CitiBike only started yesterday, but I tried it out (of course) and can report back:
Don’t worry about safety. I wore a helmet, many people won’t, it’s all OK. There’s a paradox here: the less safe you look and feel, the wider a berth cars give you. If I’m zooming down the street on a singlespeed, taxis will happily zoom past me, with inches to spare. But if I’m wobbling down the street on a CitiBike, not so much.
In fact, there’s very little evidence that helmet use reduces bike-injury rates. Certainly if you fall on your head, you want to be wearing a helmet. But CitiBikes, for one, are big and heavy and much less precarious than most bikes. They’re hard to fall off of, and they make it almost impossible to go flying over the handlebars.
Similarly, CitiBikes are not very maneuverable, and the brakes are dreadful. That (as well as their sheer size and clunkiness) forces you to go slowly and not try anything stupid like weaving in and out of traffic. It also forces you to stop at red lights, which is a good thing.
In fact, CitiBiking is a new form of urban biking. On my regular bike, I can generally be pretty certain that I will get from A to B faster than any other form of transport. On a CitiBike, I can’t. My regular bike is like a car, but faster and nimbler; riding a CitiBike is more like being a faster pedestrian. It’s not for people in a hurry, although there are still lots of trips where it’s going to end up faster than a taxi or public transport.
So far, at least, CitiBiking is just as convenient as I’d hoped: there are stations everywhere, and they all seem to have both bikes and empty parking slots. The app was glitchy on day one, but it should fix itself soon; I hope it starts including bike directions from A to B as well. And of course there are all the endemic conveniences of bikeshare schemes, most importantly the ability to do one-way trips when it starts to rain, or when you have too much to drink, or etc etc.
That said, the tourists haven’t descended yet. CitiBike right now is available only to members, which means enthusiastic New Yorkers who know what they’re doing. When the newbies start hitting the streets, things might get worse. I’m optimistic, though.