In April 2013, New York City became the latest in a growing number of American cities to create a public bike sharing program. These programs make bikes available throughout cities for short-term use, which can be returned to any station within the city. In the past decade, many European and Asian cities have successfully integrated bike sharing programs into their urban infrastructure with high levels of use and low accident rates.
Bike sharing has proven to be beneficial to many cities and their residents, but not without concerns for safety. Some feel that bike sharing programs put inexperienced riders on the road. Others point out many riders do not abide by traffic laws or wear helmets. Despite these objections, the most successful bike sharing programs have been shown to be safe and a desirable urban amenity. Here are just five benefits urban bike sharing programs bring to communities:
Introduce a new audience to cycling: Renting a bike in a bike-friendly city encourages novice riders to try cycling, as a short-term rental is a much smaller commitment than bike ownership, with its associated costs of maintenance and risk of theft.
Reduce traffic: According to Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, 40% of trips in all urban areas are two miles or less, yet 90% of those trips are made by car. Paris’ Velib’ bike share program reportedly reduced the city’s traffic by 5% in its first year, and now supports 18,000 bikes. Exchanging car rides for bike trips also results in less traffic and a smaller carbon footprint.
Create jobs: Not only does a bike sharing program require manual maintenance and corporate management, it often demands urban infrastructure changes to accommodate more cyclists and ensure safety. Montreal’s Bixi program created more than 400 jobs in its first year, and now supports more than 5,000 bikes.
Save money: AAA estimates the average car owner drives approximately 10,000 miles per year and spends an average of $7,800 per year on gas and maintenance. Even in New York City, an annual bike share membership costs only $100 annually. In Denver, 43% of bike share users said they replaced car trips with bike rides, meaning less car use and more money saved.
Healthier residents: Physical activity has become a pressing issue for Americans. In 2010, 69% of adults older than 20 were overweight or obese. Adding light to moderate physical exercise has shown significant physical and mental benefits over being sedentary. Replacing some shorter car commutes with a bike ride can help encourage a more active and health-conscious community.
Currently, 31 American cities and 33 colleges and universities have begun bike sharing programs, with Washington D.C., Minneapolis-St. Paul, Boston, New York City and Miami Beach all supporting fleets of more than 1,000 bikes. Both New York and San Francisco have stated intentions to expand to 10,000 bikes in the near future. Whether you're keen on the idea or not, it looks like urban bike sharing is here to stay!