We know that bike-sharing programs get people to switch from driving to bicycling. We know that good bike-sharing programs increase bicycle commute rates dramatically. We know that bike-sharing programs keep the air cleaner and citizens healthier. But new research has also found that bike-sharing programs improve street life.
“Bike share stations are ideal triangulators,” David M. Nelson and David Leyzerovsky of the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) write. “They’re natural conversation-starters, attract a stream of diverse users at all times of day & night, and act as casual landmarks that concentrate activity. Presented with this entirely new element of public infrastructure, resourceful citizens are re-purposing stations for convenience and fun.”
Nelson and Leyzerovsky noted that they used their “historical grounding in the observational methods of William Holly Whyte” to observe and understand how New York City’s CitiBike program helps (or not) with place-making in the city. In particular, they wanted to know if the CitiBike stations added to “the sociability and amenability of the places they occupy.”
As you know from the headline and intro, the PPS researchers did find that many of these stations added value in that way. For a collection of fun and interesting anecdotes about that, check out the full PPS article. It includes a number of very useful insights.
I was also happy to see that they observed people using the station maps in ways I have used such maps at bike-sharing stations in other cities — to actually find my way around. “At Joralemon and Adams Streets in downtown Brooklyn, a queue of lost individuals formed to use the neighborhood map on the station’s kiosk. A couple of good-natured locals helped everyone to find where they were going by pointing to various destinations on the map. Bikeshare stations’ value as pedestrian wayfinding signage was repeatedly apparent in our observations, and cannot be overstated.”
Also, their use as landmarks or meeting places was an interesting utilitarian use I had not thought much about before… even though I may have used stations in Wrocław in that way myself. From the PPS article: “Along the same lines, the stations are also used as rendezvous points. At Petrosino Square, three gentlemen had clearly made plans to meet up at the station. The square itself is large enough that the sight of companions could be obscured by trees, but the station, with its bright blue and towering photovoltaic, is the perfect landmark.”
Anyway, the entire PPS piece is really worth a read, and even includes some suggestions towards the end for improving the stations, so head on over there to check it out!
Something that the article doesn’t note, however, that I think is worth mentioning, is that increased social life at bike-sharing stations should also mean increased business for nearby shops, cafes, restaurants, and such. That would further improve bicycling’s position as a better transportation option than cars for local economies.