Is Los Angeles Ready for Bike Sharing?


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. 
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.  
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
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
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

  • Yes. Los Angeles is ready. (C+ average is a pass, after all)

    I am actually quite encouraged to see the notion of a bike-share program come up in Los Angeles…..although the points made by the distinguished bike advocates are well taken…..

    Clearly there is a deeper root problem when it comes to sharing the road that a bike-share program would not directly solve, but is that really reason enough to dismiss the idea entirely? I think not.

    A bike-share program created with a bit of cleverness that includes tweaks specific to the landscape of Los Angeles could provide an opportunity for the awareness of the viability of cycling to grow.

    Can we all agree that there would be a benefit to having Metro stations support bike-share programs? Or that providing the bikes to certain high density pockets around town would be a fun experiment?

    The fact that this discussion is even on the table could be taken as a sign of the shifting attitudes about the potential uses of the road.

    This strikes me as an opportunity to really push the powers that be over at LADOT to recognize at least the possibility of a road having multiple types of users.

    In a way, a bike-share program could serve as a platform through which to advertize the benefits of cycling. Safety could be an educational component of the program. If UCLA had a bike-share program, perhaps Prof. Cahn could lead an instructional workshop to interested first time and would be riders….

    If the cleverness and creativity wont come from those who rule LADOT from on high, surely it can come from the vast network of creative and intelligent folks who have already chosen to cycle in Los Angeles, despite the comically enormous risks to both life and limb.

    A bike-share program provides opportunities for growth. I hope we can find a way to tap into it here in our fair City of Automobile Traffic.

  • I just got the following email from Alex Kenefick from the LACBC board. Printed here with permission:

    We at LACBC are constantly confronted with DOT’s enforcement of autos
    as the primary means of transportation in the City of LA. It is
    refreshing and exciting to see some of the City Council members
    supporting a bicycle feasibility study to be conducted by them, but it
    flies in the face of the extreme bunker mentality of LADOT.

    If this motion is successful, LADOT may very well come out with a
    feasibility report saying that anything that doesn’t direct 100% of
    transportation dollars to moving autos quickly across our city on some
    utopian scheme of flying guideways, is impractical. We know that
    starving funding for bicycle projects is impractical, but we don’t
    have a lot of traction with LADOT; no past efforts have been great
    enough to flip that funding priority with LADOT.

    Michael is right, a first step would be to fully fund the existing
    LADOT bicycle program (which is currently laking about 5 out of 8
    staff members). Another thing would be to step of the progress on
    implementing the existing bicycle master plan, or to make some sort of
    meaningful pledge to implement the update when it comes out next year.
    So doing a lofty ‘velib’ style program seems a bit, well, lofty.

    But that’s where my opinion differs from Michael’s. I’m all for
    greenwashing when it comes to DOT, maybe some of that green will soak
    into their huge, bicycle unfriendly bureaucracy. If the elected
    officials of our city can pass a motion to change even a little part
    of LADOT’s priorities, even if it’s only for a short study, then I
    want to see that happen.

    At this point responsible bicycle advocates have to get behind a
    panoply of different bicycle approaches. LACBCs approach should be,
    and has been supportive of any efforts to improve bicycle amenities.
    We do have policy recommendations and best practices, but we are not
    in a position to be uncompromising… yet.

    So for now,
    Velib: YES
    Sharrows: YES
    Bike lanes: YES
    Separated Bike Path System: YES
    Ballona Creek safety: YES
    Finish the LARIO Trail: YES
    Build a contiguous bikeway along Expo: YES
    Make it easy to bike to the train station: YES
    Bikes on transit: YES
    Bikes on the freeway: pending the appropriate policy and law changes, then yes.

  • godoggo

    I bike around urban L.A. all the time. It could be safer, but I haven’t had any problems yet.

    I dislike taking the bus, and in any case there are some places buses don’t go, so for me to bike to and from Metro stations would be a perfect solution.

    So yes, they should make L.A. safer for bicyclists, and yes they should institute sharing. Do both as quickly as feasible. I don’t care which gets done first.

  • I think a bike sharing program would be awesome, however I also feel that they are kind of jumping the gun considering so little has been done for cycling infrastructure in LA. Considering the lack of even basic cycling accommodations in many areas, I have little confidence in the city being able to pull off a sharing network.

    As it stands many in Los Angeles own bikes and never use them because they are afraid. Or they drive their bike to some path and never set a wheel to the real streets. Our problem isn’t a lack of bikes, it’s a perception that riding a bike in LA will get you hurt or killed. My upstairs neighbor has a bike that collects cobwebs. If we can’t get even get people who own bikes to commute by bike how are we going to sustain a system of borrowing bikes.

  • lipstick on a pig. ok, bicycles are pigs (although, they are as great as bacon is delicious).

    but lets call this what it really is. advertising revenue for the city. they don’t care about bicycles, they just care about more money. lets not get ahead of ourselves and view this as progression for bicyclists.

    i say the city meets the needs of those already bicycling before it creates a massive fleet of ugly advercycles.

  • *aren’t

  • Advercycles? Really?

    Perhaps dismissing the program all together is a bit extreme? Don’t you think?

    Any and all avenues should be explored as Mr. Kenefick cleverly pointed out.

    What is the deal with the resistance?

    I suppose it is easier to say “They don’t like bikes and they are just in it for the money”…. than to give City Councilmembers an ounce of credit for bothering to put the agenda on the table.

    What on earth is so terrible about getting a bit of press by using a bike to make you look good?

    Anyone checked out Metro’s Measure R site yet? They are “using” the bicycle to make themselves look good as well. I say go for it!

  • Matt Gleason

    Hey pulsipher–
    Meat is murder.


  • I’m not opposed to it all together, I just feel it should be a lower priority than actual improvements to our road and cycling infrastructure which are worlds behind every where else that has been able to successfully start bike sharing programs. I’m still optimistic for the future of cycling in Los Angeles, but past performance on cycling issues by our city officials is not reassuring. I worry this may distract from what I feel are more important cycling concerns.

  • Alek F

    Los Angeles will be ready for a bike-sharing program
    only when CONDITIONS allow.
    Give me a break, we have no integrated bike lane network!!
    We have practically no safe bicycling conditions in the city,
    because sadly – LA is still predominantly a Car-obsessed city, unlike Paris or Washington DC. We have no adequate mass transit or bike facilities.
    Those infrequently seen Class II bike lanes (or even less frequently – Class I bike trails) may not be enough to implement bike sharing.
    So, I would suggest:
    STEP No. 1: Build a CITYWIDE NETWORK of Class I and Class II bike paths;
    STEP No. 2: Educate cyclists how to ride properly without endangering themselves and others;
    STEP No. 3: Implement bike sharing when Step 1 and Step 2 have been successful.

  • also, the only places where a bike sharing plan would actually be economically and financially feasible – are in santa monica and pasadena.

    i don’t think LA proper could support the program.

    i agree with alec F. it’s not that i hate the program, i just think it should sit below other priorities.

  • Reading the LACBCs update I asked myself the same question “is L.A. ready for a Shared Bike program?

    Unfortunately, the answer is no.
    We are not ready for bike sharing.

    I’m 100% down for anything that improves bike accessibly. But not for a program that wastes money and sends them message that investing in bicycle infrastructure is thowing money down a pie (in the sky) hole.

    Lets start with the basics!

    Consider that this motion was presented along side a bike harassment ordinance.
    That the level of ignorance, hostility, and aggression toward cyclists is so universal that a “special” law needs to be drafted so people know its illegal to throw shit at a cyclist proves that L.A. is not quite ready.

    How about we start with:


    Maybe those things aren’t quite as sexy as bike sharing, but any one of them will go a lot further toward making the streets safer and more ridable. When we have an infrastructure for bikes, then a robust bike sharing program will make a lot of sense.
    Right now, not so much.

  • Why not?
    Because, while we can multi-task; time, resources, and political capital are not infinite.
    We need to prioritize our efforts. And the list of priorities before rent-a-bikes is quite long.

  • Borfosaurus

    I agree with many of the comments that bicycle infrastructure must be met first for a program like this or it is likely to fail. However, how do we know if this programs effort might not prompt for momentum in the face lift of LA’s bicycle future?

    North America has been slower to embrace bike sharing systems as compared to Europe. –

    If LA becomes first to adopt this before other cities, perhaps that might excite the Major and other key players in really getting the ball rolling on making this city bicycle friendly quickly. Just food for thought.



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