Thursday, March 11, 2010
Bike Sharing in MPLS: No bixi for me
This article in the southwest journal of Minneapolis does a good job of talking about the past mistakes of other bike sharing programs, but it misses one critical question. Should Minneapolis encourage bike sharing at all in the first place?
I say NO. I hate to be a downer but I just don't understand why the US is even considering bike share programs. While Minneapolis can boost the second highest ridership per capita (the highest in winter months) this still equates to less than 2.5% of the total population. So this begs the question who is this program for? Why institute a program that lacks the necessary infrastructure?
The biggest problem are those most likely to use the program are the individuals (I know many of them) that are already daily commuters and own a stable of bikes. Yes, this bike share might help out in a pinch, but our numbers are too little to sustain such a program.
Second, is the perceptions that the general public has in general if using bikes as transportation. Biking makes you sweaty, biking is dangerous, and biking is simply for those people who can't own a car. While I really do love the Twin Cities, our population is not multi-modal (unless you include walking to your car). While this is changing, this is going to take decades to accomplish.
Third, the bike infrastructure in downtown is severely lacking to make biking, and even the share program, even look remotely appealing. While the Twin Cities does have some wonderful facilities, our down towns are lacking in serious bike space on our roads. A network of cycle tracks, lanes, paths, and blvds are needed to make such a program be a success.
Finally, we need to look at the bigger picture. I am not saying bike sharing is not a great program that can and will work, but our timing is way off. We need a better system for people to get around our region so that we can change travel behaviors and make biking a real option for people. Until biking is an option, what is the point of a bike share system for a public that frankly doesn't want or need it. Also, an epic failure now will only hinder future efforts when all that is needed is in place.
You can get all the info about the program here.
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On the other hand, bike-sharing programs have a proclivity for (re-)introducing people to transportation cycling much faster than anything else. There's no need to re-imagine yourself as a cyclist, tune-up a bike, buy a fancy messenger bag or whatever. People find themselves standing next to a useful bike on a nice day with somewhere to go. There is basically no barrier to entry.
Almost every high-tech bike sharing program has greatly increased overall ridership as noobs take to it and eventually find themselves dusting off their own bikes.
Why not take a look at the data? When Paris started, a tiny minority rode bikes. There was very little bike infrastructure. 3 years later, it's huge. Infrastructure has followed.
The target are not current bike commuters. If you own a $5,000 bike, you're not about to commute in a 3 speed. It's for everyone else. And it's not for home-work. It's for getting from the office to lunch, or to the train station, or to a meeting a few blocks away.
Have you ever heard someone say: Why do we need that bike lane, I never see anyone using it?
Urban bike sharing is a great way to raise the profile of cycling, and to make cycling more accessible. Long distance bike commuting is intimidating and a turnoff for people for the reasons you list: you get sweaty, there are no facilities, etc. This is different: people are riding short distances, and they don't require special equipment.
When DC started its bike sharing program, like you, I had misgivings. I thought tourists we going to be mowed down. Quite the opposite has happened. The funny red and white bikes have helped calm traffic--inspite of a lack of facilities.
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