With New York City’s traffic jams and unpredictable subway trains, it can be a hassle to get around the city. Thankfully, with the new bike-sharing initiative in town, Citi Bike, launching next month, locals might soon find their lives a whole lot easier (although this is hotly debated here in New York–see below). Funded by Citi and Mastercard, and run by NYC Bike Share, a subsidiary of Alta Bicycle Share,  Citi Bike is a self-service bike share that will enable people to borrow a bike to ride across the city easily, simultaneously creating a sustainable alternative mode of transportation.

When it is launched next month, the ambitious Citi Bike project is going to be the largest bikeshare in the United States, a commendable feat, no doubt. It will consist of 600 stations, and 10,000 bikes in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, strategically placed around the city. Plans for this bike share have been underway for a long time, with the  NYCDOT researching on using open source data  to plan the locations of the bike share stations.  The kiosks, the majority which will be wireless and solar powered, will have docks for the bikes, locks and local maps. Steven Romalewski of Spatiality Blog did a great GIS analysis of the proximity of bike kiosks to mass transit options.

Anyone 16 and older will be able to sign up for either the 24-hour, 7-day, or annual access pass. These passes will give members unlimited trips, although charges will apply for trips lasting longer than 30 or 45 minutes, depending on the pass, since the Citi Bike initiative was envisioned for rides less than 3 miles. Members will be provided with an unlocking code or a special key to unlock their bikes at the docks.

To promote the bike share, Citi Bike has been setting up infobooths around New York, with the Department of Transportation  (NYCDOT) booth distributing free helmets. According to Citi Bike’s website, over 50,000 helmets have already been distributed for free since 2007. Citi Bike is still working with the bicycle industry to provide discounted helmets for members of the bike share.

Still, City Hall has been accused of “pedaling past safety measures,” according to Comptroller John Liu who released new safety recommendations just last month. Then there is the question of whether there are enough bike lanes despite the additional 270 miles of bike lanes added since 2006 (700+ miles total), counterbalanced with the backlash against bike lanes. The Bronx and Staten Island won’t have any bike stations at all at launch. And of course there is the ongoing battle between pedestrians, cyclists, car drivers and the police, as evidenced by Casey Neistat’s video that went viral last year:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzE-IMaegzQ]

It will be interesting to see how Citi Bike will change transportation and social culture in New York City. While already firmly in places such as Spain, London and Paris, the bike share trend has still places to go in the United States.

In comparison, Paris’ resurgence in bike-sharing can be attributed to the popularity of 2007’s Velib’, a network of 20,000+ bicycles distributed among 1450 stations throughout Paris. It is now considered the 2nd largest bike-sharing system in the world. While it is considered successful in terms of usage, 80% of the bikes have been damaged or stolen, despite active maintenance efforts by the city and good citizens (turning the seat backwards indicates that a bike is broken). Bikes have been found all over Paris in various states of disrepair, from the Seine, to hanging from lampposts, or even just on the roadside. These bikes have gone international too, with Velib’ bikes having been found as far as Eastern Europe and North Africa. With New York City’s reputation, Citi Bike might have to take extra measures to ensure that the same doesn’t happen with these new bikes, and that safety measures are as pervasive as the bikes themselves.

In the meantime, check out more of Citi’s demonstration events around in New York City, usually posted on their Twitter account. Try the bikes, sign up, or at the very least, get a free helmet! What’s your opinion on the Citi Bike program?