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Archive for July, 2014

The Early Bird Still Gets Hosed: Day 10

I had to be in the office early today, so I took the early train in (well, the 7:47 AM train which for most people is the normal train, but as you’ve seen from my posts I tend to come in later and leave later).

The train rolled into Penn around 8:15 AM. I went to the usual bike station and there were plenty of bikes available, and rebalancers were riding in constantly. I know I complain a lot (for good reason), but I need to give credit where credit is due–these rebalancers do a good job in the morning.

It actually rained last night so I was a little concerned about the conditions. But happily the roads were dry and with the exception of one or two bikes, so were the Citi Bike seats.

I got my bike on the first try (which sadly is the exception vs. the norm) and rode. I decided to ride up 8th to 40th. As you recall, this was the street with the narrow path where I almost got sandwiched between two buses before. I don’t know if I’m just more experienced now of it there was just less traffic at this hour, but this time it wasn’t bad at all.

I passed Bryant Park and decided to just keep going to Park. I’d forgotten that there’s big ol’ Grand Central Station in the way, so I took a little obstacle course. I decided to head back up to Madison and then dock at 52nd and 5th.

There were only two docks left. In my best Clint Eastwood, I asked myself, “do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?”.

two pinned citibike docks

You guessed it. Both docks were locked up. Now in a recent Citi Bike blog post, they explained the reason why this happens–they call it “being pinned”. You see, sometimes the “locking mechanism” engages so the lock will close even if there’s not a bike in there. The solution is simple–get a Citi Bike key that hasn’t been used yet to open up the dock. They even have a nice animation to show you what they mean. Isn’t it pretty?

pinned citibike

As the Citi Bike email exclaims, “Look how easy it is!” Except for one thing. EVERYONE WHO IS THERE IS TRYING TO RETURN A BIKE AND NO ONE HAS A $*@$^%! CITI BIKE KEY THAT HASN’T BEEN USED!! And even if they did, would you like to explain to them that they’re not going to be charged to unpinning a dock for you?

Of course if these docks weren’t pinned, chances are they’d have been completely filled a long time ago. At 8:40 AM. At the peak of morning rush hour.

So I ride to 53rd and Madison. Yep, same thing. Two open docks, both pinned. The same Citi Bike email exclaims “DO NOT SLAM your Citi Bike into a dock”. I’m sorry, but when you send me on a scavenger hunt when I’m dripping with sweat and late for my early meeting at work, doing that is a lot cheaper than paying for a therapist.

Finally, I ride all the way down to 51st and Park. My Kinectic map is starting to look like a bowl of noodles.

midtown citi bike ride

So…because there were two stations with completely full bikes (remember I took the early train), I ended up riding over three miles. And getting to my “early meeting” late.

I didn’t even try to get a bike in the evening, as I had to catch a 6:42 PM train to make a 7:00 PM dinner appointment. But my subway experience was a reminder of why maybe I shouldn’t complain too much about Citi Bike.

First, I was shoved into a packed E train car by this dude.

dude who shoved me on the E train

And then for the rest of my journey I had these lovely views.

view from the e train  another view from the e train

Let’s face it. Our city truly sucks at rush hour.

Per ride cost: 95/17.5 = $5.43
Aggravation level: 9 of 10
Stress level: 5 of 10

 

 

So it’s come to this: selfish Citi Bikers hoarding bikes

Gothamist had an interesting article the other day about a jerk who decided to put a lock on a Citi Bike that was still in a dock. Here’s the photo from the report, taken by John Marsh. This was taken by 20th and the FDR Drive:

citibike hoarding

Evidently, some jerk decided that he wanted to ‘reserve’ this bike for himself or herself. It’s a particularly arse-holey move, considering that bikes are so hard to come by.

I’ve actually always wondered when I see the bikes with the red lights at docks all over whether other Citi Bikers aren’t doing the same thing–reporting a bike as broken but

While commenters on this post and news sites who picked up the story are spewing their vitriol to this person, and rightfully so, there’s someone else that should be getting more of the blame and is not: Citi Bike themselves.

The “promise” of Citi Bike was that for your $95 a year, you’d have unlimited access to bikes around the City. You pick them up where you like, drop them off where you like, save time, save money, save the environment, and get some great exercise.

The reality is that while Alta has done well in some areas (my always getting a bike at Penn Station in the morning is a good example), there are so many other areas where they and the City and the sponsors have done woefully. After over a week of riding, I have yet to roll into the office quicker than if I’d taken the subway or even walked (thanks to disappearing and over-capacity bike stations). I have yet to enjoy having a bike available at any station near me for my evening commute, and I really question whether the additional stress and exhaust fume I breathe in during my rides are hurting my health more than the bike riding is helping it.

And so when you see anti-social behavior like this (or bikers jockeying for position in the morning around bike rebalancers, or bikers running at breakneck speed at rush hour to get the last bike), the real blame really belongs the people who planned this thing out so poorly without understanding even basic things like supply and demand. As in, if you have 1000 people who have signed up for your service and only 20 bikes for them to fight over, you’re going to get idiots like this coming out of the woodwork.

The sad thing, is, the solutions really aren’t that difficult. Recruit an army of rebalancers whose job it is to ride bikes from busy stations to empty stations. Get the City to give them unlimited Metrocards to so do. In areas where there are huge numbers of people in office buildings, set up more docks, don’t take them away. Get the NYPD to enforce keeping the bike lanes clear from double-parking trucks, taxis–and police cars. Publish “best routes” for bikers to take in the mornings and the afternoons instead of us using trial and error. Stop wasting the $9 million that we’re paying you on docks that don’t work. And politicians–how about letting us pay the $95 expense tax-free the same way you let people pay for parking their gas-guzzling cars tax-free?

Anyway, just some “post-Day-9” ranting. It looks like we might be getting some rain in the forecast the next couple of days, so Day 10 might not be happening for a while (on the bright side, I’ll probably get my choice of bikes at rush hour).

 

 

 

Another day, another Citi Bike disappointment: Day 9

 

Another frustrating day with Citi Bike. Ironically it’s Friday so I expected the day to go a lot smoother.

I got into the City on the normal train and got to the bike racks by Penn. There were plenty of bikes available. Only problem is, none, and I mean NONE of the docks worked. I’d put in my key, and half the time nothing would happen, while the other half of the time the light would turn yellow and then red. Just like my face was turning red.

I soon noticed at least half a dozen fellow bikers swarming around the docks like bees going from flower to flower (or did I use that analogy already?) Every now and again you’d hear a grunt or an expletive.

A bike rebalancer saw my frustration and was kind enough to give me a bike. I figure this was a risky thing for him to do, as there was nothing to stop me from riding off into the sunset with this $1200 bike. But the honor system got the better of me and I made my ride down to 30th and then all the way up 6th. It’s hard to tell which is the more pleasant ride up, 6th or Madison, as they both have their share of treachery. But since 6th has a designated bike lane I think I’d give the edge to that…that is, once idiots in their SUVs and delivery trucks stop using the bike lane as their personal parking spot.

my route up sixth

I was able to dock the bike at 53rd and Madison, a rarity since that station is usually all filled.

As I guessed would happen one day, I logged on to my Citi Bike account after the ride and saw an entry for that morning, which completely didn’t match the actual ride I took (since the bike rebalancer gave me a bike, there’s technically no way they could have known where I’d started from.

Which means that one of the umpteen times I swiped my key and the light didn’t go on–the light did turn on eventually, maybe minutes, maybe hours later, and someone took the bike (probably after swiping his or her key and assuming it was theirs that unlocked it.

someone else used my citibike

 

You see the problem here. Let’s say Mr. or Ms. 12311328 decided to take their own sweet time getting to their destination and took more than 45 minutes. Or decided to ride off across state lines. Well, I’d be getting a bill for $1200. In fact, judging from Citi Bike’s Facebook posts I see this happens quite a bit.

So, it goes back to how awful these docks are. Luckily I haven’t been burned yet to the degree of having to write a thousand-dollar check, but I’m sure if the docks continue to perform this poorly that day will come.

I got out of the office relatively early, right before 5, and I had to catch a 5:29 train. Sadly, I’ve learned not to count on Citi Bike if I ever need to get anywhere in a hurry. Sure enough, when I got back to 53rd and Madison, all the bikes were long gone and no there were no rebalancers in sight.

no bikes at 53rd and madison

Oh, that lone bike? Yes, it had a red light.

And so not having time to fritter away today, I went across the street to take the E train on a beautiful summer afternoon when I could have had a lovely bike ride to Penn. I ask you again, Citi Bike, what good is it if all of midtown has just 20-40 bikes to share between thousands and thousands of people?

taking the subway

Curse you again Citi Bike.

Per ride cost: 95/16.5 = $5.76
Aggravation level: 9 of 10
Stress level: 3 of 10

 

 

Enjoying the ride at sunset: Day 8

Well as hard as it is to believe, after a week of Citi Biking, it’s actually starting to feel a bit–dare I say it–routine.

I took the late train in and got to Penn around 9:20 AM. The weather was gorgeous, still a little humid but overall a balmy 72 degrees with a nice breeze.

I got my bike at about 9:24 AM. There were plenty at the end of the station but I decided to wait while a young lady rode in and docked her bike..once…twice…third time was the charm.

I went backwards to hook onto 30th, hung a Louie onto 6th until I was past the construction on Madison, hung a Ralphie into 40th past the construction there, and then had a straight shot down Madison to 52nd and 5th, where there were actually docks. Okay, one reason it was so easy was because most companies outside of mine are letting their employees take three day workweeks. But hey, if the ride is this nice each time I wouldn’t mind.

Going home was a different story of course. I worked late and didn’t get out of the office until about 8. I checked the web site and of course there were no bikes anywhere near my office. But there were a bunch at 44th and 5th…which would save me about half the walk. As I got there I saw people staring westward, where there was an absolutely stunning sunset perfectly positioned between the streets. The sun was a gorgeous tint of red and pink. Like everyone else I grabbed my phone to snap a picture and like everyone else my picture didn’t come close to capturing how pretty this was.

sunset in midtown

Although the sunset meant something else..linger too long and I’ll be riding a bike in the pitch black darkness, something I wasn’t too eager to experience. So I beelined it up to 45th, through the morass of tourists, and into 9th. The ride down 9th was remarkably clear, with the exception of one idiot biker who made a quick blind turn into the bike lane going against traffic—and right at me without even pausing.

The sun had just set by now, so I got to enjoy a lovely view of the Empire State Building riding to the dock.

empire state building sunset

Got to Penn with plenty of docks, and for the first time in I don’t know how long mine docked the first time. Granted, I had to get to work late and leave really, really late–and there are still no bikes within a few blocks of my workplace–but this was a day I enjoyed.

Per cost ride: 95/15.5=$6.13
Stress level: 4 of 10
Aggravation level: 4 of 10

 

 

Another Exercise in Futility: Looking for a Bike At Rush Hour: Day 7

So far a lark, I decide to monitor the Citi Bike map for stations with bikes near my office during rush hour. Here’s how it went.

4:50 PM

  • 49th and 5th: Still out of service
  • 52nd and 5th: 16 of 39 available
  • 53rd and Madison: 17 of 34 available
  • 47th and Park: EMPTY (oh, those bankers with their bankers’ hours)
  • 51st and 6th: 30 of 50 available

5:03 PM

  • 49th and 5th: Still out of service
  • 52nd and 5th: 14 of 39 available
  • 53rd and Madison: 14 of 34 available
  • 47th and Park: 5 of 48 available
  • 51st and 6th: 23 of 50 available

5:15 PM

  • 49th and 5th: Still out of service
  • 52nd and 5th: 5 of 39 available
  • 53rd and Madison: 7 of 34 available
  • 47th and Park: 27 of 48 available (looks like the rebalancers are doing their thing)
  • 51st and 6th: 16 of 50 available

5:26 PM

  • 49th and 5th: Still out of service
  • 52nd and 5th: EMPTY
  • 53rd and Madison: 2 of 34 available
  • 47th and Park: 19 of 48 available
  • 51st and 6th: 11 of 50 available

5:45 PM

  • 49th and 5th: Still out of service
  • 52nd and 5th: EMPTY
  • 53rd and Madison: EMPTY
  • 47th and Park: 9 of 53 available (not sure how they added five new docks, those rebalancers are better than I thought)
  • 51st and 6th: EMPTY

Okay, so now I’m thinking we’re not even at the close of business for most companies, and hundreds of Citi Bike riders about to get off work are going to have to duke it out for fewer bikes than you can count on two hands.

5:55 PM

  • 49th and 5th: Still out of service
  • 52nd and 5th: EMPTY
  • 53rd and Madison: EMPTY
  • 47th and Park: 8 of 53 available
  • 51st and 6th: EMPTY

6:00 PM

  • 49th and 5th: Still out of service
  • 52nd and 5th: EMPTY
  • 53rd and Madison: EMPTY
  • 47th and Park: EMPTY
  • 51st and 6th: EMPTY

And so at quitting time there are NO Citi Bikes within a 5-block walk of my office. From the map it looks like the nearest station with more than 2 bikes available to the north is Central Park South, to the east is 2nd Ave, to the west is 9th Ave, and going south is 42nd Ave (and that dock is quickly losing bikes, the next dock south is ).

Where are the bike re-balancers?

6:07 PM

  • 49th and 5th: Still out of service
  • 52nd and 5th: EMPTY
  • 53rd and Madison: EMPTY
  • 47th and Park: EMPTY
  • 51st and 6th: EMPTY

Something else that’s kind of odd–while stations around Penn Station and Port Authority are filling up, the stations around Grand Central Terminal are less than half full. Is this a case of people who work on the east side and who live in Connecticut and Westchester County being too rich to use Citi Bikes?

 6:14 PM

  • 49th and 5th: Still out of service
  • 52nd and 5th: EMPTY
  • 53rd and Madison: EMPTY
  • 47th and Park: EMPTY
  • 51st and 6th: EMPTY

This is the time that I *wanted* to leave the office, but I felt handcuffed because I was committed to riding a bike today. I hate you Citi Bike. I hate you with the fire of ten thousand burning suns.

 6:25PM

  • 49th and 5th: Still out of service
  • 52nd and 5th: 1 of 39 available.
  • 53rd and Madison: EMPTY
  • 47th and Park: EMPTY
  • 51st and 6th: EMPTY

Looks like someone actually returned a bike to 52nd and 5th, so one lucky person will get one (it’ll be gone by the time I run out of the office, up two blocks, and over one block).

6;30 PM

  • 49th and 5th: Still out of service
  • 52nd and 5th: EMPTY (told ya)
  • 53rd and Madison: EMPTY
  • 47th and Park: EMPTY
  • 51st and 6th: EMPTY

So now I have two options. Be stubborn and wait until some random person returns a bike at one of these empty bike stations, walk like a zombie from one empty bike station to another, or give up on Citi Bike for yet another afternoon commute.

6:40 PM

  • 49th and 5th: Still out of service
  • 52nd and 5th: EMPTY
  • 53rd and Madison: EMPTY
  • 47th and Park: EMPTY
  • 51st and 6th: EMPTY

What I love is that the way Citi Bike is set up, it rewards those who leave work early and punishes those who leave late.

Anyway, around 7:05 PM–an hour after I WANTED to leave work–I ended up seeing that all of a sudden, there were a bunch of bikes at 51st and 6th. It was two avenues and one block away, but still not horrible. So I started walking.

Sure enough, it looks like a rebalancer finally made his way to at least one of the bike stations. I panicked as I stood at the light to cross 6th because I saw a woman taking what I thought was the last bike, but it turns out there were a bunch still available.

I grabbed a bike, rode west to 9th, and down to Penn Station. The ride was only 12 minutes and 36 seconds, so I made it in time for the 7:27 PM train.

So I got home an hour later than I would have liked, but at least I got home before dark.

Cost per ride: 95/14=$6.79 (again, only considering today “half” a ride”)
Aggravation level: 7 of 10
Stress level: 5 of 10

 

My Day as a Bike Delivery Guy: Day 7

You’ve probably noticed a trend that when I post about my morning commutes it’s usually tentatively positive, when I post about evening commutes it’s almost universally bad, and when I post about midday trips I end up having the time of my life.

Just a tip to Citi Bike and Alta. This is a little thing they teach you in business school called supply and demand. Specifically, in the morning there are a lot of folks who want to commute to work, but demand is a little lower during the summer because only chumps like me like walking into work covered in sweat. In midday most people are in the office so demand is pretty low. But in the evening, everyone wants a bike because they don’t care if they get home all sweaty, because they can just take a shower. So if I wanted to keep my customers happy and paying $95 again next year (or more), I’d make sure there are plenty of bikes near places like Park, Madison, and 5th for everyone, not just for the slackers who take off from work at 5:00 PM sharp.

In any case, this is going to be a happy post, since it’s about a morning and a midday trip.

The morning could have been a lot worse. I get to the bike station outside Penn and I see bikes getting taken as soon as the rebalancers who are there can load them. There’s a crowd of people waiting and it’s like watching a pack of dogs jockeying for position to see who’ll get the treat first. A dude stands next to me and gives a warning growl as he sees me approaching him: “a lot of us are waiting here for bikes”. I decide to take Caesar Millan’s advice and exude a calm, assertive energy. “Don’t worry, there are plenty of bikes to go around”.

IMG_2176

Granted, that turned out not to be true, I ended up getting the last one before the rebalancer rode away.

I decided to try something new and made a straight shot down to 30th, and crossed over to Madison that way. So far this was the most pleasant cross-town experience I’ve had yet; the bike lane on 30th is pretty clearly marked, so aside from the occasional opening door it’s not a bad ride.

smooth ride to work

I hung a louie to get onto Madison, and that’s where the fun began. There’s construction and parts of the road where you’re squeezing between cars, trucks, and buses.

IMG_2178

But once I make it past 40th or so it’s a remarkably smooth ride, aside from breathing in bus fumes and one parked car who decided to shift into reverse as I was riding past him.

When I get to my bike station, there’s even a big truck setting a pick and roll for me, so I can dock my bike in peace.

pick and roll

So overall, a pleasant ride this morning.

The cheapskates among you will appreciate this next series of rides. So, as part of Kmart’s“Shop Your Way” rewards program, they have a deal where if you sign up for their rewards program, link a credit card, and spend up to $10 on that credit card on a Burger King meal, that amount is credited back to you in points. If it sounds convoluted, it’s because it is…but as a cheapskate I will go out of my way to save money (ergo, the per-ride calculations of the Citi Bike).

The nearest Burger King is on 37th and 5th, 13 blocks away or at least a 20 minute walk. So I figure I’d try my hand at being a bicycle delivery man delivering lunch to…myself.

I decided to walk over the 52nd and 5th to pick up a bike. Not surprising at this time of the day, the docks were full so I had my pick.

full rack of citibikes

Surprisingly, I put my key in the first dock and nothing happened, no lights, no whirr, no click, nada. Then I tried another one. And other one. I went all the way to the end of the rack after trying about 8 bikes, and all of them remained locked, as if they were all out of power (dock recharging is one of many complaints of this program).

I walked back and kept trying until I finally found a bike that was free. Now the burning question in my head was…was this my bike or someone else’s bike who tried the dock, had nothing happen, and walked off. And worse, were all the bikes that I tried going to unlock and be free to whomever wanted to take them?

In any case, I wasn’t going to worry about it too much. I hopped on and had a rather pleasant and uneventful ride down 5th to 37th and found a station with open docks.

station on 5th and 37th

It only took two tries before I got my bike docks. By the way, coincidentally (or not) I got an email newsletter today from Citi Bike acknowledging that there’s a widespread problem with the docs. They tried to spin it in a positive way (“Citi Bike docks are pretty hardy, but they’ve now seen over 10 million trips, which is more trips in a shorter time period than any other bike share system in the U.S.”), and they included a video that instructs people how to gently dock their bikes.

I’m not sure if this is exactly the best advice–I haven’t found that the amount of force makes too much of a difference when docking a bike, although I guess they filmed this PSA to avoid people from slamming into the docks and breaking them (so much for the docks being “pretty hardy”). Personally I’ve found that the best technique for docking a Citi Bike is to gently push it in until you feel it “rise” a little, and then you’ll see the yellow light flash on. Hold it there in place until you see the light disappear.

I got my Whopper and fries and put it in the front basket. It seemed fairly secure.

IMG_2195

Finally I rode back to 47th and Park by way of Madison where there were plenty of docks. Once again, a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Although I don’t know if riding a mile out of the way for a Whopper is really worth it, free or not. Next time I choose to take a mid-afternoon ride for food I’ll go for a better food option, like Shake Shack or ramen or something.

So in a Dickensian “best of times, worst of times”, I’d say this afternoon’s ride was just fine. It was nice having the option to bike instead of walk, and the path I took was quicker than a bus or subway. We’ll see about tonight. It’s 4:45 PM as I write this and I already see bikes disappearing from the map as I speak.

Cost per ride: 95/13.5=$7.04
Aggravation level: 8 of 10
Stress level: 2 of 10

Uh, so why are there no Bikes in midtown at rush hour? Day 6

I figured this day would come eventually, I just didn’t think it’d be on day six.

So I leave work at 6:30, a pretty normal time to leave work, right? I check the app and see this.

no bikes

That’s right–there are zero, zilch, nada bikes anywhere close to my office near 49th and Madison. I’ve learned by now that when the App shows there is one bike left (where you see the tiny blue tip at the bottom of the bubble), there’s a 100% chance that the one bike in the dock is broken.

Now just an aside to anyone from Citi Bike or Alta that might be reading this. If you’ve sold Citi Bike as a service for people who want to commute from their workplace, WOULDN’T IT MAKE SENSE TO HAVE MORE THAN 20 BIKES AVAILABLE IN AN AREA WHERE HALF A MILLION PEOPLE WORK???!!

But where was I? Oh yes, so just for fun I see how far I can walk to Penn before finding an open Citi Bike. I figure if I stumble upon a bike halfway at the very least I can safe half of my walking time.

So I walk across to 44th and 5th. There’s actually a bike there and its red light isn’t on! Could this be my lucky day?

citi bike station

You guessed it. Like an idiot I stand there trying over and over again to put my key in. Just a yellow light and then nothing. Over and over and over.

yellow light

I walk over to 6th and up to 45th to the next bike station. At least here there wasn’t a lone bike to tease me.

empty citi bike station

I cross over to Broadway and head down to 41st through the crowds and crowds of tourists I was so hoping to avoid. Now mind you, I’ve already walked more than halfway to Penn but I plow on. I get to the bike station and see three bikes!

three bikes at a citi bike station, all dead

But as you guessed, a closer look and they’re all broken.

broken citi bike broken citi bikes

Finally at Broadway and 35th I see a few bikes. Most have red lights on but a few do not.

citi bikes available

Now mind you, I’m pretty much at Penn Station. It would take me less time to walk down 34th to 7th than it would for me to bike, find a parking station, and dock a bike (especially knowing how awful the docks are). But put of principle I undock a bike and ride to the next bike station on 8th.

one block to penn

As you might guess, the first dock didn’t work, and neither did the second. All I got was that damned yellow light and then nothing.

broken bike dock

As tired as I am of posting these repetitive pictures of yellow lights, I’m even more tired of having to deal with these idiotic docks.

But finally, I got there…again, having missed the 7:01 train by five minutes again. But thank you Citi Bike. I had a nice walk from 49th and Madison to Broadway and 35th, and really, really enjoyed the three-minute bike ride.

Per ride cost: I don’t count this as a ride, just an exercise in futility
Aggravation level: 10 of 10
Stress level: 8 of 10

 

Boy, do Citi Bike Docks Suck: Day 6

I don’t know what engineering firm was behind designing these Citi Bike docks, but whoever it is should be tarred, feathered, subjected to public shame, and otherwise made to feel as miserable as humanly possible. Or alternatively and with equal effect, they could be forced to use the objects of their creation on a daily basis.

The weather this morning is set to be 93 degrees again, but in the morning it’s a relatively balmy 77 degrees with a nice breeze. Great weather for biking.

I get off the train and happily see a bunch of bikes outside Penn. But unhappily, I see half of them have been “repaired” in a very high-tech way.

high tech repair of docks

I go down the lines of bikes, and see red lights, red lights, red lights. Finally I get to the end of the line where there are happily a bunch of bikes, and Citi Bikers scrambling to claim them. Like a swarm of honeybees I see them going from bike to bike, sticking their blue keys in the slots, cursing, and going to the next bike. Every now and then you hear a “click” and a Citi Biker triumphantly hops on a bike and rides away.

As for me, I tried one bike. The yellow light goes on and stays on. One minute. Two minutes. Five minutes. There’s no reset button, there’s no button to call for help, so I just have to wait…and wait…and wait.

Exasperated, I try the next bike over. The yellow light goes on and stays on. I try the next bike again. Same thing.

yellow lights on citibike

By this time I’m in the middle of “purchasing” about four different bikes. I sort of hover over the bikes making sure the light doesn’t turn green and then someone snatches it, doesn’t return it, and then I’m on the hook for $1200 a bike.

About ten minutes later, I finally see the lights start going “green”, “green”, “green”. I undock my bike. Then I quickly undock the other bikes and re-dock them just to make sure I don’t get charged for them.

I figure I’ve tried crossing town on 50th (bad), 40th (bad), 36th (bad), 38th (bad), 44th (not great). Today it was time to try 34th. Add another “bad” to the list. You’d think 34th wouldn’t be too bad given how wide it is, but the problem is that it’s two-way with a bus lane. And even federal employees will park in the bus lane, making the bus go into the car lane, making the car go into the biker.

biking on 34th bad

 

I got off 34th as quickly as possible onto Broadway. Again, had a block of wonderful biking, and then the designated bike lane turned into a “shared lane”.

I decided to hang a right onto 38th up on fifth (yes, going against traffic slowly for two blocks), and then right on 40th, which actually wasn’t horrible on this side of sixth once you get through all the construction.

bike lane

In fact it was so nice I overshot Madison and went right on to Park.

my citi bike ride

I finally circled around, biked the rest of the way up on Madison, and found bike parking on Park, where surprisingly there were a few docks left. But yet again, it took two times before it would dock properly.

IMG_2139

Once I got to my desk, I logged onto the Citi Bike site, expecting to see a ton of bikes charged to my name. I only saw one, though, for a 22 second ride. Either Citi Bike’s Web site is set to ignore all but one ride, or I ended up getting someone else’s Citi Bike.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 10.07.43 AM

 

Per-ride cost: 95/10.5=$9.05 a ride
Aggravation level: 9 of 10
Stress level: 5 of 10

The Happy Bubble Bursts: Day 5

Well, it never fails. Just when I’m all set to declare my experiences with Citi Bike a success, I get a big old dose of reality.

The time is 6:30 PM, and my goal is to catch the 7:01 PM train. If I walk at a brisk pace, I can just make it in 30 minutes. So I figure the Citi Bike should take me about 15 minutes max.

I walk to the bike station at 52nd and 5th. Lo and behold, there’s one bike there and it doesn’t have a red light. Not the best situation, but I’ll take it.

one lonely bike at 52nd

I swipe my key. The light turns yellow. Then nothing. I try it again. And again. And again. And again. Finally, after a string of yellow lights I bizarrely see both red and yellow lights are on at the same time, as if the dock is saying to me “take the hint”.

red and yellow lights on the dock

Not wanting to walk any more in the 93 degree heat, I pull and pull but the dock is not letting go. Seething, I walk another avenue to the next station at 51st and 6th. When I get there I see this.

another empty citibike station

Okay Citi Bike…it’s great that you’ve removed one bike dock and failed to replenish two more at the height of evening rush hour.

I walk further west to Broadway and see this.

 

empty citibike station

Is that a bike??! I run to the bike before anyone else can get there, and of course see this:

red light citi bike

So I start walking down Broadway. Mind you, by this time I could have walked halfway to Penn. I see a petite young woman looking at me with a pitiful look in her eyes, like a thirsty little animal in the desert looking for a sip of water. She asks me “picking up a bike?” I nod yes to the rather obvious question, and then realize later that this was probably her way of saying “the next one is MINE”. Not wanting to get into an altercation, I continue to plow to the next bike station.

Lo and behold, on 48th I finally see a dock with multiple bikes.

a miracle..a citi bike station with bikes

I can’t believe it at first. I begin to wonder if this isn’t just a mirage in the 93 degree desert heat and I’m really back at the last bike station having been clocked by the young woman. But yes, these are real bikes. I eagerly swipe my key into the first one I see.

Whirr…whirr…whirr…

yellow light on citi bike

That’s right. Another broken dock. As has become my custom now, I repeat this on 2-3 other bikes and get the same thing. Finally, I miraculously I see the green light.

I start in the bike lane on Broadway which is a wonderful thing until…

bike lane ends on broadway

…yes the bike lane ends and you have three choices. Turn right and get trampled by a sea of tourists, go straight into the construction zone, or turn right. I choose the third option.

I make my way to ninth and have a pleasant ride all the way down. The only real hazards here are the bikers who want to plow over you in the bike lane and the occasional boneheaded biker who’s too lazy to bike on block down to go uptown on Eighth.

I get to Penn Station, where shockingly there are plenty of empty docks. I dock my bike in the first dock I see.

Whirr…whirr…whirr.

Okay, I try the second and it docks!

citibank sucks

Of course by this time I look down at my phone just in time to see “7:00” turn to “7:01”. I glance up at the Citibank ad. I think when Citibank signed up to get their logo and ads all over these bikes, they were probably counting on it being run a little better. As far as being tempted to join Citibank after these experiences, I have a word of advice for Citibank. Citibank, honey, if your ATMs work as well as these bike docks with your name all over them, I’ll be going to ANY bank except for yours for my business.

Cost per ride 95/9.5=$10 (I’ll only count half a ride given the distance I walked)
Aggravation level: 9 of 10
Stress level: 5 of 10

A Midday Trip Crosstown to Hell’s Kitchen on Citi Bike: Day 5

So, I wake up and the temperature is supposed to get up to 93 degrees today, so I was dreading the bike ride to work. As of right now it’s 76 degrees with a relative humidity of 67% so it was actually a pretty nice bike ride. Once again, the bike balancers are doing a great job of keeping the bikes near Penn Station relatively full.

bike rebalancer doing a good job

I’ve concluded something about Citi Biking to work. Going uptown and downtown isn’t that bad. On the bike path on 8th (until Port Authority) bikers own the bike lane, so a little ring-a-ding-ding of your bell and hapless pedestrians scamper out of your way.

Crosstown, that’s another story. Today, I tried going cross town on 36th. And believe it or not, I hit a traffic jam. That’s right, a traffic jam on a bike.

traffic jam on a bike

The problem is, you have cars parked on both sides and two lanes of cars squeezing into the one remaining lane, which leaves about six inches–I kid you not, six inches, of space to squeeze through if you want to get ahead of the cars. I thought of dismounting and walking the bike on the sidewalk, but the sidewalks were too crowded for me to do that.

And so I exit onto Broadway, which is supposed to have ample space for bikers, if that’s what the green paint on the ground means. But scattered pedestrians have pretty much claimed all that space for themselves, so I’m left to bike carefully facing oncoming traffic.

I hand a right on 38th, which is a little better than 36th but still really narrow. But a seasoned biker on a road bike is weaving through the cars, so I figure I’d follow him for a while. But again, there are way too many people trying to squeeze way too much into almost no space.

too many trucks

 

Finally, I get to Madison. As long as I stay on the left-hand side of the road it’s not too bad. The worst thing you have to watch out for here are jaywalking pedestrians and cabbies taking blind left-hand turns, but both are better than getting squeezed.

And so I get to the bike station at 49th and 5th. The good news is that I don’t see bikes filling up the docks. The bad news is, I don’t see docks!

citi bike station at 49th and 5th gone

I do a double-take. It’s gone. No bike station, no docks, no signs, just clear sidewalk. There’s not a trace of evidence that a Citi Bike station used to be there at all. It’s like that weird episode of the Twilight Zone where things start disappearing (or, every episode of the Twilight Zone). If I didn’t distinctly remember the building and the orange-and-white barriers, I’d have thought I was going nuts. Ironically, in my last post I implored them to add new docks to this station, and they did the opposite and removed all the docks. Later on, I would see on the app that sure enough, over the Fourth of July weekend they went and removed every one of them.

citi bike station vanishes!

Later, I would confirm this on their Twitter account:

From the looks of it, this was one of the most popular stations, but now I need to walk at least 5-6 blocks in any direction to get to a bike dock. So much for Citi Bike saving me walking time.

I tried selecting “Add More Time” and just inserted my key anywhere I thought on the machine it would it. Finally, when I put it in the credit card slot (intuitively enough), I got the message that 15 minutes of ‘grace period’ had been added for me to bike until I found another station.

add time to citibike

 

I walked my way over to 52nd and 5th.

52nd and 5th citi bike

 

As you can probably guess, every last dock was taken. I guess the good news is, they were all working.

I then rode to 53rd and Madison (ironically, that’s my old subway stop, so instead of walking a block to work I have to schlep the same multiple blocks I did before). It seems to be taking me an average of 3-4 broken docks until I find one that freaking works.

broken dock

I’ve decided to start using a program on the iPhone called Kinetic GPS from Mothership Software Limited. I’ve been looking for an app that will let me track my walking, hiking, and biking. It tracks speed, altitude, and distance of your ride, run, or hike, and the feature I’m most excited about: charting a map of your bike path du jour using GPS.

kinectic bike ride

So I’m not thrilled that the bike station at Rockfeller Center is gone–and that all the stations around it are that much more filled.

Now today was a special day…I spent a few hours at work, but then I had tickets to a taping of Centerstage, a local program produced by the Yankees cable station where Michael Kay (the Yankees announcer) interviews a sports or entertainment celebrity. Today the celebrity was Rob Reiner. I got free tickets to it, so I decided to take Citi Bike.

I picked up a bike and biked across town on 53rd to 10th, where the taping was. I guess because I was going against the tide, I had one of the most enjoyable Citi Bike experiences yet. There were still plenty of bikes available where I’d dropped mine off at 52nd and 5th, and when I got to 10th Avenue the bike rack was clear, I’m guessing from commuters who ransacked it earlier in the morning.

empty citi bike rack

I went through the usual dance of trying 2-3 docks until one had a light that turned yellow and green. I then went on line for the TV show taping.

The taping itself was really interesting. Rob Reiner touched on his whole life history, from his growing up as Carl Reiner’s son to his hippie years to his marriage to Penny Marshall, to his stint on All in the Family, to his movies from Spinal Tap to Stand By Me to When Harry Met Sally to The Princess Bride to A Few Good Men, and of course had a plug for his new movie And So It Goes.

rob reiner centerstage

When we got out of the studio, the sun was blaring and the temperature was hitting 88-93. So it wasn’t completely surprising when I went back to the Citi Bike dock and found a couple more bikes to choose from.

blaring sun

I biked back to work after this in another relatively pleasant ride, at least for the first two blocks back from Hell’s Kitchen where traffic was actually light and the bike path was clear.

one-block-of-nice-biking

 

But of course once I got into mid-town, the whole thing with the “shared bike lane” took over, and as usual, cars weren’t in much of a sharing mood.

shared bike lane

 

Other than the ridiculously hot temperatures, I found today’s Citi Bike experiences to be quite pleasant. There aren’t many better options for getting cross-down in such a short amount of time (I got from 5th to 10th in a little under eight minutes, which would have taken about a 25-30 minute walk, no options for the subway, and who knows how much more on the bus).

Per-ride code: 95/9=$10.56

Aggravation level: 6 of 10

Stress level: 4 of 10