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Archive for the Citi Bike Ride Reports

Day 32 and what should have been Day 33

On the 11th, I got into work late, which seems to be the secret to having a fantastic Citi Bike experience. Plenty of bikes at 8th and 33rd, and a very smooth ride to 47th and Park.

That evening was overcast and I was feeling a little tired, so I decided to forego biking back to Penn.

Similarly, morning of the 12th was a gorgeous day, but I had a meeting to get to at work and so I had to take the subway. But all day I was looking forward to biking to Penn Station on one of the most perfect days of the year.

Problem is, everyone else in the City had the same idea. This is what the bike docks looked like within a half mile of my office.

citibike fail

That’s right–NOT ONE lousy bike available, because again, Citi Bike is set up to reward people who leave work early and punish those who work their butts off for a living. They did a decent job of rebalancing bikes early in the morning, but it looks like they’re just ignoring the problem of empty stations during the evening rush hour.

The sad thing is, there’d be so many solutions. How about waiving the fee for people who want to bike from a busy station like near Penn Station or Port Authority back to empty stations during those hours? Or providing someone who rides a bike from a busy station to an empty one a free subway ride? How about adding more docks to the stations? Or adding more stations in places where the stations empty? Or getting rebalancers to work in the evening as well as they do in the morning? Fail to address this, and the annual membership riders who are keeping this program just barely afloat will likely stop renewing in droves.

 

 

 

  • Cost per ride: $95/46=$2.07 per ride
  • Stress: 2 of 10
  • Aggravation: 10 of 10

 

Oh, and the Citi Bike App Sucks Too: Day 31

Ironically, my ride this morning was fantastic. It’s a beautiful 63 degree day in Manhattan, and I took the late train in (which seems to be the key to getting a bike). I got a bike right away and decided to grit my teeth and try what I’d consider the bike path I *wish* I could take every day going uptown–a straight shot up 8th and a straight shot east on 52nd to dock at 52nd and 5th.

As I’ve encountered in the past, going up Eight was no problem until I hit 39th. Then the wonderful bike lane completely disappears and swerves right into the middle lane of traffic to let taxis park next to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Today wasn’t too bad–there was just one police car and one taxi and both respected my space. But on bad days, this can get downright scary–you never know when a disgruntled car is going to plow you over from behind.

But the bike path picks up again after Port Authority and by biggest problem wasn’t dodging cars or pedestrians but just catching my breath, a problem I welcome because it means I’m riding fast and unfettered. Likewise, the ride on 52nd was unfettered as well until one portion where construction constricted the lane to barely more of a car width. But again at that hour drivers were pretty nice about letting me have my turn.

It wouldn’t be a Citi Bike Blog without a little kvetching, and so today I’ll turn my attention to the mobile app.

Now whoever is responsible for building the Citi Bike app for Alta or Citi or NY Bike Share or REQX or whoever needs to understand one thing: your app needs to do one thing and do it well–be able to pull up a station listing when I have 15 seconds at a red light and tell me RIGHT AWAY and ACCURATELY where the nearest station is that has open bike docks.

Rewind to be biking on 52nd and stopping at a light at Sixth. The one thing I want to know at this point was–does the bike dock on 52nd and 5th have open docks? So I open the app at the light. I wait, and wait, and wait (whoever designed their app must have designed their docks as well). Finally I see the map appear but it’s frozen. In desperation I kill the app and try again. But yes, it’s still stuck on the map. Worse, when I try tapping on anything the whole damned app freezes for minutes at a time. My guess is that each time I open the app some boneheaded developer decided that they need to refresh the map. How about having it so instead of defaulting to the map I can default to my list of stations? Oh, and how about getting rid of all the crap that’s slowing down the app and focusing on doing one thing right?? I don’t care about “Top Stops” (yes, I will be riding to Le Bernadin on my Citi Bike, New York Times) or “Riding Tips” or any of that crap if I can’t find one bloody station to park my bike near my office.

Sorry…okay, so after a while the menus are finally responsive. I select the option for “Stations”. I see the “station” at 49th and 5th show up, yes, the station that hasn’t been there for about 5 months now. Then I see that the dock at 52nd and 5th has 39 open docks! I can’t believe my eyes (by this time, of course, the light has turned green about 5 times). I bike to 52nd and 5th and, you guessed it, 39 full docks.

Since it’s on the way, I figure I’d try my luck at 53rd and Madison, even though the app reported it had zero docks open. And yes, there was one open dock which I happily grabbed, but the victory was hollow knowing that it was just dumb luck that I didn’t have to pedal halfway back to Penn to find an open dock.

Checking the app, ZERO docks open within a five minute walk of my office–nothing at 47th and Park, nothing at 51st and Lex, nothing at 53rd and Lex. Within a ten minute walk there’s the station at  44th and 5th, but that station is literally halfway back to Penn. Then north of me there’s 56th and Madison which again is a hike.

So once again, Citi Bike has done a good job of rebalancing bikes at the starting point, but what good does it do if there are no free docks at the ending points? And worse, word is that they’ll be adding more bike stations around the City. Which I’m sure is great politically, but heaven help us if instead of 200 people fighting for the 132 spots near my office there are 500 people fighting for it. And multiply that by every office in Midtown.

I have to say, I love Citi Biking, especially on a cool autumn day like today. But if they go much longer without getting their act together, I think Seth Rogen said it best for all of us.

Today’s Route: North on Eighth to 52nd, East on 52nd, then a detour to 53rd and Madison.
Best Thing About It: Perfect 63 degree weather again in September with a cool breeze.
Worst Thing About It: Typical clueless pedestrians in the bike path on Eighth but nothing horrific. A couple tight squeezes on 52nd. And of course, the Amazing Disappearing Bike Lane by Port Authority.
Route Rating: 8 of 10

biking up eighth

 

I left work at 6 o’clock and as I watched the app I could see bikes disappearing by the second. My goal was to get a bike at 51st and Lex. When I left the office the station had 15 bikes left, but by the time I talked from 50th and Madison to 51st and Lex there was just one bike left, and I got it.

Opposite of what I’d done in the morning, I decided to take a straight shot West on 53rd. 53rd is one of those rare westbound streets with a bike lane, but it was completely blocked for the first few avenues, leading to some tight squeezes with cars.  But once I got through that, the rest of the ride was smooth, including the ride down Ninth.

Overall a very nice day of Citi Biking.

  • Cost per ride: $95/45=$2.11 per ride
  • Stress: 2 of 10
  • Aggravation: 4 of 10

 

The Best Bike Speedometer on the iPhone: Day 30

If you noticed from the last post, I switched my bike route tracking/mapping app from Kinetic to a new one. It’s called GPSSpeed HD. According to the publisher, it’s a GPS tool with speedometer, altimeter, compass and GPS-tracker.

It costs $1.99, but it’s well worth it. I love mounting my iPhone on my bike at home and using this as sort of my “dashboard”. You can configure it to look like a traditional car speedometer:

traditional speedometer on ios

Or a digital speedometer:

speedometer on iphone

Or even a high-tech display that shows your forces in G’s.

force in g's

I had a little fun with this app on the Amtrak Acela on my recent trip to Washington DC, where to my surprise the train actually achieved speeds of up to 142 MPH.

IMG_3836

Not quite the same speed for my ride today, with a maximum speed of 16 MPH

average speed

On thing cool about app is that it displays your speed overlaid on top of your altitude. You can see here that the ride from Penn across down is relatively flat, but there’s an uphill climb as you head uptown on Madison. At first I thought the app was broken because it was reporting me at 312 feet when the maximum elevation of the entire City is only 265 feet above sea level (Bennett Park in Washington Heights). But I soon realized that I’d kept the app running and so the point where my MPH falls and my altitude rises is when I took the elevator up at work!

graph of speed and altitide

As for the ride itself, it wasn’t bad, until I got to the bike dock at 51st and Lexington. This one is always empty, but for the first time in a long time it was completely full, probably because more people are using the bikes due to the cooler weather.

I forgot that they had a “list” view in the Citi Bike app, so I kept pulling up the map, which never refreshed and was painfully slow, so I gave up on using it. Luckily I found ONE remaining slot at 53rd and Madison (which is usually completely full early), or I would have had to bike halfway back to Penn to find a bike to dock. The bike dock situation is getting worse and worse.

Today’s Route: East on 32nd to Madison, Up on Madison, East on 51st, then a detour to 53rd and Madison.
Best Thing About It: Perfect 66 degree weather again in September with a cool breeze. Pretty light traffic on 32nd. Pretty smooth sailing on the left-hand lane of Madison, away from the bus lane. 
Worst Thing About It: 
Not having a bike lane on 32nd nor Madison meant a couple tight squeezes when traffic starts converging.
Route Rating: 7 of 10

 

route on 9-9-14

 

  • Cost per ride: $95/43=$2.21 per ride
  • Stress: 4 of 10
  • Aggravation: 6 of 10

 

Rating the Citi Bike Routes from Penn to Midtown: Day 29

Originally, I was planning on mothballing this blog the day I broke even on my Citi Bike annual membership cost. After all, I know my posts started sounding redundant. One needs to wait for a bike in the morning at Penn, but rebalancers are pretty good so you generally don’t have to wait more than 5 minutes. One cannot get out of work after 5:30 in Midtown and expect to find a bike anywhere. Bike docks suck. The City’s attempt at creating bike lanes in midtown is a joke. And so on, and so forth.

So I’m shifting the emphasis of this blog to finding THE perfect bike route to commute to work (I’ll work on finding the best route to work and then once I find that I’ll turn my attention to the best route going back to Penn). I’ll try a different route each time and let you know which one I like the best.

9-8-14 route

Today’s Route: Up Eighth Avenue, East on 38th, up on Sixth, East on 40th, up on Madison, East on 50th, Up on Lexington, East on 50th
Best Thing About It: Perfect 66 degree weather in September. Pretty sweet ride up Eighth (on the bike path) and Madison (no bike path, but well-behaved traffic)
Worst Thing About It: 
No bike lane on 38th means weaving and tight squeezes. Bike markings on 40th is largely a joke with all the construction.
Route Rating: 5 of 10

I had tickets to the men’s finals of the US Open, so I left work a little early again at 3. Lots of bikes avaialble, ride to Penn was sweet down Ninth, and then the LIRR to Mets Willets Point was easy, almost as easy as Cilic’s defeat of Nishikori.

Cost per ride: $95/42=$2.26 per ride
Stress: 8 of 10
Aggravation: 3 of 10

Finally Saving Money on Citibike vs. the Subway: Day 28

On Thursday, I got to work at the normal time. Maddeningly, there were once again bikes in the front of the pack, none of which had their red lights on but I was suspicious because no one was taking them. I knew I had a choice–try to undock one or fight with the people at the other end of the dock to get one of the bikes the rebalancers were doling out. I chose wrong and tried to undock a bike. Yellow light…10 seconds…20 seconds…30 seconds…40 seconds…50 seconds…nothing. And by that time all the rebalancers were gone on the other end.

empty docks


But happily, I just had to wait about 2 minutes before another rebalancer came over the hill like the cavalry.

rebalancer

 

I was in front in line and the yahoo you see in the white shirt behind the rebalancer decided to come from behind to claim a bike while there were about 6 people on line in back of me. Through my body language I made it clear to him, “you ain’t getting a bike before me, punk”, but the folks in back of me were a little more subdued so the guy ended up getting the second bike. Again, I love how Citibike tends to bring out the worst in us New Yorkers.

My ride took me up Eighth and across 37th, where again the lack of a bike lane made travel a bit precarious. I also forgot there was a little thing called the MetLife Building that’s in the way between me and work, so I had to weave and and out of the little streets to find my way to 51st and Lex. The worst thing about the ride today were the pedestrians–they tend to travel in swarms, so even if the light is red they’ll force their way across an intersection and a little bike has no chance to get through, other than trying to weave through them like a salmon swimming upstream.

But I made it to 51st and Lex and to work relatively on time.

Something else momentous happened in this morning ride–my cost per ride finally dipped below the $2.50 mark. Which means that I finally have a positive ROI and am officially in the black now; my cost per ride is officially lower than what it would have cost me had I taken a subway for all of those rides.

It took 28 days spanning four months to get to this point, but what this means is that for every ride I take from now on that I otherwise would have taken the subway, I’m making money. Now granted I’m paying for it in other ways–the stress of City traffic, the aggravation of CitiBike.

I decided again to take off from the office early to have a chance at an afternoon Citibike. This time there were plenty of bikes available.

I rode west on 51st. The first few blocks were a joke, as construction is barely giving enough room for the width of a car, much less a bike next to the car (but still, there are bike lane symbols painted on the ground, so I suppose cars are expected to share the road single-file with bikes). As you can see from my Kinetic map, I spent a lot of time weaving and and out of cars, with me slamming into someone’s left-hand rear view mirror at one point.

image

But once I made it to Ninth, it was smooth sailing downtown. Well, mostly, there were actually so many bikes on the bike path that it got congested with bikes and at one point a clueless biker veered into my path without looking. But slight annoyances aside, it was a pretty good ride.

I docked at 5:53 and made it to the 5:56 train, where I’m writing this now. Overall, not a bad day, and the cash flow is officially positive now.

Cost per ride: $95/40=$2.38 per ride
Stress: 4 of 10
Aggravation: 4 of 10

Back to the Grind: Days 26 and 27

One would think the day after Labor Day it would be easy to get a bike. The trains were pretty much empty coming into the city. and sure enough they were plenty of bikes to be had in the morning despite my arrival.

The ride to work Tuesday was very pleasant. We’ve been blessed with mild summer but today it was a bit humid. But otherwise I made it to the 51st and Lexington station with no problem. Well, there was a slight problem as I didn’t read the signs and ended up going all the way down 50th St. and till I hit Second Avenue before realizing I was a block off. But I circled around and found the right one eventually. Even though September had started it was humid outside so I came to work drenched in perspiration. Thank havens for my little Windmere fan. 

Coming home was the same sad story. I wanted to leave work early but as usual got stuck doing things until 6 PM. By the time I checked the city like that every single station within a 10 block radius was completely empty. Welcome back to New York City

On Wednesday, I took the early train. To my excitement there were 5 bikes in the docks outside of Penn Station, but I soon realized all of them were broken.

broken citi bikes

 

As I was contemplating the situation a woman rode back right in front of me and docked her bike. Of course there was another woman equidistant to me on the other side. I heard the song from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly go through my head as we both made eye contact and froze, seeing who would make the first move. But since I was still on my vacation high and I smiled and waved for her to take the bike. She gave me a look at was half grateful and half incredulous, but she took the bike. For my part, I was rewarded 30 seconds later when the rebalancers came with their fresh haul.

The ride wasn’t too bad. I went up Eighth and across 42nd; going across on 42nd is a little dicey because there’s no bike path so I had to use the bus lane.

bike to work via 42

The buses were pretty nice about it with the exception of one who seemed intent on tailgating me, even though I was riding much faster than he could go anyway.

The weather today was nice (much nicer than yesterday) so I got to work in relatively dry shape.

I was determined to get a bike today, so I left work early at 5:30 PM (I’m still putting in so many 12-14 hours days I figured I deserve to leave early every now and again). I got to the dock at 51st and Lex, where the Citibike Web site said there were 15 bikes left. But by the time I got there there were only about 5 bikes, and I could see people swarming from all over. So I grabbed one as soon as I could. 

My ride took me down Lex and then across on 37th.

bie from work

Again, a nice ride but a bit harrowing at times due to a lack of bike lanes, so again I used the bike lanes and drafted off other bikers as best as I could to try to avoid traffic. For all the experimentation I’ve done, I think the best rides so far for me are up 8th, across 40th, and up Madison for going to work, and across 50th and down 9th for coming back from work (when I get a bike).

Cost per ride: $95/38=$2.50 per ride
Stress: 4 of 10
Aggravation: 6 of 10

A Ride to Catch the Acela: Day 25

The last few days I’ve been on a business trip on Washington DC. Once I got to DC I was summoned back to a client meeting in New York for one day, and then I had to take the train back to DC that same day.

After my meeting was done, I took a bike from 56th and 6th…a man was returning his bike and this woman literally ran past me and grabbed it. if there weren’t three other bikes I’d have been a little pissed. Amazing how Citi Bike’s deficiencies are inadvertently doing some social engineering for the worse–they’re creating a subculture of really, really rude people.

rude citibike woman

But I had a remarkably good ride home, at right at the peak of rush hour, going crossdown on 56th and the downtown on 9th. I made it to Penn Station in plenty of time to catch the train back to DC.

In DC I got to see “Capital Bike Share”. It was like looking at a bizarro version of Citi Bike–because Alta makes the bikes, the docks and bikes are exactly the same as in New York, the only difference being that they’re bright red instead of bright blue.

I contemplated whether I should take Citi Bike around–after all, one taxi ride from Union Station to my hotel was about $8, while a three day pass for unlimited use of Capital Bikeshare was only $15.

I did the math and assuming I averaged two rides a day, that’d end up costing me (or rather, the client) about $2.50 a ride. Not bad.

That is, until I compared the price to the DC Metro. To get to my client’s location was only $2.15 a ride, $1.75 if not during rush hour.

Now it’s been years since I’ve ridden the DC Metro, but I was shocked, absolutely shocked, at how much better it is than the MTA in New York. The seats are padded, and most of the time you can not just get a seat, but get one to yourself. There’s not the unmistakable smell of urine everywhere. All the stations all tell you exactly what time the trains are arriving. The trains are quiet. You can get a cell signal at all the stations, and even during many of the rides. Even late at night the stations are well lit and filled with people so you feel safe (unless you’re Zoe Barnes). Their version of the Metrocard, the SmarTrip card, works by “tapping” vs. swiping, whether you’re entering and exiting the station or refilling your card. The new Silver Line just launched (I have the commemorative SmarTrip Card to prove it) and the cars are clean, quiet, and simply a joy to ride. And to get from Union Station to my hotel cost about $7 less and took about 5 minutes quicker than taking a taxi.

I’ve been on a lot of subway systems these past few months. Taiwan gets an A+. Japan gets an A. DC gets a B+. New York gets an F—————-. Back in 1914 it was the bee’s knees, but 100 years later it’s like the third world of subway systems. And ironically, the MTA is collecting a maddening $2.50 a ride and always talking about jacking it up.

So needless to say, I ended up taking the Metro all over instead of the Capital Bikeshare. A good thing too, because when I got to my client’s location, I walked up to the Bikeshare rack and saw a famliar site:

foggy bottom station full

I would have had to bike four blocks for the chance of finding an empty rack, so the bulk of the week was taking the Metro. But I finally got to try out Capital Bikeshare for myself a few days later.

Cost per ride: $95/36=$2.64
Aggravation level: 2 of 10
Stress level: 2 of 10

Citi Bikes are No Good For Running Multiple Quick Errands: Day 23 and 24

It’s been a while since I posted an update, and that’s mainly because it’s been a while since I rode a Citi Bike.

I had a pretty uneventful ride to work on August 11, up Eighth, cross 40th, and up Madison. No complaints for once.

Then, it was off for vacation, so no biking for me. I returned to work on Friday the 22nd of August. I took the subway to work that morning, but decided to try an experiment riding home–I had a couple errands to run and wanted to bike to the Sony Store on 55th and Madison, then bike down to the Best Buy on 5th and 44th, then bike to Times Square, and finally bike to Macy’s.

Since I had summer Fridays, I got out of the office at 3 PM. I figured, there’d be plenty of bikes available on 53rd and Madison, but there was only one lonely bike. I grabbed it and biked up to the Sony Store.

Plenty of bikes outside the Sony Store, so I picked one up and biked down 5th to 44th and docked my bike there.

I ran into the Best Buy and ran out and–you guessed it–by 3:30 ALL the bikes at the 44th and 5th station were gone. And so I had to walk the rest of the way.

Yet another sad story of Citi Bike not being there when I needed it. I’ll count this as a half-ride because I only got halfway to my destination. So my experiment failed–unless you’re sticking to only barren parts of the City, forget about using Citi Bike as a quick way to run errands.

Cost per ride: $95/35=$2.71/ride
Aggravation level: 7 of 10
Stress level: 2 of 10

Being a Early Bird Sucks if You Use Citi Bike: Day 22

So once again I took the early train and and got out to the Citi Bike Station outside of Penn Station to find this:

long lines for citibike

That’s right, a line of about 10-15 people in front of me waiting for a Citi Bike. Now if you look at the picture carefully you’ll notice a few things:

1) There are no bike rebalancers. Now granted, I know the rebalancers work really hard and do a great job, but Citi Bike needs many more of them. There’s no reason those docks should not be full of bikes for people to take. How ridiculous is it to wait on line for 20 minutes when I can walk or take the subway and be at the office in that time?

2) There were plenty of bikes in the docks, but they all had their seats turned down, indicating they were broken. So why hasn’t someone taken them are repaired them?

3) There is plenty of room for more docks. Who’s the bright mind in Central Planning that decided to put so few bike stations all around Penn Station? And when they double the number of bikes shortly, are they going to have the same paltry amount of bike spaces around one of the busiest transportation hubs in the city?

Funny thing (for me, not for the people on line) is that right after I took this picture I turned around and walked to the other side of the dock, where right as I passed by the front someone rode his bike up and docked it. There was no one around me, so I just nonchalantly grabbed it. I guess the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but time and chance happen to all. Although this was like winning the lottery–more often than not if I come in on the 7:47 train, I’m going to be waiting on line.

I rode to 44th and 5th where I wanted to stop by the Best Buy, but ironically biking was so efficient I got there at 8:30 and realized they didn’t open until 9:00. Alas, I walked the rest of the way to the office.

Cost per ride: $95/33.5=$3.06/ride=$2.84
Aggravation level: 7 of 10
Stress level: 4 of 10

How to carry stuff on a Citi Bike: Day 21

Pretty uneventful two rides today. I got in on the late train and there were plenty of bikes waiting for me on Eighth.

I had my computer bag (a lovely Timbuk2 TSA-Friendly Laptop Bag that my wife and brother-in-law got for me, which is my favorite laptop bag of all time, especially in airports) with me. Inside I had my precious MacBook Pro, as well as some fruit from home.

Citi Bike’s area in front for storage is one of many Citi Bike features that has gotten a lot of flak but I haven’t had too many problems with it. Granted the first time I tried using it I had a small plastic grocery bag, which flew off the second I crossed the intersection at 34th.But I’ve since learned for plastic grocery bags to either put them inside a larger bag OR tie the plastic handle to the metal frame in the bike.

citi bike basket

 

I do like the fact that the carrier is in the front vs on the side where you wouldn’t see if it flew off, and the way they have it today is a lot less goofy looking than having a big wicker basket like on a girl’s bike. Sure, they could do a better job of engineering it, but like I said it’s worked okay for me so far.

To use the basket, you need to put your briefcase, purse, or bag in the front–and make sure you leave anything you wouldn’t want to get crushed at home–this is not the thing for transporting Faberge eggs or Tiffany lamps.

Then, you take the thick elastic cord and wrap it around the front of the bike. There are four “notches” on the placard in front. If you have a large thing to carry, you hook the elastic loop onto the top two notches. If you have something smaller, you’ll need to use your strength but you can hook the elastic onto the bottom notches. The key here is the make sure that your bag is snug and that the elastic is gripping it tight. I usually test it out by slapping my bag a few times.

bag secured to citi bike

 

I rode up Eighth to 40th and cut across–traffic was lighter than usual but I did have the tight squeeze before Bryant Park to contend with. I made my way to Madison to the bike station at 53rd and Madison which–surprise–had no open docks. So I backtracked to 47th and Park.

I actually took a midday ride as well. I needed to go to run some errands at CVS and the Sony Store a few blocks from the office, so I took an afternoon walk. At the Sony Story, I saw a row of stations outsdie and figured, what the heck. So I took a Citi Bike and rode the 5 blocks and 1 avenue from 56th and Madison to 51st and Lex. Granted, walking would have taken me about 8 minutes, while biking took me about 5 minutes, so I saved a whopping 3 minutes. But the ride that time of day was pleasant and the roads pretty clear, so I figured I’d enjoy my membership.

Cost per ride: $95/32.5=$3.06/ride=$2.92
Aggravation level: 6 of 10
Stress level: 4 of 10