You just arrived in a large city, new to you and full of fascinating places to visit. You don’t want to deal with finding parking places for a rental car, but the things you want to see are too far apart for walking. Taking a taxi everywhere is much too expensive. You wander a bit and come across a bike rack full of identical bicycles. You’re in luck: the city has a bike-share program. A swipe of your credit card and you’re off, pedaling through town to see all the sights on your list.
Bike-share programs are a growing urban phenomenon. The first successful program, Velos Jaunes (Yellow Bikes) was started in 1974 in La Rochelle, France. During the 1990s, various projects were started in Europe and North America, but most were abandoned due to theft and vandalism of the bicycles. New programs have been started around the world, but abuses still plague the systems and add astronomically to program costs. Use of modern technology is helping to battle those problems. As of 2010, there were over 200 bike-share programs operating worldwide.
Why the interest in bike-share programs? For many cities, the groups starting bike-shares are attempting to reduce traffic congestion and the coincident noise and air pollution. According to a 2008 Sierra Club article, nearly half of all trips in the United States are three miles or less; more than a quarter are less than a mile. Mile for mile, these short trips are also the most polluting. Engines running cold produce four times the carbon monoxide and twice the volatile organic compounds of engines running hot. Not to mention that smog-forming (and carcinogenic) volatile organic compounds continue to evaporate from an engine until it cools off, whether the engine's been running for five minutes or five hours. Bicycle riding could replace many of these short commutes and thus help to reduce the carbon footprint of commuting. Bike-share programs may make cycling an option for many to whom it wasn’t previously available.
One successful program is Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C., started in the spring of 2010. With over 1,100 bicycles available, as of September 20, 2011, CaBi had over 18,500 annual and monthly members, over 70,000 casual users, and nearly 1,050,000 trips.
Denver Bike Sharing was developed out of the temporary bike share system Freewheelin’, used for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Denver’s program currently has 500 bicycles, but has goals to grow to over 2,000 bicycles and become a viable part of Denver’s transportation system. Their statistics show that the vast majority of bike-share users are of working age, college educated, above median income, and consider themselves healthy. Almost all users own a car and 80 percent own their own bicycles, yet they still find the bike-share system convenient to use.
If you’re interested in trying a bike-share program, find out if the city you’ll be in has one available. I was able to easily find out on the internet that these cities in the U.S. have bike-share programs: Washington, D.C., Denver, Boston, Miami, Minneapolis, Madison, Chicago, Des Moines, UC-Irvine, and New York City. Others are in development. Just a few other cities worldwide include Dublin, Paris, Cyprus, Montreal, Mexico City, Melbourne, Brisbane, Shanghai, and Hangzhou, China. One is sure to be in your area soon.
Ride safe and have fun!