ride. I tried using my strength to turn the handlebars back to their original position, but it wouldn’t budge. But I was desperate and prepared to ride this defective bike all the way to Penn Station.

But luckily, as I was heading one someone rode in and returned his perfectly fine bike. I docked mine and took his. Citi Bike logged the first ride as a 2 minute and 52 second ride, and the real one as a 15 minute and 21 second ride.

This time I rode down 6th, and boy, was today like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. The offenders today were those guys riding the bicycle rickshaws. Seems like they think they own 6th, so they (mostly empty) kept hogging the bike lanes. There were a few times there’d be room for me to squeeze in between cars, but the bicycle rickshaw guy would zip in front of me and block my way, even though there’s no way his gigantic ricksaw would fit through that narrow space.

bike rickshaw

And then there are the pedestrians, randomly crossing the streets everywhere without looking and ignoring my little ding-a-ling. On a narrow street westward, a bus came at me from behind and squeezed me to the point where it was about 3 inches from me. Ironically, the cars were the only ones acting somewhat civil and not so self-absorbed.

But I got to the same dock near Penn as yesterday.

95/24.5=$3.87/ride
Stress level=7/10
Aggravation level=6/10

Adjusting a Citi Bike Seat, and a Shortcut to the Yankee Game…Kind of: Day 13

For my morning commute I picked up a Citi Bike and immediately my seat sank to the bottom. I guess there are still some people who don’t know how to adjust a bike seat. Here’s a refresher for those who need one.

  1. To the left side there’s a wheel and to the right there’s a lever. Pull the lever up and turn the wheel clockwise to loosen. You want to loosen it to the point where you can move the bike seat up and down to your desired height. This is really a matter of preference, but I like to put my seat high enough that my toes are just touching the ground.
    how to adjust a citi bike seat
  2. Once you get the seat to the right height, you’ll want to tighten the wheel by turning it counter-clockwise, to the point where you feel resistance when you push the lever back down. You don’t want it to be too tight that the lever doesn’t go down, but you don’t want it to be too loose (as the guy who had this bike before me did).
  3. Push the lever in to “lock” the seat in place. Congratulations, you have a perfectly-fitted Citi Bike.how to adjust a citi bike seat
  4. On at least some of the bikes there’ll be markings so you can remember what number (or between what numbers) the best seat height for you is. 

citi bike seat height

I thought I’d try the East Side to see if the ride were any more pleasant than 8th (where the bike land abruptly ends at Port Authority, 6th (where what bike lane there is is for “suggestion only”), or Madison (where if the construction won’t get you in the beginning, the buses on the right and the cars turning on the left will). I rode all the way to Third on 29th and took a left to get on.

Bad choice. Almost right away, there’s the deafening rat-a-tat-tat of workers tearing up the street. And of course, traffic is horrendous. Now you’d think that someone on a bike could weave in and out of cars and avoid the traffic jam, but these cars were leaving about 6 inches between them and the next car. And that left me sitting on my bike, literally stuck in the middle of traffic. What a country!


traffic jam on citi bike

Once I cleared one awful traffic jam, two blocks later there was more construction that was blocking off traffic. So again, you have parked cars, double-parked cars, trucks, and cars all trying to fill up about two and a half lanes on the road.

traffic jam on citi bike

I did get a nice view of the Chrysler Building, though, something you don’t get on the West side.

chrysler building

I finally got to the office at about 10:00. An aggravating way to start the morning,; my average speed is usually anywhere from 8 to 12 MPH, but this time it was about 6 MPH; a jogger could have gone faster than me. But at least for once the aggravation wasn’t Citi Bike’s fault.

That evening I had to get to a Yankee game. Now tonight was Derek Jeter figurine night, so I wanted to get there early as I figured there’d be mad rush of people trying to be the first 18,000. But someone at work scheduled a 4:30 PM meeting, which meant I wasn’t getting there at 5 PM when the gates open as I’d hoped.

So the instant the clock turns 5:00, I rush out of my meeting and out of the office. I’ve walked to the D train before and have been burned by waiting anywhere from 20-40 minutes for it. The only other option was the 4 train. Getting to the 4 train from midtown has always been a dilemma to me; on the map it looks like a pretty short walk but it always feels like I’m walking forever to get to Lexington. So this time I walk to the Citi Bike station at 51st and Lex (still plenty of bikes at this time), get a bike, ride up Park (to avoid going against traffic) and then park at 58th and 3rd to the 59th Street 4 train. I was surprised that Kinetic reported it as a 1.17 mile ride, given that a New York City block is only 1/20th of a mile and I’d only gone nine blocks, but I guess all that turning from Park to Lexington takes a chunk of distance as well.

Oh yes, I did get my figurine, and I did see the Yankees take the field–and get my cheesy Derek Jeter figurine before all those poor folks who were still waiting for the D train.

the yankees take the field

This was the first time I took Citi Bike for “convenience” to help me do something quick I needed to do in the City as opposed to a long ride or commute, and I have say it worked out well.

Cost per ride: 95/22.5=$4.22 / ride
Aggravation Level: 6 of 10
Stress Level: 6 of 10

 

What a beautiful day for a bike ride: Day 12

You ALMOST had me, Citi Bike, you ALMOST did.

I got off the train this morning to an absolutely gorgeous day. Beautiful blue skies over Eighth Avenue and not a cloud in the sky. The temperature was in the 70’s and there was a cool breeze blowing. It’s the kind of day that makes you happy to be alive (or specifically for city bike commuters, still alive).

beautiful day over the 8th avenue post office

Amazingly, I went to the docks, and the first bike unlocked without a hitch. I couldn’t believe it.

undocked in one shot

Seeing a ton of bikers in the bike lane and feeling a little more confident than before, I decided to try biking up Eighth again. Smooth sailing until the dreaded spot where the bike lane ends and merges with the taxi lane in front of Port Authority Bus Terminal. But even then, despite a few tight squeezes, I made it up to 52nd, where I rode east to 52nd and 5th.

I was making record time and was having the time of my life doing it. But then, of course, I find that EVERY dock on 52nd and 5th is full.

Seething, I make my way to 51st and Lexington. The docks look ominously full here, and I was pretty much out of options after that–the next nearest station would be about a 15 minute walk to work.

 

full bike dock - where are the rebalancers?

 

Lo and behold, I saw someone picking up a bike, so we exchanged pleasantries and I took his dock. Okay, gently push. Yellow light. Try again. Yellow light. Try again. Yellow light. SLAM it. Yellow light. Try again. Yellow light.

I finally see one more free dock on the other end of the bikes, and try it. Miraculously, this one docked.

In the afternoon, I skipped out of the office a little early, at 5:45. I lost my bearings a little and wandered around trying to find the bike station at 51st and Lexington again. I got a sick feeling as I saw one Citi Bike after another riding past me; I imagined me walking up to the dock just as the last one was being taken. But no, I ended up getting one of the last ones. I don’t know if Citi Bike really wants to be reinforcing the lesson that slackers who leave work early get the best stuff in life, but that’s exactly what it feels like.

I rode west on 51st and then hung a left on Broadway. I took a right on 47th where the bike path ends and then went the rest of the way on 9th, gingerly going back to 8th by way of 31st. I found one of the last docks in front of Penn. Total trip was 2.73 miles going at an average clip of 10.97 miles per hour, making the total trip in a little less than 15 minutes, which was wonderful and pretty darned close to a personal best (I can generally ride faster than 11 MPH, just not in New York City).

Again, for the second day in a row, a very, very pleasant ride coming and going, although the docks by midtown are still keeping my aggravation level elevated.

Cost per ride: 95/20.5 = $4.63
Stress level: 2 of 10
Aggravation level: 6 of 10

 

 

 

Bike Thieves are Stealing Citi Bikes – And Here’s How…

citibike thievesInteresting article in the Post this morning, and a good warning for Citi Bikers out there.

It turns out that Citi Bikers aren’t the only ones aware of Citi Bike’s dock problems. Bicycle thieves are too. Seems that they lie in wait to find Citi Bikes that aren’t secured into docks, take joyrides with them, and then dump them in Brooklyn. The nice thing about Citi Bikes being so ugly and conspicuous is that at least they can’t sell them on eBay nor disassemble them to sell for parts (at least no one’s thought of that yet). I thought it was hilarious that one thief tried to paint his stolen blue Citi Bike orange and thought he’d get away with it.

The Post got something wrong though–the problem is not Citi Bikers who “improperly dock a bike”. The problem is with the damned docks. I’ve documented in past posts how Citi Bike will give you a “false negative” where you’ll put your key in the dock and the yellow light will go on and either stay on or go dark. Perhaps 15, perhaps 20, perhaps 30 minutes later, the dock will finally go “green” in which case anyone walking along can just take it. I’ve already showed you how other people have ridden bikes I’ve unlocked and I’ve ridden bikes other people unlocked.

I haven’t heard of anyone actually getting billed for the $1200 that we’re supposedly accountable for if a bike that’s unlocked with one of our keys. But if that ever does happen, that person would have every right to be hopping mad. And I, for one, would be thrilled to join in on an outcry to them to figure out how to get their docks working right once and for all.

The way to get a Citi Bike at Rush Hour, Wait for a Monsoon – Day 11

Well, it’s July 15, 2014. All day long I’ve been getting these “Emergency Alert” messages on my iPhone that all go something like this:

IMG_2272

I really wish they’d use a sound other than the Emergency Alert System tone that those of us over 40 have been conditioned to freak out at every time we hear it (and breathe a sigh of relief every time we hear “this is only a test”). But that’s a subject for another blog.

Because of the pending monsoons I decided not to bring my helmet to work today and just subway it like old times. I have to admit, after a week of Citi Biking, there was something really nice about getting on the subway this morning instead of biking. The irony is–I love biking. My dream is to pull a Forrest Gump one day and take nothing but a Mastercard and a bike from the East Coast to the West Coast. But the problems with Citi Bike–the broken docks, the empty stations that should be full, the full stations that should be empty–those are the things that hurt the most.

The torrential rain came and went, but by 5:30 not only did the rain stop, the weather was beautiful with blue skies and a nice breeze.
IMG_2278

I walked over to 52nd and 5th. I saw something I never saw before and will likely never see again–a dock full of bikes. The time was 5:32. Evidently the rain had scared off the usual cavalcade of bikers that swarm over that station around that time.

docks with bikes

I didn’t have my helmet with me so I was extra careful. I rode gingerly up 52nd, took a right on 6th, and then rode up 53rd to connect to 9th. Like I said, it turned out to be a beautiful afternoon for biking–there were puddles on the road but nothing too bad, and there were fewer cars and bikes than normal.

my route

My plan almost backfired when I got to Penn and–you guessed, it–all the docks were full. Looks like the rebalancers took the afternoon off because of the rain too. But I got the last dock and amazingly it actually worked the first try.

I went into Penn Station and caught the 5:50 PM train. The door to door about an 18 minute trip, which is much shorter than waklking and even shorter than taking the subway, given the amount of time I have to walk to and from the subway stop.

If only every day were like this, I and probably hundreds of other people would be Citi Biking. If only.

Cost per ride: 95/18.5 = $5.14
Stress level: 2 of 10
Aggravation level: 4 of 10