The Transformative Potential of Bike Sharing

Can a bike-sharing program transform a city? To mark the second anniversary of the Vélib system in Paris, Streetsblog Network member World Streets has a post arguing that it can, if it’s done on a sufficient scale:

velib_station2.jpgOne of the complaints currently being voiced in the UK press about
the new public bike start-up in the city of Bristol is that it is too small, insufficiently visible and generally hard to get at — and that it thus fails to achieve the level of massive use that is necessary if what you want is a city transformation project. Is that what your public bicycle project is supposed to do? Transform your city?

It can, you know. Not all by itself, of course. But if you put it together with a carefully thought-out integrated package of new mobility measures, you can create a powerful component of the transformational process.

The World Streets post includes several links to videos about Vélib, including one from the PBS e2 series on transport that aired last fall (and one from Streetfilms). Good food for thought as New York and other cities in the US and around the world study and implement their own programs.

Another post that caught our eye on the network this morning was Copenhagenize‘s proposal for a "Driving Kills" PSA campaign. It wouldn’t just focus on the toll of crashes, either:

driving_kills_audi_emissions.pngIn Denmark, 4000 people die every year because of the health hazards related to cars — and that’s ten times greater than the number of people actually killed in car accidents. Respiratory illnesses, heart disease, stress-related illnesses caused by noise pollution, etc.

Very few people are aware that the levels of dangerous microparticles from exhaust are actually higher INSIDE the car than if you’re cycling next to it. So let’s focus on this fact and hopefully encourage motorists to think twice about their actions.

Shouldn’t we have rules dictating that all advertisments for automobiles must have clearly visible warning labels? There are a variety of smoking
texts that can be applied to the car health warnings.

Also, Biker Chicks of West Chester has a rant about the way bike shops treat older women — don’t they want more people on bikes? And WashCycle challenges men to help fight the harassment women sometimes face when they go out for a ride.

  • I pray for a big NYC bike sharing program. The idea of not having to think about whether or not to cart around my 30 lbs of locking equipment is a beautiful dream. If big enough, it would also eliminate the secure parking problem, which would instantly dramatically increase the number of people biking in NYC, which of course has ten thousand benefits.

  • if its done it needs to be done right, and that means big.
    needs to everywhere, convenient locations, with though put into “can this replace someone’s commute, or greatly reduce & simplify it…will someone use this to get from here to there for practical purposes etc”

    don’t make it strictly a recreational, feel good program that’s great for PR but not very practical..don’t make it a tourist trap..and don’t make it only another perk for residents of Chelsea…or Park Slope…don’t put a station only on “certain” sides of central/prospect parks, etc etc

    put it where someone can walk out of their house, walk to a nearby bike, and from there get to a bike station near work..or at least bike to a bike stations at major transit hub from which point they can get on an express train.

  • Why would a bike share exponentially increase bicycling? Let me count the ways . . .

    (1) Multi-leg mass transit commute: bike to the subway, eliminate the bus leg(s).

    (2) Rain in the forecast: Bicycle in the fair weather, take the subway or cab it in the other.

    (3) Running late and can’t find a cab or a cab’s too slow because of heavy traffic: Just hop on a bike.

    (4) Traveling with others who don’t/can’t bike: Drop off the kids at their friends by bus, subway or cab, then hop on a bike.

    (5) Visitors from out of town: rent them each a bike to show them around without having to go to Central Park to do it.

    (6) Just starting to consider biking, but out of shape or uncomfortable cycling in the city after dark: Bike your commute in the downhill/daytime direction, take mass transit or other employer-provided transit home.

    How many “bike share moments” have I missed?

  • (7) Bike to the bar, intoxicate oneself, take transit home.
    (8) Dress up nicely for client meeting, take cab to preserve creases, bike home.
    (9) Sick passenger? Leave subway station on blocked line, bike to parallel line, resume rail travel.
    (10) Bike needs repairs? Ride casualty bike to store, “borrow” from bike share for getting around the remainder of the day.
    (11) Shopping for heavy, bulky furniture? Ride bike-share to retail outlet (or flea market), take cab home with purchases.

  • There is more coverage of the Bristol Scheme on
    Bristol Traffic:
    Green Bristol :

    Where it would be handy was if the schemes in different towns were integrated: if you were registered in one city, you could use another’s bikes. This would make visiting other cities by train and bus much easier, as you’d pick up a bike at a destination.

  • If NYC does a bike share transit connections and mass scale are key, which is why it would probably be better served as an arm of the MTA instead of the City. Metrocards would be the best and simplest tool for “borrowing” them, and the large quantities of unused underground space inside of cut and cover stations (like the G and the Queens Blvd lines) could be used as Bicycle Parking lots.

  • viking, Metrocard compatability is a fabulous idea, but I would not want to give the bike share program to MTA. Keep the program under NYC DoT control where there is at least the chance that it would be responsive to local needs, not those of the regional constituency that MTA purports to serve. If MTA can make a deal with Port Authority for metrocard compatibility on PATH it can make a similar deal with NYC DoT on a bikeshare.

  • gecko

    #3 BicyclesOnly, “2) Rain in the forecast: Bicycle in the fair weather, take the subway or cab it in the other.”

    While there are a lot of fair weather sailors there are others who enjoy an awful lot of the stuff that nature throws at us as sailors, skiers, surfers, cyclists (lookup the Bike Iditarod) etc. and pay good money for it to boot; here we get if for free!

    Bad weather can be fun especially, when you’re used to dealing with it; . . . and, can always duck inside somewhere.

  • If some nonprofit were to finance the creation and rollout of a big enough bike sharing program, I’d donate money to the cause.

  • I hear ya, gecko. I’ve found mayself bicycling in the rain more times than I’d like to admit–and I’m loathe to admit it mainly because most people think bicycling the rain is nuts. I’m fine of those other people want to limit their bicycling to fair weather, and a bike share program facilitates them doing so. I have no doubt that once these folks get started riding regularly for transportation, in no time they will be headed down the slippery slope into everyday bicycling, regardless of weather.

  • Doug

    Barcelona’s “Bicing” program is also a good model for this. It’s for residents only — so as not to shut down businesses that rent bikes to tourists — is very cheap, and is perfect for bike trips of 30 minutes or less, which is about all the time most people need for their bike errands in that city anyway.

    More info:

  • Tony

    folks, a testimony from DC, where the bike sharing system is low density and ineffective: it does more harm than good, at least short term, to roll out a small-scale share program. the perception here in town is that it’s some weird program for enthusiasts with no practical relevance–and that’s when people even know it exists. plans were made to expand it this summer, and the proposals were finally moving in the right direction (more density), but they’ve been postponed.

    so, in short, don’t do it the DC way.

  • glenn

    One of the great aspects of a bike sharing program is not intuitive: Slower Cyclists. When I have used bike shares the thing that you really feel different is the single gear, the heaviness of the bike and the usually super-thick tires. All of this slows you down a bit and makes you a more plodding cyclist. I think that’s a good thing for the cycling community to consider that bike sharing increases cycling numbers on the streets and slows them down, making them more predictable to pedestrians. It also makes biking seem more accessible than the Lycra crowd makes it seem. And yet as slow as you go on a bike, you’re still going 3-4 times faster than walking

  • gecko

    #13 glenn, ” . . . Slower Cyclists.”

    Nice observation. Just wonder whether the New York City public bicycle system would be better served by a diversity of bicycles, some typical of other systems as you describe, and others like tricycles for people who are not completely comfortable on standard upright bicycles.

    Also allowing people to use their own bikes in the system may have significant advantages; perhaps in one sense the way people can select and own their cell phones provided by a wireless service provider; in another sense; adapting their own bikes to be compatible with the system (to include GPS, automatic parking facilities, etc.).

  • ShawRes

    Another DC resident here. I agree with Tony more or less, but I know that this program will absolutely take off as soon as they start expanding the number of stations. A number of people I’ve spoken with have said that once there is a station within five blocks, they’ll be all over it.

    Plus, judging from some of the development proposals, it seems as if the DC gov’t is basically mandating that every new development plan include (and pay for) a bike share kiosk. I think that’s great.

    So, right now, Tony’s on the mark. Hopefully he’s wrong by this time next year!

  • Zvi

    Surprised that no one has mentioned the Bixi system in Montreal. It was rolled out on a large scale this year and has already surpassed all expectations. They will be advancing the next phase of operations (300 stations/3000 bikes) already this year.

    That being said, there are still some serious operational issues which urgently need to be addressed. Particularly relevant to NYC is the issue of theft. There is a certain technique (which is even circulating on YouTube now) whereby one can ‘crack’ a docking station and steal a bike. Not only has this resulted in the loss of many bikes, but the docking station then becomes non-functional as well. Major stations with multiple docking slots are being rendered completely non-functional! It is no longer easy to find a bike, nor easy to find a space to return it afterward. They are in ‘crisis mode’ at the moment and replacing virtually every single docking station in the entire system, but things had really become completely disfunctional.


Theft and Vandalism Just Not a Problem For American Bike-Sharing

Even as bike-sharing spreads across the United States, it remains dogged by one persistent doubt. Critics, and even some boosters, fear that the bikes will be routinely stolen and vandalized. It’s time to stop worrying about crime, however. In America’s new bike-sharing systems, there have been essentially no such problems. Fears that public bikes will […]

Bike-Share: Not Just for French Commies

In Montreal, theft is “not a major problem” for the bike-share network. Photo: TreeHugger. The Times ran a piece on Vélib’s growing pains this weekend. The story is more thoroughly reported than the hatchet job we saw from the BBC back in February — no claims that bike-share in Paris will flame out quickly this […]

Help Wanted: Streetswiki Writing Talent

Description: As a part of Streetsblog’s impending redesign we are launching a new web site called Streetswiki. Streetswiki is a free, web-based, community-created encyclopedia dedicated to sharing knowledge about sustainable transportation policies, practices and ideas from around the world. Like Wikipedia, its articles will be written and edited by anyone with a bit of unique […]

How Do You Grade a Bike-Share System?

Bike-share has exploded in the last decade — and in North America, just in the last few years. What started as a shaky concept in Amsterdam in the 1960s has matured into a viable transit option worldwide, with 600 systems offering more than 600,000 bikes. The nonprofit Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) is […]

Happy Birthday, Vélib

Here’s another transportation policy success story from France. The Vélib bike-sharing system celebrates its one-year anniversary today. In April, Streetfilms’ Elizabeth Press was in Paris to learn more about it. Here is her video and report: On July 15, 2007 Paris debuted the world’s largest self-service "bicycle transit system" called Vélib outdoing previously designed bike […]

How Paris is Beating Traffic Without Congestion Pricing

Biking by the Seine during car-free hours on the Georges Pompidou Expressway. The mayor of a global metropolis, elected to his first term in 2001, set out to reduce driving and promote greener modes of transportation in his city. Congestion pricing turned out to be unfeasible, because influential political forces in the suburbs believed, rightly […]