Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Where will bike-sharing work?

OK, Paris was and is terrific. Car traffic was manageable; bike lanes abound; everything is close to everything; and each block of the city is a nice one to be out riding on. So where else will it work?

Places that have safe places to ride. Paris has spent the last 4 years working out dedicated bike routes throughout the city.

Places that don’t have too many hills.
I know that San Francisco is looking into bike sharing for their city. After my no-bike experience at the top of a not very big hill, I just can’t imagine the size of the bribe it is going to take to encourage people to return bikes to the top of SF hills – or what percentage of bikes will have to be trucked around and how many times a day.

Places where there is great transit.
At least as Velib works now, you can’t absolutely positively count on a bike being available. If you can’t count on it, then it is out for commuting, out for important errands, and becomes a kind of nice novelty. That will dramatically diminish its use.

Places where we aren’t weather wimps. I couldn’t say places with nice weather, because I know those Danes use their bikes in every possible climate. I guess it will depend on the culture of those who live in the city whether or not they will ride when it is dark, cold, drizzly, hot, muggy.

Places that commit to a large number of bike locations. It really mattered that the bike stations were everywhere. At first I was irritated that Velib didn’t have printed maps available to show where the stations were, and that it was too dangerous to wing it. But I was wrong. I could depend on finding a station with just a little bit of circling. I didn’t need a map or big green V’s marring the beautiful Paris streetscapes shouting “here.”

Places that are beautiful – certainly a plus. The pleasure of being out and seeing the sites was a big encouragement. Velib quickly became my top and preferred mode of transportation: virtually free, fast, convenient, safe-ish (I would have liked my helmet), beautiful. As a single (sans enfant) person, why travel any other way?


Mike Weisman said...

Robin, I think you have made some assumptions here. I'm not sure a they are all valid. For example:

A bike program could function in several areas of the city to be successful, despite the fact that it may not fit the needs of everyone.

I don't know how much you bike in cities, but it is not always necessary to go back and forth up a hill for a trip. If I'm on top of a ridge, I might plan my trips along the ridge line. At the bottom, I might plan my trips to avoid going back up. Just because some trips might be topographically undesirable doesn't mean most other trips won't be useful.

Vandalism will occur, but as the program becomes more familiar to residents, it will diminish.

In N. America, coastal cities tend to be hilly. But there are many areas in those cities, and in the entire interior of the continent, that would be just as suitable as Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

I think, overall, your analysis is in part an approach to making this work with 'American thinking.' IMHO, our thinking is capable of adjusting to a new reality. a challenge, but a worthy one.

Peter said...

I rode around SF a bit, and it didn't seem too bad for hills. I never had to walk up a hill, but if someone did, I don't expect that would be the end of the world. I mean, if you have to walk up a hill with a bike or without a bike, you still need to get up the hill somehow, right?

and, of course, there are bicycle escalators/elevators/lifts:


Kelly said...

Dear Robin and fellow bike enthusiasts,

Bike-sharing is already on its way here in Washington DC!

DC's SmartBike system is being rolled out right this minute by the The District Department of Transportation, in partnership with Clear Channel Adshel.

120 bikes will be housed in 10 kiosks in the greater Downtown DC area, facilitating short to mid-distance trips and enhancing transportation options for users.

You can read more about the program here:

Mike Weisman said...

...and in the New York Times today, April 27, 2008. I agree that Robin is making the hills into too much of an operational issue. Even if you don't do it in San Francisco, you can still do many other cities.