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The Growth Of Biking, And Bike Share

Written by Boston Biker on Dec 12

NPR had a great story today about the growth, and challenges of biking, and bike share programs.

Listen here, or here:

Here is a taste:

Millions of commuters across the country have a new way to get around. In the last few years, bike-sharing systems have popped up from Boston to Minnesota to Washington, D.C. They’re supposed to make commuting easier, greener and cheaper. But the people who arguably need these bikes the most are often the least likely to access them.

These bike-sharing systems have a lot of different names: Divvy, Hubway, Nice Ride. But they all work roughly the same way: you pick up a bike at one docking station, ride it and then lock it up at another station. And these systems have something else in common: the users so far tend to be young, male and wealthier than the rest of the population.

“The rates of low-income ridership in all bike-share programs around the world is pitifully low. So we can only do better,” Carolyn Samponaro of the Transportation Alternatives in New York, said. The Citi Bike system launched in New York earlier this year.

Samponaro and I met up at a docking station near a big public housing project in Brooklyn. It’s right across the street from a busy bike lane, and about two blocks from the foot of the Manhattan Bridge — in other words, a prime spot for bike commuting. But the docking station just sits there, full of bikes, waiting for riders. Samponaro said this unfortunately fits with the data so far.

“The rates of low-income ridership in all bike-share programs around the world is pitifully low. So we can only do better.”
“The demographic information I’ve seen to date is that it’s more men than women. And only 0.5 percent are low-income New Yorkers,” said Samponaro, who considers that a pretty poor rating.

Read the rest here.

What most excites me about this is that these programs are driving a change in thinking about how we build transportation systems. Bike share systems are perfect for people who need to save money, or get in shape. They are human scale designs. Almost everyone can ride a bike.

Sadly bike share systems seem to currently be focused on the affluent, they are in the business of making money, and currently rich people ride bikes more. This is can also be a good thing in the long run. It used to be that if you were rich you owned a car, if we shift this thinking to be “if you are rich you ride a bike” many more people will aspire to ride, and unlike the dream of car ownership, many more people will actually be able to achieve the dream of owning or riding a bicycle.

You can’t democratize a luxury like a car. Just look at the mess it has caused. Its destroying our planet, embroiling us in decades of wars, ruining our health, killing our populace, enabling horrible city design, and in general has been a failure. The same can not be said for the bicycle. If everyone in the world used a bicycle as their main mode of transportation it would prompt us to be healthy, to design our cities better, to use public transportation like trains for long distance travel, to be much more gentle on the environment, and we would have a radically different foreign policy. In short bicycles are not a luxury, they are a the foundation of a solid transportation system.

More bikes! More bike share systems! More access to these systems for the poor!


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