This is Part 2 of my bike-sharing trilogy, written for and published by Living Green Magazine. The first looked at three world cities that have successfully implemented popular bike-sharing programs. In this second one I present a more detailed look at cities in the U.S. and Latin America that have notable biking infrastructure, and explore why biking is becoming more convenient, affordable, user-friendly, and popular. The upcoming final article will analyze Asia, Africa and Australia.
It’s no secret that the U.S is a car-loving society. In the wake of industrialization, the car has dramatically transformed cities, jobs, and the whole Western culture.
Initially, the problem in North America was viewing cycling mainly as a sport or targeted recreation, rather than a beneficial transportation option or a solution for traffic or urban issues. Basically, bike commuting was, primarily, being viewed as a quirky, hippie, European idea – a subculture.
Changes are coming into effect after long analyses of demographics, behavioural economics, operational – social, commercial and business – movements, the availability and the dynamics of existing public transportation networks, city topography, and even the climate. Many northern U.S. cities have seasonal programs, for example.
Some U.S bike sharing schemes were also falling short at first because they were mostly concerned with revenue, which started as advertising campaigns (Washington D.C), and used faulty models, requiring yearly membership and large security credit card deposits. That is, perhaps, one of the reasons why European programs have been more successful and more popular – they are free (or affordable enough so that money is not the object) and completely user-oriented!
The first free public bicycle sharing program in the U.S was initiated here in 1994 by a couple of environmental activists whose idea was to promote the notion of green commuting. It morphed into a project called Create A Commuter which provided free second-hand bicycles to low-income and disadvantaged citizens, and was thus carried on as an assistance program.
The nation’s capital (along with Arlington, VA and Alexandria, VA) host today’s largest and most successful bike-share program in the U.S., according to Slate magazine, in terms of size, ridership, and financial viability. The program was influenced by bike sharing services in Copenhagen, Paris, Stockholm and Amsterdam.
The difference with Washington’s Capital Bikeshare program is that it is a program run by the Municipal Government, unlike many other bike sharing schemes which are private or community-run.
New York City
A city of cabs! Here is a place that could immensely benefit from a well-planned bike-sharing program for short commutes.
After a number of delays and a lot of anticipation, 2013 is finally the year it will happen. Between March and July, NYC will be home to 10,000 new shared bikes divided between 600 stations, which will make it “the largest bike-share program in the Western Hemisphere, as well as the city’s first full-scale form of public transit since the subway’s debut more than a century ago”, according to an advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.
Up until now, a small percentage of commuters relied on biking in NYC, and most regarded it as a recreational activity, concentrated around the Central Park area, the Manhattan riverside, or the outlying, less traffic-laden boroughs.
Other successfully-implemented programs in the U.S include Miami, Kansas City, Boston and Denver. In the coming months Chicago and L.A will also jump on the two-wheel wagon.
Mexico City, Mexico
Interestingly, Mexico City recently forfeited the helmet law in order to promote biking, in an effort to make the procedure more convenient and efficient.
Its EcoBici program, following a great success, has recently expanded, making it one of the largest in the world, alongside Hangzhou, London, Montreal, Paris, Barcelona, and Lyon.
It’s hard to determine which one takes the crown, as they are continuously and simultaneously expanding!
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Mejor en Bici, translated as Better on a bike, is the city’s free bike sharing scheme, which started off quite well, but mostly for recreational or tourism purposes. A signed declaration of usage and a piece of I.D is all that is requested for the rental.
Buenos Aires is completely flat, it lies on ‘la plata’, a plateau, and as such is quite undemanding, making it easier for anyone to participate, no matter their age, fitness or endurance.
However, the downside is that the bikes are locked in a container, and can be rented only between the hours of 7am and 8pm. More extensive, Velib-style programs with automated 24-hour docking stations are being considered.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio’s bike sharing scheme, called Samba!, is open to all – Cariocas and visitors, alike.
With an apparently 140km of designated bike paths (!), Rio is an amazing city to bike. The scenic 10km stretch down the length of Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, and Sao Conrado has a dedicated wide bike lane, divided from motorized traffic so safety is not an issue.
Residents of favelas, for example, are not very reliant on the bikes simply because the neighbourhoods are so steep that some are impossible to reach by bike.
There is no bike-sharing in Bogota, however the major thoroughfares in the city are closed every Sunday between 7am and 2pm for a Ciclovia, when the citizens are urged to go out and be active. And so many people, young and old, families, and visitors swarm the streets. It’s very motivational.
There are classic bicycle rental shops and bicycle tour agencies to rent from. Curiously, some are closed on Sundays.
However, Bogota is battling severe pollution (it’s the most polluted city south of Mexico) due to the motorized traffic, and its innovative metro-like overground bus network. Also, it is located in a valley at a 2800m (9200 ft) elevation, which means that the smog only lingers.
Supposedly, the famous Colombian, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, chronicled the biking frenzy in his city way back in 1955, a time when, funnily enough, riding a bicycle required a drivers license and registered license plates!
Surf towns, Costa Rica (my current location)
I admit, there are more surfers than bikers here, but the majority of surfers use it as a means-to-an-end: to get to the good surf breaks. This makes biking both popular and necessary.
There is no bike sharing per se, but there are community bikes which people readily and openly share.
There is no local public transportation either in these surf towns dotted along Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific coast, so the only other options are walking or hitch-hiking. Hitch-hiking is a little tricky when you’re also carrying a surf board, and walking is just a waste of tidal power.