Why bike share will change cities (for the better)


New York City has recently rolled out a new bike sharing program. Bike share is something that even bike-crazy Portland doesn’t yet have, and as I’ve been in NYC this past week, I was very curious about it. Plus I’ve become a bit of a cyclist since moving to Portland, something I could never say when I lived in NYC.

Bike free in NYC

I never rode a bike when I lived in NYC. I won’t lie: I was intimidated. I felt like the city streets weren’t designed (prioritized) for cycling, so I felt like I was taking my life in my own hands. Plus, I lived in a tiny walk-up; would I really carry my bike up and down those narrow steps every day. Would I store a bulky bike in a 300 sq. ft. apartment? No way.

Bike sharing appears to be changing this equation. Now New Yorkers don’t need to own a bike, and yet they can still enjoy the benefits of riding. Those benefits are, in case they aren’t obvious: getting exercise, spending little to no money on transportation, and the sheer joy of getting around town. Plus it can be much faster to get around on a bike than via the subway or bus, as well as allowing you to get places that you just can’t get to on mass transit.

In addition, NYC has made great strides at making cycling a less hair-raising experience in recent years. By introducing separated bike lanes, riders are protected from cars. By introducing greenways along rivers, riders now have more options for getting around without having to deal with cross traffic. I see no down side in all of this.

The revolution will be two-wheeled (even in you’re in a car)

I foresee that bike share will eventually revolutionize the way people get around in cities but especially in NYC. By making it much easier to get New Yorkers on bikes, more New Yorkers will get on bikes. The more bikes there are on the streets, the more other traffic will need to be aware of them. This could very well provide natural traffic calming (something that NYC desperately needs), thus making the streets more pedestrian-friendly.

I’m not saying that New York will become Copenhagen, but why exactly couldn’t it? In my experience, cyclists in Europe will not hesitate to run you off the road, so it seems like a natural fit for New Yorkers anyway.

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In short, bike share could change the entire fabric of New York City’s streets. Not bad for a couple of bikes.

(I must admit that I feel a certain unease that the bikes themselves have become in effect two-wheeled billboards for a particular major bank. But if that’s what it took to get this project rolling, then I think there is more good than bad happening here.)

One small issue coming to a head

There is a bit of a practical hitch to all this bike-sharing utopian thinking: the system doesn’t provide anyone with helmets. You’re supposed to provide your own. And while I had the idea to pack one in my suitcase, I couldn’t quite fit it in (I use a very small suitcase) and the funny thing about helmets is that they don’t fold up very well.

So, disappointingly, I didn’t elect to try the system out. Not yet. After all, this is still the place where even Jimi Hendrix talked about how bad the traffic was. We’re not quite in the future yet.

I love transit very much, and I’m not here to say that cycling can or should supplant mass transit. But it’s just an option, and options are a good thing. Much like being dependent solely on a car for transportation is not a good idea, neither is being dependent on a bus or train either. Being free to choose; what’s not to like?

Now would someone come up with a helmet share system already?

But enough about me: what do you think of bike share?

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