Green-Sports News

Citi Bike…How Green Is It?




Citi Bike
Citi Bike Kiosk outside Grand Central Terminal, on Park Avenue (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)


Citi Bike NYC, New York City’s bike sharing program, was launched to much fanfare (including suprisingly positive customer service) and some controversy, on May 27, 2013.

The largest bike sharing program in the US, Citi Bike is a for-profit system, and runs without subsidies from the city.  Alta Bicycle Share developed and operates the system and Citigroup spent more than $40 million to be the title sponsor for 6 years.

Citi Bike currently has 330 stations in Manhattan south of 59th Street (hey, what are we Upper West Siders, chopped liver??) and in Brooklyn north of Atlantic Avenue and west of Nostrand Avenue. The system runs with 6,000 bikes. Over 62,000 riders have taken out annual subscriptions (cost:  $95).   Citi Bike was designed with the commuter (home-to-work/school; subway-to-work, etc) and social good (improved public health, economic growth and, of most interest to GSB, reduced greenhouse gas emissions) in mind.

On that “reduced greenhouse gas emissions” point, it’s too early to know exactly what the impacts will be in New York:  Surveys will need to be conducted to determine how many people are switching from driving to the bikes vs. bus vs. subway, for example.  However, since 30 US cities have launched bike share programs the past few years, not to mention Paris, Barcelona, Stockholm and others, we can look elsewhere to make an educated guess.

Washington, DC’s Capital Bikeshare did a survey of its users in 2011 which showed:

  • 41 percent of users reported reducing their number of car trips
  • Those users said they drove an average of 523 miles per year less, which translates into avoiding releasing 487.7 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere per bike share user
  • Annually that translates into 1,632 tons of atmospheric CO2 avoided

Washington opened with about 1,000 bikes, compared to the 6,000 in New York.  Taking into account the fact New Yorkers drive less per capita than their DC counterparts (better, more comprehensive mass transit in Gotham), thus making a 6:1 comparison of NYC:DC bikes a bit aggressive, it’s probably fair to say that a 4.5:1 ratio is conservative.  This would mean the Citi Bike program would lead to the avoidance of 7,300+ tons of CO2 emissions.  This translates to taking over 1,500 cars off the road for a year.

And, this is just the beginning:  The program will grow (above 59th St??) and there will be a myriad of positive feedback effects.  From a green perspective, the likelihood is that Bike Sharers will be more likely to get into long distance, recreational/training cycling, thus further reducing car miles traveled.

GSB will follow up on Citi Bike to see if/when survey data becomes available so we can replace my back-of-napkin calculation above with hard data.  For now, if any readers are Citi Bikers, I’d love to hear from you–how do you like it?  How did you get to work beforehand?  And, most importantly, are you wearing a helmet?



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  1. Thanks for the first Green Reality Check on the Citibike program. As a dedicated pedestrian, I’m not entirely happy with the flood of inexperienced bike riders going the wrong direction on one-way streets and racing through crosswalks, but I’m very happy about the potential reduction in private car traffic and pollution.
    We really won’t be able to measure the efficacy of bike shares until more neighborhoods are as filled with bike racks as mine (Union Square is like a forest of blue bikes waiting for riders). I also think that the pricing system will need to be overhauled. It’s my understanding that, although sensible for a half hour ride from here to there, it’s not a cost-effective rental for daily use and I think there’s a big all-day market for tourists and locals alike.
    We’ll see how this plays out and how the empty racks survive the cold rains, snow and salt of winters in the city.

  2. Yeah, there are many other factors beyond CO2 emissions avoided (helmet-less riders are my bug-a-boo), let’s see about traffic effects, accidents before-after, etc. But on a CO2 emissions basis the indications are good.

  3. […] in early August, GSB posted a story about the early days of CitiBike share during its early days.  Last night, Baruch College (part of the City University of New […]

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