Bike Talk Recap: Bike Sharing Live and Die Based on the Planning Details

BikeTalk this Saturday featured an extended discussion about the technicalities, challenges, and beauties of a bike share programs. On the show we had Phil Brock, Santa Monica Parks and Rec commissioner, Ryan Rzepecki from with Social Bike, who are developing the intelligent locking system which can operate independently of return stations, Todd Loewenstein, Co-owner of Baiku Bikes, who will roll out a few stations in Manhattan Beach soon. Todd shared a lot of insight into the economics of these systems proposed a system of 12 criteria for a successful system. Also participating was Michael Cahn from Sustainable Streets, who raised some questions about the costs and specific benefits of these systems, and Andrea White from Long Beach Bike Station.

Despite some well publicized problems, Paris' Velib remains the most famous bike share program in the world. Photo:##http://www.flickr.com/photos/24oranges/3770980155/##24 Oranges/flickr##

Bike share programs are “really cool”, but looking closer you soon understand that they are also really complex and tricky. The trip structure needs to be right, the roll out density is crucial, maintenance, making sure that the bikes are evenly distributed, the relationship between number of bikes and number of return stations, etc. A poorly designed and underutilized program can end up with a cost for each trip which would be higher than a taxi ride.

While the program was billed as a Pro/Con debate, there was a lot of information (and very little music). One important learning moment had to do with the funding structure: Agency funding tends to favor bike share programs and similar capital expense projects, and they tend to disadvantage education and encouragement campaigns which would bring back on the road all those unused bicycles that stare at us from residential parking garages and balconies everywhere, slowly rusting in the sun.
Another learning moment was the notion that a working bike sharing program really functions as an additional dimension within the transportation system.
I came away from the program with a strengthened sense that bike sharing is not a Pro Con question, but the challenge is to make it work, and to embed it in a multi-pronged approach which includes equal attention
  • to connecting bike-owners to their forgotten bikes,
  • to improving the infrastructure,
  • to comprehensive educational strategies which allow all bike users to have a positive experience on the road
Bike sharing feels like a big compliment to the cycling population: You see, we are doing something for us. That makes these programs quite irresistible, comparable to the flattery implied in a well run bike valet program. They are exiting and cool, and even seasoned critics sometimes forget to evaluate if the public subsidy they sometimes attract is really the best use of money to overcome the widespread condition that has been called bike-retardation.
Some want more bike lanes, others want segregated facilities, some want bike education for all, and some want marketing and encouragement. The bicycle community wants all these things, and if a bike share program seems to hide behind the next corner, we need to make sure that everybody understands that this only a small part of the the overall package, and not the solution of all the ills a car centric environment produces.

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