Time for Bike Sharing

By Geoff I. Bradley, AICP, President + Principal at M-Group

I went down to LA for the annual APA conference last month. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of presentations involving planning for healthy cities, complete streets and bike planning. Traffic planning not that long ago involved almost an exclusive focus on planning for more and more automobiles. Serious consideration is now being given by planners to people who are walking and cycling through our cities.

The most compelling case for actually encouraging more folks to brave the big city on two wheels involves the fairly recent import of “bike sharing.” The system in Paris was started in 2007 and now has nearly 20,000 bikes.

Bike sharing involves providing a system of bike stations where usually about 10 bikes are parked for the use of anyone with a credit card. By swiping your card at the solar powered pay station, you can use the bike for free for the first 30 minutes and $2 for every additional 1/2 hour. Day users just provide a refundable deposit and regular uses pay an annual fee in the $50 to $85 range. The bikes are heavy duty three-speed types with fenders, chain guards and front basket for carrying small loads.

Of particular note for city planners is the finding that an interconnected system of bike stations can effectively extend the range of destinations accessible to transit stops up to 2 or 3 miles instead of the usual 1/2 mile walking distance usually planned for. Imaging getting off the Caltrain or VTA light rail, hopping on a conveniently located bike, pedaling to your destination and returning the bike to a nearby docking station. Cycling in our cities does not get any more convenient than that.

The most prolific provider of the systems is by a Canadian organization that is essentially the parking authority of the City of Montreal, called PBSC Urban Solutions. Their heavy duty “Bixi System” appears to cost about $2,500 per bike. A combination of user fees, corporate sponsorship and government grants typically finance the systems.

The bikes come complete with GPS to discourage theft. Riders can use their smart phones to check on the availability of bikes at stations.

What is especially promising is the fact that a number of cities where these systems have been provided experience an upsurge in cycling traffic, and the cities respond by quickly providing more bicycle lanes and paths to meet the demand for safe and easy bike access. Bike sharing systems are currently operating in Boston, Chattagnooga, Denver, London, Melbourne, Minneapolis, Montreal, Ottowa, Paris, Toronto and Washington D.C.

Los Angeles is currently planning a bike share system with 5,000 bikes. Silicon Valley is rolling out a system along the CalTrain line involving bike stations in San Francisco, Redwood City, Mountain View and San Jose with 1,000 bikes to start. An increase in bicycle use from bike sharing will greatly reduce vehicle miles travelled and make a serious dent in greenhouse gas emission and help cities in California meet state mandated sustainability targets.

It is an exciting time for bike planning!