Friday, January 18, 2008

Blizzard Bikers in Philly - A Forum on BikeSharing

OK, it wasn't exactly a blizzard, but it was a snowy and slushy yesterday here in Philly. Friends and I attended a program on bringing bikesharing to Philadelphia. We were expecting a pretty paltry turn-out and were astounded to see a full-house. And our cool new wonky mayor, Michael Nutter, addressed the crowd, emphasizing how important sustainability is for the world and our city. The host asked how many had biked (in the snow, on a cold January night) to the event, and about 100 raised their hands. Yikes. Something is really going on here.
Three mayvens from other bike-share programs shared a lot of fascinating information. BikeSharing is an old concept, but recent advances in swipe card technology have made it feasible. Biking is user friendly, decreases traffic congestion and CO2 emissions, improves the life of the commons and increases social connection, and promotes healthy citizenry.

There are many deterrents to biking, though - scary traffic, bike security, and general accessibilty - not easy to schlep a bike on a train or bus. But biking infrastructure is improving. As Gilles Vesco, the Lyons bike sharing mucky-muck explained, it's a chicken-and-egg problem. People don't want to bike if there aren't safe infrastructures in place, like bike lanes, bike parking, driver ed, etc. But infrastructure doesn't get created if there aren't sufficient numbers of bikers. It takes civic planning and commitment to re-engineer a city's culture. This has been successfully done in Lyons, and Paris has famously followed suit. The picture above is from the Paris Velib bike system. If you click on it, you can see amazing detail of the bikes and the parking bike vendor system.

A few bits of data intrigued me. If there are two bikers on a street, their safety increases by 33%. In other words, once drivers start to expect to see bikes, they begin to adjust their driving habits. Another intriguing, and encouraging, Lyons discovery: once the city introduced 2000 bikes, private biking increased by 80%! The system solves a number of problems. You pick your bike up at one station and can drop it off at another, so you don't have to bike round-trip. They're easy to park, so you don't have to spend a lot of time looking for a decent place to lock up your bike. You use a charge card, so it's easy to pay for. These systems are ideal for relatively flat, densely populated areas. Like cities. Washington and Vancouver are setting up just such systems, and many other cities are joining the movement. Hail to Philadelphia, which already has over 200 miles of bike lanes. If you're local and want more info, check out our Bicycle Coalition.

Just one problem, as far as I'm concerned: the bikes do not ride up hills for you. Maybe someday they'll add electric bikes.... If you've biked in one of the cities with a bikeshare system, tell us what you thought.

picture from

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I live in Portland, which is a very bicycle-oriented place. The infrastructure is very bike-friendly, too, so much has been spent to add bike lanes to streets and so on. Our buses have bike racks on their fronts, and light rail cars have bike hangers inside.
Here's a little article that explains what happened to Portland's "Yellow Bike" program from 1995 specifically though. It failed. People walked off with the (astoundingly identifiably painted) bikes. The more bikes that got put out on street corners, the more bikes got swiped.

When looking for a good explanation of what happened to the bike share program exactly, I found this article about various bike share program/case studies that you may or may not have seen already:
The current state of bicycle-motor vehicle relations in Portland is complicated and not all lovey-dovey by any means. There have been attitude problems on both sides -- and it isn't the motor vehicle drivers who have died in road incidents, obviously.
The leading advocacy organization in Oregon is called the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (, which I am a fan of. Their programs and advocacy efforts might be worth checking out for ideas. See "the BTA at work" link on their site.

Lastly, here's the city's office of transportation bike info page:

All of this is probably way more than you envisioned for comments! I'd be glad to talk to you about it though.