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Jay Walljasper: The Year Bike Sharing Came of Age

December 30, 2013

Once dismissed as a hippy-dippy dream, bike sharing is now a reality in New York, Chicago, and other cities.

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Image from Flickr via avlxyz

By Jay Walljasper
By arrangement with On The Commons

2013 is the year when the sharing economy—the recent rediscovery of the economic advantages of mutual cooperation—came to public attention.

It was also the year that bike sharing, one of the most tangible symbols of the sharing economy, came of age in America.

New bike sharing systems opened in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Fort Worth, Columbus, and Aspen, Colorado, this year while existing systems expanded in Minneapolis, Washington D.C., and other cities.

In New York, five million rides were logged in the first five months with no fatalities and only two dozen injuries, most of them minor.

And 2014 is shaping up as the time when automated bike rental stations become commonplace on America’s streets, as bike sharing comes to Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Diego, Milwaukee, Tampa, Cincinnati, Seattle, Portland, Austin, and Ann Arbor.

Skeptics predicted bike sharing would flop in New York City despite proven success in comparable places like Boston and Washington. They quickly quieted down after the Citi Bike system was launched in late May with 4300 bikes (now almost 6000) at more than 330 stations across Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Five million rides were logged in the first five months with no fatalities and only two dozen injuries, most of them minor. Ninety one percent of riders are so happy with the new system they want to use their federal tax dollars to expand it, according to a survey by Transportation Alternatives. (No public money has been invested in the system yet.) More than 90 percent of users also want to see Citi Bikes expand in their neighborhoods.

Another 4000 Citi Bikes will hit the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn next year, which will make New York one of the largest bike sharing systems in the world after Paris and eight cities in China.

Chicago, however, also claims the title of America’s #1 bike sharing city based on the number of stations—475 stations will be installed across the city by next year. The Windy City’s Divvy system opened last June with 750 bikes at 68 stations, and will expand to 4000 bikes next spring.

The Bay Area’s bike share system debuted in August with 700 bikes available in San Francisco, San Jose, Palo Alto, and Mountain View. 2014 will see 1000 bikes at 100 stations.

The bike sharing stations seen in more and more cities stand as a symbol that commons-based shared resources are the way of the future.

Bike sharing experienced a few bumps in the road this year Los Angeles, set to open a downtown pilot program in 2013, abandoned plans due to a legal conflict about advertising on bike stations. The city is now looking to create a regional system. Meanwhile PBSC—the firm supplying bike sharing infrastructure for many systems including New York, Toronto, and Washington—is on shaky financial ground, which might delay planned expansions in some cities and postpone bike sharing’s debut in Vancouver.

But even with these problems, Atlantic Cities blogger Sarah Goodyear writes, “In cities across the United States and Canada, bike-share has quickly proven its popularity.”

This is well-worth celebrating. Bike sharing offers people a healthier, more economical, greener way of travel that reduces traffic congestion for everyone, proven by a Washington DC survey showing that Capital Bike Share members drive 4.4 million fewer miles a year and save $800 in transportation costs on average.

And the bike sharing stations seen in more and more cities stand as a symbol that commons-based shared resources are the way of the future.

Adapted from a story from People for Bikes

Jay Walljasper, Senior Fellow at On the Commons and editor of OnTheCommons.org, created OTC’s book All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons. A speaker, communications strategist and writer and editor, he chronicles stories from around the world that point us toward a more equitable, sustainable and enjoyable future. He is author of The Great Neighborhood Book and a senior associate at the urban affairs consortium Citiscope. Walljasper also writes a column about city life for Shareable.net and is a Senior Fellow at Project for Public Spaces and Augsburg College’s Sabo Center for Citizenship and Learning.

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