I want to talk about bikeshare today. An article from Streetsblog USA came across my feed this morning that made me think about it again. The article explains how bikeshare is growing but that the growth is limited to just a handful of cities. When I look at the chart that accompanies it, the growth appears to be limited to one city, in fact, and that city is New York.
If that is indeed the case, it begs the question… Is bikeshare something most cities should be pursuing? More on that in a minute.
I’ve used bikeshare in two cities (Boise and Indianapolis) and have observed it in many others including Chicago, Nashville, Omaha, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and Toronto. These comments are based on what I have seen for myself and as always I might be wrong.
The bikeshare bikes I used were comfortable. They were durable and somewhat clunky, but relatively easy to ride. The Indianapolis bike had some deferred maintenance. It pulled to the right a little.
The two systems were completely different. Boise used a traditional lock that you carried with the bike. Indianapolis required you to dock the bike to lock it. As a practical matter, either way is fine and it only took a minute to figure out each system.
In the places where I’ve ridden and also the places where I’ve just observed, bikeshare strikes me as more of a tourist amenity than a practical tool for commuters or people who might otherwise rely on bicycles for transportation. The exception was Chicago. People in Chicago were taking care of business on their Divvy bikes.
Everywhere else, they were either riding for pleasure or they weren’t riding at all. We were in Pittsburgh on the first nice day of spring and there were hundreds of people on bikeshare bikes. We visited Toronto in late summer and although bikes were everywhere in the urban core, I didn’t see one person on a bikeshare bike. The same was true of Nashville and Omaha…no takers.
My takeaway from the Streetsblog article is that bikeshare is only growing in one US metro, and that metro is completely different than every other city across the land. It’s far more dense, population-wise. People there are pre-disposed to share transportation where in most other places they are not.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t embrace it. What I’m saying is that most cities should think long and hard before they invest in a bikeshare scheme that will be either underutilized or used primarily by tourists. It sends the wrong message either way. Bicycles are transportation, not a toy, thrill ride or gimmick. That’s what we have to move towards if we’re ever going to change broader conceptions of who we are and what we do.