Can There Ever Be Too Many Bikes?

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Submitted by Eric Britton:

Here’s a thought experiment for you. If you and I hate to see lots of parked cars dumped on city streets for which we have other and a lot better uses, should we love it when we see lots of parked bikes? Or might that be a sign of some kind of deeper systemic inefficiency to which we could usefully give a thought or two?

How do you feel when you see hundreds, or thousands, of bikes parked in one place? As a sustainability and bike person I always in the past found it a combination of wonderful, hopeful, and somehow vaguely scary. (And just about always for the very big lots or structures, extremely ugly.)

But now that I know a bit about shared city bikes, I look at them in an entirely different way. Now, above all, they give me a great feeling of waste. Unnecessary waste.

To help you think this through, click to the wonderful pics that Pascal van den Noort of Vélo Mondial has assembled of one mega bike parking facility in the center of Amsterdam. Luud Schimmelpennink, the father of the free bike movement with his White Bicycles in Amsterdam in the late sixties, tells us that this particular facility was originally built to accommodate a couple of thousand bikes, but today there are going on 4,000 parked there, fully twice planned capacity. Pascal’s photos give us a good feel for that. And studies show that barely 1,500 of them actually move on a given day.

Hmm. All those bikes just sitting there on valuable Amsterdam real estate that could be put to far better public uses. That must be costing the city a bundle.

Kind of makes you think that even Amsterdam might find some use in city bikes. And hey, they’re working on it.

Eric Britton, an American in Paris, founded the New Mobility Agenda in 1988 and the World City Bike Collaborative in 2005.

Photo by Pascal van den Noort

  • As a diehard rider in LA, it’s hard for me to imagine using any other bike than my own – the frankenstein combination of high end campy components, a Deore MTB front derailler, touring triple, and SPD pedals.

    But then again I ride in a place that kills your imagination for bikes. I can’t imagine feeling safe riding. I hope my imagination will adjust when LA becomes more bike friendly.

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