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'Bike Sharing' Programs Popping Up All Over Cities
Traffic snarls, vague directions and unexpected one-way streets plague many a city traveler, and put a damper on precious vacation time. Instead of succumbing to road rage, take advantage of the public bike programs springing up in CityPASS destinations across North America.
For a fee – $5 per day in Toronto, $6 in Boston and $10 in New York – these programs let you borrow bikes from docking stations strategically located throughout the central district. Designed with city cruising in mind, the bikes generally have rugged step-through frames with baskets or luggage racks, upright handle bars, responsive hand brakes, adjustable seats, three speeds, and the appropriate reflectors and safety lamps.
Local commuters purchase annual memberships, but anyone can use the bikes with a 24-hour access pass. Most fees include rides of 30 minutes or less, making the bikes a convenient and economical mode of travel as you hopscotch between sightseeing locations and other points of interest in the city. Simply pick one up near your hotel or present location, ride it to the next stop on your list, then return it to the nearest docking station within 30 minutes. When you’re ready to move on, grab another bike and go. You can take the bikes for a longer jaunt, but rides extending beyond 30 minutes cost extra, becoming incrementally more expensive with each additional half hour. You must provide a credit card, passcode or user id to release a bike from the rack.
You do need to carry your own helmet and be able to cycle safely in an urban environment. Although many cities have installed extensive bike lanes in their downtown districts, a degree of risk exists with riding in a congested area. Before you venture out, make sure you know the proper etiquette, traffic laws and bicycle safety tips. In New York City, participation in a free bike street-skills class earns you a complimentary 24-hour Citi Bike access pass.
Cycling through a city gives you a different perspective than you get while enclosed in a car, bus or subway train. It activates more of your senses as you experience the sounds and smells of a place, and it’s easy to stop if something catches your eye or you need to ask for directions. You can cover more ground more quickly on a bike than you can on foot. As an added benefit, it’s healthy for you and for the planet.
New York City’s 330 bike stations conveniently cover the island of Manhattan south of Central Park and extend into Brooklyn. Finished at Top of the Rock? Grab a bike at the E 49th Street station and zip down 5th Avenue to the Empire State Building at E 33rd – where you’ll find another dock – with no time wasted trying to hail a cab or hoof it for 16 blocks. The online station map even constantly updates the number of available bikes at each station.
Metro Boston’s 130-station Hubway system extends from Boston proper into Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville. You can use the bikes to explore the Freedom Trail, which passes 16 historical sites, or park right next to the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
San Francisco’s less-extensive network, part of the regional Bay Area Bike Share Program, does cover the tourism-oriented neighborhoods of North Beach, Union Square, Telegraph Hill and the Embarcadero, with a station convenient to the Exploratorium. Grab a bike for the day and use it to explore all the San Francisco attractions!
Bike-friendly Amsterdam hatched the bicycle-sharing concept in the 1960s, but it was a rather botched first effort. All of the bikes were stolen within two days. Subsequent attempts in other European cities became progressively more successful, and bike-sharing ventures now exist worldwide in more than 500 cities. CityPASS travelers can find public bike programs in New York at Citi Bike, in Boston at Hubway, Toronto at Bixi Toronto, Chicago at Divvy, San Francisco at Bay Area Bike Share and Houston at Bcycle.
Tampa Bay’s Coast Bike Share should come online this spring, with Seattle and Philadelphia also scheduled to launch programs in 2014. Atlanta plans to follow in spring 2015, and even car-crazed L.A. has a program in the works, although with no projected unveiling date.