At a tightly coiled Citi Bike announcement, more questions than answers

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Wolfson and Sadik-Khan in DUMBO. (Dana Rubinstein)
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Today, the city's transportation department summoned reporters to Brooklyn for an announcement about a long awaited public bike-share program.

Here's the information they wanted, through us, to convey: members of the public can now sign up for year-long memberships to use one of 6,000 three-speed "Citi Bikes" now being stationed at 330 stations across Brooklyn and Manhattan. Cyclists with  annual memberships will soon be able to take unlimited rides of up 45 minutes for an annual cost of $95, plus tax.

The program replicates those already in operation in Montreal, Paris, London, Denver, Miami and Washington, among other major cities. Which is fine.

But the execution so far has been poor, with a rollout that has been delayed multiple times, accompanied by a weird opacity from the city that has exacerbated the sense that things have, somehow, gone wildly off-plan.

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Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who has built more than 300 miles of bike lanes in five years and is generally a hero to transportation advocates in New York City, made the announcement today at one of her pedestrian plazas in DUMBO, and following her remarks, she opened the floor up to questions from the press.

So now that they're announcing people can sign up for bikeshare, "When's it going to start?" asked one reporter.

"In May," said Sadik-Khan.

"May what?" he asked.

"In May," she said.

Pressed further, she said, "No, there’s no problem. We’re just announcing in May."

Josh Robin of NY1 asked Sadik-Khan if she could answer a question she's been asked repeatedly, about the cause of the delays.

"There's no delay. We’re announcing that this is rolling out in May, which is what we've said all along. And it’s gonna continue to roll out in May."

That's not true: the city originally said that the bikes would be ready last July, then pushed the start-date back to March of this year, then, following Hurricane Sandy, the city finally set a goal of May.

Other cities that have contracted with the same company to start bike-share programs have faced similar delays.

Sadik-Khan said the department had no ridership estimates, which seems impossible, given the department's need to allocate bikes according to presumed demand.

Nor did she have any particular thoughts on how the city was preparing to handle the eventuality of bikeshare accidents.

"Actually, cycling in this city has never been safer," said Sadik-Khan. "As we put more bike lanes up, we’ve seen more cyclists and we’ve seen the rate of injuries remain flat. So more people on their bikes is actually better for safety on the streets of New York."

Last July, when New York Times transportation reporter Matt Flegenheimer asked what those original software problems were about, a spokesman told him, "All we’re saying is, refer to previous statements on this, including the mayor’s."

His story's headline: "On delay in bike-share program, city gives few details beyond 'software.'"

Today, during the press conference, deputy mayor Howard Wolfson, who stood patiently to Sadik-Khan's side while she parried skeptical questions from frustrated reporters, tried to come to her rescue.

"I would bet that when our system is up and running over the summer, we will significantly oustrip any other city in the country in terms of usage," he said. "So I would suggest that the day after it launches, two days, three days, a week, if you’re out interviewing people and asking them whether they like it, if they’re using it, nobody’s gonna say, 'Oh I wish it had been a year earlier' or 'why wasn’t it in March.' They will be happy to have it. They will be using it. It will be an enormously successful program. It will be a huge part of this mayor’s legacy and it will be something that New Yorkers will enjoy in years and decades to come."