Bike Share systems are springing up in cities around the world. From the larger cities of Paris and London to smaller ones, people are picking up communal bicycles and cycling to their destinations. All of a sudden people have more options. Many more trips can be made without the use of a car. Have a bag or some shopping with you? No problem. Just place it in the front carrier. Have a young child with you? No problem. Just park it in the front carrier. Have your girlfriend with you? No problem. Just place her in the front carrier and enjoy the trip talking with her. Just remember to keep your attention on the road, not her. For some, it is now more feasible to leave their cars at home and take transit most of the way and then cycle the rest. For others, they can walk, do some shopping, grab a bicycle, and then cycle further on their journey.
Bike Share: Redux of 1950’s Golf Clubs
This begs the question if Bike Share of 2010 is the golf club phenomena in the 1950’s. Is it the thing to do? For a spectrum of the public, the social nuance of
membership is important and maybe these enthusiasts are the ones deserting golf clubrooms for urban city streets with their shared bikes. As Velib in Paris has shown, using Bike Share is a social, even chic thing.
Why are cities jumping on this bandwagon even when the economic case for viability of Bike Share is still being questioned? In fact, many are still questioning or are just unaware of the economic or social cases supporting Bike Share . Maybe it is more a modern day matter of “keeping up with the Joneses”.
Bike Share is truly not a cycling project. It is more an extension of the transit system. It is part of the linearity of trips. No longer does one have to be tied to the routine of returning to a parked bike, or parked car if one is driving. Now one can just move forward and mix modes of walking, transit, and cycling with ease and transparency. Cycling can fill in very effectively the voids in transportation created with low-service level bus routes. It can fill in the gaps past distances where walking is comfortable.
However, the question still begged to be addressed is why are small populous cities of 25,000 or 50,000 people wanting to get into Bike Share The answer may be varied from the vanities of an election platform to meeting some very specific, tangible transportation or urban liveability opportunities.
A Modest Bike Share Project: Small Northeastern U.S. City
Just recently I had an opportunity to sit down with some community leaders from a downtown business association in a very small city and listen to their perspective on why they wanted Bike Share in their community. This was densely treed, New England style attractive city with brownstoned homes and with less than 30,000 residents and about 45,000 visitors annually. The city lays at the edge of a continental mountain range and is bounded by two wide, navigational rivers. There is a college community of 2,600 students on top of the hill. There is a vibrant bus system. There is a car network that did not dissect the urban core. Urban core streets are not over-car dependant. There is much on-street parking. The fall colours on the deciduous trees took over the vista at this time of the year.
These leaders had thought carefully about Bike Share for their community. They recognized that the urban sprawl development model of North American cities, had come to its end. They recognize that more and more people would realize that they personally had to make lifestyle changes. It would be time to move back into the urban core. These leaders want their city to be the leaders in this new movement of revitalizing their city into the model of the 21st century for their valley and metro area. They see Bike Share as part of this leadership.
These leaders had developed an understanding of their customer base and selected a segment for their first foray into Bike Share. A strategy emerged with focusing on a customer segment and corridor where sufficient Bikes could be placed to create a mental image of an actively used system. Bicycles would be very visible even to those who would be non-cognitive to moving objects about them. Drivers would see the bike in motion. They would be drawn to give cycling and Bike Share a try. Usage demand would build the support for expansion within the city, the metro area, and the valley.
Today’s systems focus on a universal-type bicycle for a defined range of people but leave out other segments of a potential customer base for Bike Share. For expansion of the customer base, bicycles design would be expanded as well and drift into specialized designs. The Paris-style systems focus on daily turnover of bicycles. For expanding the customer base in a small city, bicycle turnover performance expectations may be in a different direction.
Creativity was recognized for funding a Bike Share system within a small community by using all available avenues. User pricing would be dictated by the reality of the community. Funding support from government and private sources supplemented by job support programs would contribute to the funding package.
The leaders recognized that the customers for Bike Share would be today’s drivers on the roads. Since these drivers are not cycling today, it would take more than just giving them a bicycle to get them on the road. Bike Share systems tend to be part of an overall program, not just providing bicycles to the populous at very little cost. New users would also need to feel that the cycling environment is conducive to cycling. Drivers would then be more receptive to the new way of this form of mobility with its perceived safer cycling environment, with its trip efficiency, with its close-by parking at destinations, with its focus on personal separation from cars, and with its higher visibility to others, especially through intersections.
With a supportive program, Bike Share would flourish and develop local bike rental business along with increased sales of bicycles and accessories in local stores. Retailers, at their cash registers, would observe their clientele forgoing stylish hair for stylish helmets with striking colours and decals. Scarcity of car parking would be replaced with bikes parked on sidewalks and with full bike racks in front of stores.
Over the last three years, Third Wave Cycling has been following the bike sharing evolution.
Partial list of bike share systems in large and small towns.