Is Los Angeles Ready for Bike Sharing?

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A motion on today’s City Council Transportation Committee Agenda requires LADOT to examine whether or not the city should invest in a bike sharing program similar to those in Paris and Washington, D.C.  For those of you that don’t know, bike sharing is a program that provides short-term bike rentals in areas near transit hubs to encourage people to consider taking transit than using a rental bike as an alternative to driving.  The program has been so popular in some urban areas that Bikes Belong brought temporary bike share programs to St. Paul and Denver for the national political conventions.

However, many bike activists and politicians don’t believe Los Angeles is ready for a bike sharing program.  Councilman Tom LaBonge told Streetsblog in a late July interview that he believed that we needed to make the streets safer for bicyclists before worrying about programs such as bike sharing.

His view was echoed by two bike advocates we talked to last night.  Long time LACBC board member and member of the city’s Bike Advisory Committee, Kent Strumpell who told Streetsblog last evening:

While I am encouraged that the Transportation Committee will be
exploring the bike rental concept for LA, conditions here are
significantly different from those found in the European cities where
the Velib program has been successful.

Dr. Michael Cahn, a UCLA Lecturer in History who has assisted UCLA transportation Services in planning such a Bike Sharing Program, shared a similar sentiment:

…enthusiasm for such programs in LA is
misplaced. I believe that there is a political temptation of
green-washing, to put the cherry of the bicycle on top of a
transportation policy which simply does not accommodate the bicycle…I
do hope the feasibility study envisioned by the motion will teach the
city planners exactly this: it should send them back to their planners
and instruct them to accommodate bikes on our roads (complete streets),
start pricing parking to discourage driving, and once that work has
been done, a bike sharing program may be considered.

So what do you think, Streetsbloggers?  Is Los Angeles ready to make a leap towards bike sharing, or would it be putting lipstick on the pig that is our bike network?

Cahn’s and Strumpell’s full statements are available after the jump.

Dr. Michael Cahn:

Thanks for sharing this with us: I have been working on the bike
sharing phenomenon for a while, and consider myself a bit of an expert
in the area. I have advised UCLA on a similar idea in the course of
last year, and I have seen such programs in Europe (Germany, France
etc) I am also a Board Member of the LACBC, and it is my personal
opinion that enthusiasm for such programs in LA is misplaced. I believe
that there is a political temptation of green-washing, to put the
cherry of the bicycle on top of a transportation policy which simply
does not accommodate the bicycle. If I may continue to mix metaphors,
this to chase after the laurels of bike sharing, without biting into
the sour apple of proper bicycle infrastructure, without making driving
more difficult, and without parking more expensive. Bike-sharing
without the massive infrastructure investments which favor cycling and
discourage motorized transport, as they have been implemented in Paris
with great political energy, is a sham.

I do hope the feasibility study envisioned by the motion will teach the
city planners exactly this: it should send them back to their planners
and instruct them to accommodate bikes on our roads (complete streets),
start pricing parking to discourage driving, and once that work has
been done, a bike sharing program may be considered.

Again, it is not the lack of a bicycle which keeps people from cycling,
it is the perceived danger of cycling on these roads with these cars
that has to be addressed.

Kent Strumpell:

 

While I am encouraged that the Transportation Committee will be
exploring the bike rental concept for LA, conditions here are
significantly different from those found in the European cities where
the Velib program has been successful. 
There
are a few pockets of relatively higher levels of bicycle use in LA, but
nothing that compares to the rates of cycling seen in European cities.  
The
European cities also have much larger numbers of people who travel
primarily by transit and therefore find themselves in central city
areas without a car. 
The cities with Velib
are also more bicycle friendly than Los Angeles.  So, even though a
place like Downtown LA has a high concentration of transit commuters
and lots of destinations, the streets there can be intimidating to
inexperienced cyclists.
Finally, Europeans are
generally more experienced with cycling, so renting a bike will not be
a new experience.  In LA, a bike rental program may attract
inexperienced cyclists, ill prepared to deal with traffic and other
hazards. 
I suspect that these factors will
weigh against the city going forward with implementing such a program,
though there may be a specific location where a small-scale roll-out is
feasible.
The study may well confirm what we
already know: that our roads are so inhospitable to cycling that few
people consider it a viable alternative.  Deepening the realization of
how far we have to go to make cycling a viable choice for most
Angelenos may be the most valuable outcome of this study.

Photo: Noggin Nogged/Flickr