City Doubles Bike Sharing Program As Urban Sustainability Initiatives Thrive
Bike sharing in New York City has had a promising yet problematic start, but there is little question that it is a program worth keeping and expanding. It is clear that the de Blasio administration agrees and, in one of their first efforts to expand former mayor Bloomberg's sustainability agenda, are about to double the size of the city's bike sharing program. Bloomberg's legacy complicates de Blasio's task. As Matt Flegenheimer observed in a NY Times piece on Citi Bike, "Mr. Bloomberg's successor, Bill de Blasio, has been confronted with a ... consequential choice: how aggressively to embrace—and reimagine—a program that remains inextricably linked to the last administration." His answer, fittingly enough, is to expand the program in the city's outer boroughs.
The great virtue of bike sharing programs is that they expand the mass transit system. Photo credit: Wikimedia
Last week, the Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Tangel reported on a potential investment in New York's Citi Bike program by REQX Ventures, an affiliate of New York City and global real estate giant Related Companies, and Equinox Fitness. According to Tangel, REQX Ventures:
... is close to hammering out an agreement that could enlarge the footprint of Citi Bike to upper Manhattan, into Queens and further into Brooklyn over the next few years, these people said. The number of bikes would nearly double, from 6,200 to about 12,000. The pact would allow Citi Bike's operator, Alta Bicycle Share Inc., more flexibility in raising the price of the $95 annual memberships, which could increase to $140 or more, these people said. More than 100,000 annual memberships have been sold.
As part of the tentative agreement, REQX Ventures would secure a controlling stake in Alta, these people said, thrusting the Related affiliate to the forefront of a budding industry spreading across the U.S. Alta, based in Portland, Ore., runs bike-share and rental systems in cities from Boston to San Francisco.
As Tangel reports in his piece, New York City's bike sharing program is unique because it does not rely on a public subsidy, although a contract with the city governs the program and has provided access to public space for bike rental stations. The original contract made inaccurate assumptions about the mix of resident and tourist rentals and:
Alta's original contract was ambiguous about whether the company could raise Citi Bike rates without city approval. Because the city wouldn't let Alta raise prices without first lining up new capital, Citi Bike's operator has left potential revenue on the table as it awaits a new agreement, current members renew and new ones sign up. Alta has said its $95 annual memberships were money-losers because riders used the bikes twice as much as projected.
The potential for attracting additional private capital to New York City's bike sharing program is significant and has been a test for the de Blasio administration. If public-private partnership is to thrive around urban sustainability issues, government needs to understand how to work with private developers like Related. Under the Bloomberg administration, that knowledge was assumed to be in place—even if it wasn't always present. Corporate leaders knew that the final decision maker in the deal was someone who came from their world: Mike Bloomberg. They do not know that now; Bill de Blasio has spent his career in public service. However, these early efforts at public-private partnership have begun to set a positive tone for relations between our progressive mayor and New York City's private sector.
Actually, if the current administration can't work with Related, it will be hard to imagine success with other developers. Fortunately, there are clear signs that the new administration gets it. They have already demonstrated an ability to work with private developers on affordable housing. Bike sharing is providing a high-profile opportunity to work with industry on sustainability issues. The success of this deal could lead to other opportunities as well.
Related has long been a leader in green building, and has also understood the importance of public-private partnership in New York City real estate development. Land is a scarce commodity in New York City. For many years, the city's land development has required rules and planning. Related is a very sophisticated player in the political economy of New York City, and is expert at navigating the very complex, but necessary, regulatory process required to build large-scale developments in New York. In that respect, New York's mayors are fortunate. They do not need to deal with a right-wing, anti-regulatory private sector, but with sophisticated companies that understand the need for government to play a central role in developing this complicated city.
It is significant that this leading developer sees the importance and potential in bike sharing. While some of the company's motivation appears to be public service and corporate responsibility, I assume they see the potential for making money here as well. New York City's government and people have an interest in the survival and expansion of bike sharing. Since the city cannot afford to invest its own capital in the program, it needs to attract private capital if bike sharing is to grow and thrive. It is good news to see that the relationship with Related and Equinox is being cultivated by the mayor and his team.
The great virtue of bike sharing programs is that they expand the mass transit system. You can bike to work, but take the subway home. You can bike part of the way to work and take mass transit the rest of the way. While bike commuting is not for everyone, the popularity of the Citi Bike program is undeniable. The problem has been that the rates are too low, the software too buggy, and the system too small. Raising the rates may decrease utilization, but expanding the number of neighborhoods served will increase it.
Bike riding has many virtues as a sustainable means of transport. Its only use of energy is in making and shipping the bikes. It improves public health and enables people to make more efficient use of time by combining commuting with exercise. In a growing number of cities, bikes are becoming a key transportation resource, and an integral part of a city's transportation system. While New York City's use of bike transport is still relatively small, it is growing. According to the New York City Department of Transportation:
New York City doubled bicycle commuting between 2007 and 2011, and aims to triple it by 2017. In New York City, 10% of auto trips are under one-half mile, 22% are under 1 mile and 56% are under 3 miles—distances readily served by bicycle. DOT has completed the City's ambitious goal of building 200 bike-lane miles in all five boroughs in just three years, nearly doubling the citywide on-street bike network while reshaping the city's streets to make them safer for everyone who uses them.
Combined with bike sharing, a system of bike lanes provides the infrastructure needed to support increased use of cycling as a means of transportation. The de Blasio administration's emphasis on traffic safety for drivers and pedestrians holds the potential of increasing the safety of cycling as well. It is true that there are between 50 and 100 days per year when weather conditions make bike riding less attractive and possibly more dangerous; nevertheless, there is significant room for expansion in New York and in many other American cities. The demise of Citi Bike would have been a significant blow to this small but important element of a sustainable transportation system.
The deal to save Citi Bike is a clear and tangible indication of Mayor de Blasio's commitment to expand the sustainability agenda begun by his predecessor. This is good news because it demonstrates that local sustainability initiatives have become a popular and permanent part of the services expected by New Yorkers and ensured by their government.
You Might Also Like
By Lynne Peeples
Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.
In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.
Unintended Consequences<p>Chemists first discovered disinfection by-products in treated drinking water in the 1970s. The trihalomethanes they found, they determined, had resulted from the reaction of chlorine with natural organic matter. Since then, scientists have identified more than 700 additional disinfection by-products. "And those only represent a portion. We still don't know half of them," says Richardson, whose lab has identified hundreds of disinfection by-products. </p>
What’s Regulated and What’s Not?<p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates 11 disinfection by-products — including a handful of trihalomethanes (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA). While these represent only a small fraction of all disinfection by-products, EPA aims to use their presence to indicate the presence of other disinfection by-products. "The general idea is if you control THMs and HAAs, you implicitly or by default control everything else as well," says Korshin.</p><p>EPA also requires drinking water facilities to use techniques to reduce the concentration of organic materials before applying disinfectants, and regulates the quantity of disinfectants that systems use. These rules ultimately can help control levels of disinfection by-products in drinking water.</p>
Click the image for an interactive version of this chart on the Environmental Working Group website.<p>Still, some scientists and advocates argue that current regulations do not go far enough to protect the public. Many question whether the government is regulating the right disinfection by-products, and if water systems are doing enough to reduce disinfection by-products. EPA is now seeking public input as it considers potential revisions to regulations, including the possibility of regulating additional by-products. The agency held a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/dwsixyearreview/potential-revisions-microbial-and-disinfection-byproducts-rules" target="_blank">two-day public meeting</a> in October 2020 and plans to hold additional public meetings throughout 2021.</p><p>When EPA set regulations on disinfection by-products between the 1970s and early 2000s, the agency, as well as the scientific community, was primarily focused on by-products of reactions between organics and chlorine — historically the most common drinking water disinfectant. But the science has become increasingly clear that these chlorinated chemicals represent a fraction of the by-product problem.</p><p>For example, bromide or iodide can get caught up in the reaction, too. This is common where seawater penetrates a drinking water source. By itself, bromide is innocuous, says Korshin. "But it is extremely [reactive] with organics," he says. "As bromide levels increase with normal treatment, then concentrations of brominated disinfection by-products will increase quite rapidly."</p><p><a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15487777/" target="_blank">Emerging</a> <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.7b05440" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">data</a> indicate that brominated and iodinated by-products are potentially more harmful than the regulated by-products.</p><p>Almost half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, where saltwater intrusion can be a problem for drinking water supplies. "In the U.S., the rule of thumb is the closer to the sea, the more bromide you have," says Korshin, noting there are also places where bromide naturally leaches out from the soil. Still, some coastal areas tend to be spared. For example, the city of Seattle's water comes from the mountains, never making contact with seawater and tending to pick up minimal organic matter.</p><p>Hazardous disinfection by-products can also be an issue with desalination for drinking water. "As <a href="https://ensia.com/features/can-saltwater-quench-our-growing-thirst/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">desalination</a> practices become more economical, then the issue of controlling bromide becomes quite important," adds Korshin.</p>
Other Hot Spots<p>Coastal areas represent just one type of hot spot for disinfection by-products. Agricultural regions tend to send organic matter — such as fertilizer and animal waste — into waterways. Areas with warmer climates generally have higher levels of natural organic matter. And nearly any urban area can be prone to stormwater runoff or combined sewer overflows, which can contain rainwater as well as untreated human waste, industrial wastewater, hazardous materials and organic debris. These events are especially common along the East Coast, notes Sydney Evans, a science analyst with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG, a collaborator on <a href="https://ensia.com/ensia-collections/troubled-waters/" target="_blank">this reporting project</a>).</p><p>The only drinking water sources that might be altogether free of disinfection by-products, suggests Richardson, are private wells that are not treated with disinfectants. She used to drink water from her own well. "It was always cold, coming from great depth through clay and granite," she says. "It was fabulous."</p><p>Today, Richardson gets her water from a city system that uses chloramine.</p>
Toxic Treadmill<p>Most community water systems in the U.S. use chlorine for disinfection in their treatment plant. Because disinfectants are needed to prevent bacteria growth as the water travels to the homes at the ends of the distribution lines, sometimes a second round of disinfection is also added in the pipes.</p><p>Here, systems usually opt for either chlorine or chloramine. "Chloramination is more long-lasting and does not form as many disinfection by-products through the system," says Steve Via, director of federal relations at the American Water Works Association. "Some studies show that chloramination may be more protective against organisms that inhabit biofilms such as Legionella."</p>
Alternative Approaches<p>When he moved to the U.S. from Germany, Prasse says he immediately noticed the bad taste of the water. "You can taste the chlorine here. That's not the case in Germany," he says.</p><p>In his home country, water systems use chlorine — if at all — at lower concentrations and at the very end of treatment. In the Netherlands, <a href="https://dwes.copernicus.org/articles/2/1/2009/dwes-2-1-2009.pdf" target="_blank">chlorine isn't used at all</a> as the risks are considered to outweigh the benefits, says Prasse. He notes the challenge in making a convincing connection between exposure to low concentrations of disinfection by-products and health effects, such as cancer, that can occur decades later. In contrast, exposure to a pathogen can make someone sick very quickly.</p><p>But many countries in Europe have not waited for proof and have taken a precautionary approach to reduce potential risk. The emphasis there is on alternative approaches for primary disinfection such as ozone or <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/eco-friendly-way-disinfect-water-using-light/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ultraviolet light</a>. Reverse osmosis is among the "high-end" options, used to remove organic and inorganics from the water. While expensive, says Prasse, the method of forcing water through a semipermeable membrane is growing in popularity for systems that want to reuse wastewater for drinking water purposes.</p><p>Remucal notes that some treatment technologies may be good at removing a particular type of contaminant while being ineffective at removing another. "We need to think about the whole soup when we think about treatment," she says. What's more, Remucal explains, the mixture of contaminants may impact the body differently than any one chemical on its own. </p><p>Richardson's preferred treatment method is filtering the water with granulated activated carbon, followed by a low dose of chlorine.</p><p>Granulated activated carbon is essentially the same stuff that's in a household filter. (EWG recommends that consumers use a <a href="https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/reviewed-disinfection-byproducts.php#:~:text=EWG%20recommends%20using%20a%20home,as%20trihalomethanes%20and%20haloacetic%20acids." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countertop carbon filter</a> to reduce levels of disinfection by-products.) While such a filter "would remove disinfection by-products after they're formed, in the plant they remove precursors before they form by-products," explains Richardson. She coauthored a <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b00023" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019 paper</a> that concluded the treatment method is effective in reducing a wide range of regulated and unregulated disinfection by-products.</p><br>
Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992, and is still one of relatively few full-scale plants that uses the technology. Courtesy of Greater Cincinnati Water Works.<p>Despite the technology and its benefits being known for decades, relatively few full-scale plants use granulated active carbon. They often cite its high cost, Richardson says. "They say that, but the city of Cincinnati [Ohio] has not gone bankrupt using it," she says. "So, I'm not buying that argument anymore."</p><p>Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992. On a video call in December, Jeff Swertfeger, the superintendent of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, poured grains of what looks like black sand out of a glass tube and into his hand. It was actually crushed coal that has been baked in a furnace. Under a microscope, each grain looks like a sponge, said Swertfeger. When water passes over the carbon grains, he explained, open tunnels and pores provide extensive surface area to absorb contaminants.</p><p>While the granulated activated carbon initially was installed to address chemical spills and other industrial contamination concerns in the Ohio River, Cincinnati's main drinking water source, Swertfeger notes that the substance has turned out to "remove a lot of other stuff, too," including <a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-contamination-pfas-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PFAS</a> and disinfection by-product precursors.</p><p>"We use about one-third the amount of chlorine as we did before. It smells and tastes a lot better," he says. "The use of granulated activated carbon has resulted in lower disinfection by-products across the board."</p><p>Richardson is optimistic about being able to reduce risks from disinfection by-products in the future. "If we're smart, we can still kill those pathogens and lower our chemical disinfection by-product exposure at the same time," she says.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-disinfection-byproducts-pathogens/" target="_blank">Ensia</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649953730#/" target="_self"></a></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- Most Meat Will Be Plant-Based or Lab-Grown in 20 Years, Analysts ... ›
- Lab-Grown Meat Debate Overlooks Cows' Range of Use Worldwide ... ›
- Will Plant-Based Meat Become the New Fast Food? - EcoWatch ›
One city in New Zealand knows what its priorities are.
Dunedin, the second largest city on New Zealand's South Island, has closed a popular road to protect a mother sea lion and her pup, The Guardian reported.
piyaset / iStock / Getty Images Plus
- No Country Is Protecting Children's Health, Major Study Finds ... ›
- 'Every Child Born Today Will Be Profoundly Affected by Climate ... ›
By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
Earth had its second-warmest year on record in 2020, just 0.02 degrees Celsius (0.04°F) behind the record set in 2016, and 0.98 degrees Celsius (1.76°F) above the 20th-century average, NOAA reported January 14.
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for 2020, the second-warmest year the globe has seen since record-keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA. Record-high annual temperatures over land and ocean surfaces were measured across parts of Europe, Asia, southern North America, South America, and across parts of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. No land or ocean areas were record cold for the year. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information
Figure 2. Total ocean heat content (OHC) in the top 2000 meters from 1958-2020. Cheng et al., Upper Ocean Temperatures Hit Record High in 2020, Advances in Atmospheric Sciences
Figure 3. Departure of sea surface temperature from average in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W). Sea surface temperature were approximately one degree Celsius below average over the past month, characteristic of moderate La Niña conditions. Tropical Tidbits
- NASA and NOAA: Last Decade Was the Hottest on Record - EcoWatch ›
- Earth Just Had Its Hottest September Ever Recorded, NOAA Says ... ›