Bike Sharing Creating Better Places: Increasing Transportation Choices, Saving Communities Money
Washington, DC and Arlington County, VA recently launched a bike share program, Capital Bikeshare, making over 1,100 bikes available at 110 stations. With 11,000 members, it is already the largest in the nation. These programs have been successful in Europe and have sprouted up throughout the US as cities look to provide greener, cheaper, healthier transportation choices.
One particular aspect of bike sharing is illustrative of why it is successful and how it can point the way towards a greener future: parking. Car parking, in particular “free” car parking, has recently come under scrutiny from urban planners as one of the primary drivers (ahem, pun intended) of traffic, auto-oriented development, pollution, the degradation of the urban fabric, and the high cost of housing, among other sustainability challenges. Providing bike share parking can turn these challenges upside down.
As this paper shows, the cost of a car parking space is around $16,000 while the cost of a bike parking space is $78. Also, as part of Arlington County’s Master Transportation Plan, efficiently using curb space (a limited public resource) is one tool in providing transportation choices. Even with the new bike share stations in Arlington County replacing some car parking spots, nearly all of the public curb space is still devoted to cars. In these economic times, with cities needing to save money and maximize the efficiency of limited public resources, bike share parking seems like a no-brainer.
Bike sharing also contributes to the vitality of communities as it enables neighborhood and commercial centers to be enjoyed and populated by more people, not automobiles. In creating places where people want to live, work and play, people beget more people, business begets more business. Bike sharing is one tool to creating a vibrant, sustainable place.
Protected Bike Lanes Benefit You, the Economy, and the Environment
Cities across the country are building protected bike lanes, finding that they promote exercise and economic development while offering a clean alternative mode of transportation. While road bikers and bicycle messengers often prefer “open” bike lanes that flow next to vehicular traffic, they come with several downsides. As a cyclist, I frequently encounter road debris including nails and broken glass (to the point it seems intentional), road kill, jarring drain hole covers, bad parallel parkers, and must constantly beware of car doors swinging into my path. These obstacles are an acceptable trade-off for cyclists willing to give up a little safety for speed, but this sentiment is not shared by everyone.
Studies show that protected bike lanes, which feature a physical barrier (such as a curb or plastic post) between cars and cyclists, are preferred by the wider community due to safety concerns. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that compared to roads without any biking infrastructure, the risk of injury for riders on protected lanes dropped by 90 percent while roadside bike lanes saw a drop of just 50 percent. Since safer bike lanes are used more often (all things equal), it could be argued that they would be a greater source of public health. A 2008 study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found a strong inverse relationship between the occurrence of obesity and active transportation.
In addition to safety and health benefits, studies cited in a USA Today article support the notion that protected bike lanes benefit business communities. The New York City Department of Transportation found that after installing protected lanes in 2007, nearby small businesses experienced much higher sales growth than the borough average. Another study out of Portland State University compared the spending habits of drivers and cyclists, and found that while drivers spent more per visit, cyclists shopped more frequently and spent more overall. After Google-Motorola Mobility moved its headquarters to Kinzie St., Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel argued that streets with bike lanes also have the potential to attract businesses.
While protected bike lanes are safest, all bike lanes can provide immense environmental benefit if cars are taken off the road. In the case of the bike sharing program, Denver B-cycle, the group estimated that 43 percent of the trips completed with its bikes mitigated car trips. The organization estimates this prevented 312,121 lbs of carbon dioxide and nearly 10,000 lbs of toxic air pollutants from being released—not to mention financial savings of more than $41,000 and $311,000 in gas and parking expenses. A PubMed study based in Barcelona estimated that bike trips prevented nearly 20,000 lbs of carbon dioxide in 2011. Only 62 protected bike lanes were built between 1874 and 2011, but 40 additional lanes were constructed by the end of 2012 and 100 more are planned in 2013. Though frequently the target of obnoxious and uninformed rants and raves, research shows that bike lanes benefit communities as a whole—whether they know it or not.
Bike to Work Day – A Growing Movement
Sometimes, the greatest way to make an environmental impact is through individual action. Bike to Work Day is an annual, national day of local action where individual bikers make the decision to ride their bike to work. As they meet up with other bikers, their numbers grow to visually demonstrate a growing popular movement. In Washington, DC, the government is responding with programs to accommodate and encourage more bicyclists.
Walkscore Now Rates Bike Friendly Cities; Guess who is No. 1
What is it about Minneapolis? A frozen tundra in winter, the Minnesota city has already somehow built a reputation as a bike friendly city. Walkscore, which has found success evaluating which are the best areas in terms of getting around on foot, recently turned its attention to rating the ease of 2 wheel locomotion as well. The site now has a Bike Score and has bestowed the #1 ranking for bike-ability to, you guessed it, Minneapolis (top ten listed below). The scores are from 0-100 and “based on the availability of bike infrastructure (lanes and trails), the hilliness of the area, destinations and road connectivity, and the number of bike commuters.” Bike Score is new, though, and hasn’t been implemented everywhere. They are expanding, so if your city isn’t currently listed, let them know you want it added. Perhaps in a fitting show of how our cities and neighborhoods are not designed to biking, number one ranked Minneapolis doesn’t even get a B for its effort. The 79 score it has is the highest in the country. #2 Portland Bike Score 70
Riding the Cardboard Bike to a Sustainable Future
Aside from the massive inputs of fuel, cars are not a “sustainable” transportation source because they rely almost entirely on nonrewable materials like metals and plastics. Bikes, while powered by humans, also suffer from this issue. The aluminum, titanium, lubricants, and petroleum-based synthetic rubber. However, Reuters reports that a new bicycle from Izhar Gafni uses cardboard “treated with a secret concoction made of organic materials to give it its waterproof and fireproof qualities.”
The bike has the possibility to touch all three legs of sustainability. On the economic front, the bikes are expected to sell for $20, with materials that cost $9. Access to mobility can potentially help raise millions out of poverty and provide access to food, water, and work. Gafni tells Reuters that the bikes will not have any metal parts (including the brakes, wheels, and pedals, which “will be made of recycled substances.” Furthermore, the bike will be completely recyclable. Nimrod Elmish, Gafni’s business partner, claims that the “’bikes need no maintenance and no adjustment, a car timing belt is used instead of a chain, and the tires do not need inflating and can last for 10 years.’”
NPR reports that “Gafni, believes the bike could be a boon to the world’s most traffic-congested cities and help people in remote parts of the Third World get from place to place. He’s reached a deal to start mass production in a few months.“
To learn more about the bike, how it’s made, and to see it in action, check out the video below: