Chicago is launching its first major bike-sharing program this month and Washington, DC is growing its from 120 bikes to 1,100 bikes.
Back when I was the executive director of a non-profit promoting clean transportation (mostly bicycling) and sustainable development, I thought that bike-sharing could become one of the biggest, most popular, and most effective bicycling efforts across the nation (and even the world). That is, that it had the potential to get the most people biking instead of driving of nearly any other bicycle-oriented effort.
But I did have one concern — that cities implementing such programs would do so on such a small-scale that they wouldn’t be effective.
Paris’ Bike-Sharing Program — Vélib’
Paris’ stellar bike-sharing program that has gotten a ton of international attention and praise had 20,000 bicycles at about 1,500 stations at the end of its first year. In its first one hundred days, it had 10 million rentals. In about 6 months, the number of bicyclists in Paris nearly doubled! The program transformed transportation in Paris: “In the space of one year the vélib’ has become a Parisian institution, giving the streets and boulevards of the French capital a vague air of Amsterdam or Cambridge.”
Chicago’s New Bike-Sharing Program — not so big
Chicago is the latest US city to jump on the bike-sharing bandwagon, which makes me very excited. But at the same time, seeing that the program will only have 100 bikes, makes me very disappointed. How can the program have a strong effect on transportation in the city with only 100 bikes? How can it even be useful to more than a few people?
Leonor Vivanco of ChicagoNow writes, “Mayor Daley has been interested in bike-sharing since he saw it in Paris in 2007,” but the fact is, Mayor Daley isn’t going to see anything like what he saw in Paris with this program.
Washington, DC’s Bike-Sharing Program — SmartBike
Washington, DC was the first city in the US to install one of these sophisticated 3rd generation bike-sharing programs and it went the same route as Chicago is now going. SmartBike, as it is called, was started by the same company that hosts the Paris program, but it started with just 120 bikes at 10 stations.
Luckily, the folks in Washington, D.C. have come to the conclusion now that the program should be much bigger and it is growing to 1,100 bikes at 114 stations,… a little better.
Can a US City Be Brave and Foresighted and Start a Big Bike-Sharing Program?
Of course, people in these US cities want to try getting into this arena in small steps to be cautious. And after successful “pilot programs” like that in DC, the small systems can expand. But if you want a bike-sharing program to truly be useful as a transportation alternative, I think you need to realize that there are many destinations in a city and you need bikes in numerous locations to really make it a transportation program (not just a fun little side-attraction). Paris didn’t start with 100 or 120 bikes. It started with a bang. And the results have followed. Barcelona did the same. Why can’t any US cities step up like this?
Denver launched a 500-bike bike-sharing program on Earth Day of this year and both Minneapolis and Boston are planning to open 1,000-bike programs as well later this year, so things are moving in the right direction. But still, 1,000 bikes compared to 20,000 bikes… it would be nice to see a US city implement a program of a similar size.
Ok, that’s my rant on bike-sharing in the US. Truthfully, I’m very happy to see these programs starting, and although such programs don’t have the eye-catching appeal of naked bike rides, I think they have the potential to really change people’s perspective about the possibility of using the bicycle for our everyday transportation purposes.
I just wish one of our big cities would try to start one like the Paris program, especially since they all talk about their inspiration coming from the Paris program.
Photo Credit: thisisbossi via flickr