Of all the rebuilding yet to be completed to restore homes, businesses, and shoreline in Long Beach, NY, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, restarting the bikeshare program may not be the most pressing issue on the city manager’s to-do list.
But along with the physical reconstruction underway in Long Beach, where flip flops and surfboards abound well into the cold months, the outdoor lifestyle prized by its residents and visitors is also awaiting full restoration.
The good news along those lines is that a central attraction of Long Beach, its two-mile-long boardwalk, which was destroyed by Sandy, has been rebuilt and city officials opened it in October 2013.
That event opened the door to the possibility that a popular bikeshare program, operated by the Florida-based company Decobike for just one summer in 2012, may also be restored in time for summer 2014.
During its short run beginning July 4, 2012, and ending that October, 200 Decobike bicycles were rented from solar-powered kiosks in 15 different locations around the city and along the boardwalk. Riders took about 28,000 trips, according to David Silverman, the director of operations at Decobike.
The kiosks offered hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly memberships to unlock a bicycle, which was equipped with a basket and a tracking device. After racking up a share of the more than 85,000 miles pedaled that summer, riders would drop off the bikes at another kiosk when they finished their rides.
Tracy Lee, a Great Neck mother of two young children whose family spends summer weekends in Long Beach, said the bike share program was “incredibly convenient.” The Lee family’s summer home is at the east end of the boardwalk, at least a mile from the stores and restaurants they sometimes need to reach, she said. During the summer, parking is also scarce, especially during peak shopping hours and mealtimes. So Ms. Lee’s husband, David, would often rent a Decobike bicycle to run errands, and then pedal back with his purchases.
“I miss it,” Ms. Lee said of the bike share. “I look forward to it coming back.”
Decobike assumed the cost to build and operate the bikeshare, in exchange for the city’s permission to use public land and structures. The company also shared a percentage of its profit with the city. In 2012, the cost for riders was $6 per hour. Buying a longer-term membership lowered the hourly rate, Mr. Silverman said.
Choosing a bicycle to get around in Long Beach, a city built atop a barrier island with condominiums that tower over the boardwalk, is one way to avoid the scarce parking. This is true especially in the summer, when the beach lures locals and visitors to its shore. The Long Island Rail Road station is located along the downtown shopping and eating district, and it is less than half a mile from the boardwalk.
The city of about 35,000 people also has its own bus system, giving further mobility to the carless.
Bicyclists were back in force on the new boardwalk one overcast afternoon in December 2013. Couples rode side by side, and singles meandered or pumped the pedals for exercise.
“People use bikes everywhere here,” said Patricia Bourne, the director of economic development for the City of Long Beach.
That accessibility, combined with the train connection to New York City and the dense population, were features that made bikeshare here a good bet for Decobike.
The bike stations were located along the boardwalk, in the commercial west end and the more residential east end. The 148-bike hub stood ready at the train station, Mr. Silverman said.
More broadly for Long Island, the Long Beach bikeshare (which rolled out before New York City’s much publicized Citi Bike), opened up possibilities in other neighborhoods and parks. Nassau County was negotiating with Decobike for a bikeshare connecting South Shore beaches along roads already equipped with bike paths, and within Eisenhower Park, which is owned by the county. Plans were stopped by Sandy, but the county would like to pursue it further, according to Satish Sood, deputy commissioner with Nassau County Planning.
Mr. Sood said he is also applying for a New York State grant for an ambitious plan to build bike paths that would connect the beaches and parks on the North and South shores of Long Island in Nassau County. They would include underground tunnels accessible to bicyclists, walkers, golf carts, and wheelchairs, at major road crossings.
“I would want my own child to be able to bike along these paths safely,” Mr. Sood said.
The bikeshare also fits in with recent legislation passed by the Long Beach city council to commit to Complete Streets, under which future street designs, or redesigns, will consider all forms of transportation: pedestrians, bicyclists, disabled people, and cars.
With millions of dollars in state reconstruction grants, Long Beach might have an opportunity to include features like bike paths, bulb-outs—extra space for people to stand when waiting to cross the street—narrower car lanes, wider pedestrian sidewalks, and even trees, which create a sense of enclosure and encourage drivers to slow down.
Adopting Complete Streets shows that Long Beach is considering all forms of transit in its reconstruction. Restarting a bikeshare is proof of the commitment to Long Beach’s outdoor bustle.