Bicycles are one of our oldest and most enduring forms of carbon-neutral transportation, but it is only within the last five years or so that they have been re-evaluated as key pieces of our urban transit infrastructure, rather than fun recreational toys.
Bike-sharing programs embrace the budding concept of "collaborative consumption," in which traditional capitalism is replaced by networks of consumers who band together via the Internet to provide shared needs.
Examples of collaborative consumption abound, especially in more progressive and tech-savvy cities. On Craigslist, people shop for used furniture, job postings, and even casual sex! The free, minimalist, and communal nature of Craiglist and other online classifieds has spelled death for the local news business. ZipCar provides a shared, publicly available fleet of cars for short trips in urban centers, so regular people can avoid the expense and hassles of car ownership. Travelers increasingly use Couchsurfing instead of booking hostel rooms, creating a stable network of peer-reviewed, intimate accommodations, and even lifelong friendships along the way. Urban gardeners aching to get a plot of land and frustrated by the lack of public garden space have taken to "garden-sharing", where homeowners advertise their open space via iPhone applications.
Let's go around the horn and take a look at some of the big developments taking off in American bike-sharing sytems:
A $7.9 million pilot project is set to provide bikes in San Francisco and along the Caltrain corridor in San Jose, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Redwood City for use by registered subscribers. Over 1,000 bikes are scheduled to be available in late 2011.
The system is aiming to replicate the success of European bike-sharing, with automated charging stations and annual, daily, or monthly subscription fees for users, along with hourly rates. Like many of the most famous systems, the first 30 minutes would be free of charge, to encourage riders to use the system for short trips close to home.
The pilot program would begin with about 500 bikes and 50 stations in the San Francisco city center, focusing on the City Center, Tenderloin, Market Street, and Transbay Terminal areas. An additional 400 bikes would go into the urban centers of CalTrain corridor south of the city.
After the program is fully operational by 2013, the bike-sharing system in the Bay Area is planned to expand to over 13,000 bikes! 2,750 of the bikes would be in San Francisco and another 10,000 in Santa Clara County. This is on the scale of the famous Velib system in Paris, which boasts 20,000 bikes.
NEW YORK CITY
New York is taking steps to create the largest bike-sharing system in the United States, one that eventually will turn a profit through advertising with a public-private partnership. According to Transportation Nation, the system will have 10,000 bikes available 24 hours a day by 2012.
“New York is made for bike share,” said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives,” so this announcement is very exciting. The characteristics that make bicycling an everyday form of transportation, New York has in spades: density, flat terrain, temperate climate, lots of short trips and an on the go lifestyle. This nimble and inexpensive way to get around will fit easily into New Yorkers’ constantly shifting errands and schedules.”
By using wireless technology, including a searchable map of solar-powered bike stations using GPS, New York believes it can replicate the success of the London system and quickly turn a profit.
In our nation's capital, an earlier bike-sharing system run by SmartBike DC will be replaced by a newer expanded system, offering 1,100 bikes and 114 stations in the District and Arlington County. This is a dramatic increase from the current 120 SmartBike stations.
Treehugger has more details on the upgrade:
"The new system will allow a wider range of membership opportunities. Annual memberships will cost $80, double the current SmartBike rate of $40, though for a much better service. People can also purchase monthly memberships for $30 or daily ones for $5. All memberships allow unlimited bike rentals, free for the first 30 minutes with usage fees (levels not yet specified) after 30 minutes."
Minneapolis has just launched Nice Ride, the largest bike-sharing system in the US to date. It debuted in June 2010 with 700 bikes and 65 stations, where riders swipe a credit card, take out a bike, and go. As with other popular programs, long-term subscriptions can be purchased online for the low price of $60 per year. That's lower the cost of Netflix, people!
Denver's program launched in April 2010, with 400 bikes and 42 stations. Already, it has logged 8,000 registered users and 800 annual members.
One important byproduct of the rise of privately-funded bike-sharing systems is that they help point to the overwhelming lack of bike infrastructure in most US cities. Simply by creating a critical mass (no pun intended) of everyday cyclists, cities are quickly made aware of where the street networks need the greatest improvements to accommodate them.
Miami, or as I like to refer to it, the "whitest city in Latin America," has started its "Deco Bike" system in posh Miami Beach. The program boasts 100 solar-powered stations and over 1,000 bikes. It claims that a single station can meet the needs of up to 200 commuters who would otherwise travel by Lambourghini. Not bad, Miami! You just might redeem yourself after your stint as Jersey Shore South.
Seattle is predictably falling behind in the race to provide public transit alternatives. We are good at one thing, though: Feasibility Studies! The City of Seattle commissioned a feasibility study through the UW Department of Urban Design & Planning. The study identifies possible corridors and phases where stations could be installed, potential ridership, and limitations. Any chance we could expedite this process we are so infamous for, Seattle?