Contributed by Terry Whaley
The current craze for communities to establish bike share programs has a longer history than you might be aware. I recall activating a very determined bike share from some bullies in the neighborhood when I was young. We tailed our targets on foot seeking the most opportune time to launch our bike share project into action. With the bully’s bikes left unattended outside the local swimming pool, we self shared them across town where they were held for a modest ransom. Many years later in college the table was turned and Karma evened the score. Unaware, I voluntarily participated in a bike share when my spiffy new 12-speed Schwinn was shared away from its cable and out of a secure storage unit. That has been a long term bike share as 35-years later I am still waiting for the bike to return.
I often think today’s creators behind community bike share movement probably got their initial inspiration from a negative personal experience and simply turned the thinking inside out and BAM! Community bike share is born.
All said, today’s community bike share programs offer a great opportunity for many mid-size towns and can help to address a bicycle basket of community issues.
Access to a low cost transportation mode and opportunity for active transportation with the related health benefits, reduction in traffic congestion, are few of the benefits that continue to be studied with very positive results.
Springfield, Missouri is a mid size university town with a population of 159,500. Over the past 4 years, Springfield has developed the “LINK” - a north/south on-street route which encourages the use of bicycles. The LiNK connects three universities and is anchored on the north with a large community park and community center, to the south end is a regional hospital. In between the 5-mile length of the LINK is another regional hospital several neighborhood parks, two east/west greenways with bike trails and a variety of local business and residential neighborhoods.
With the city leading the way in providing improvements to the infrastructure the “missing link” is that of a well operated bike share program. Such a program would open up opportunities for a student population of some 28,045 students to have greater access to a variety of community venues and do so car free.
If bike share program were to have the same impact of increasing cycling as the development of our local trails and greenways have, we could anticipate many car driving commuters becoming bicycle converts and hitting the streets, trails and bike routes for work, recreation and running errands. While some cynics would say it is a minimum amount of improvement a bike share program would be a good step toward the reduction of traffic and improved air quality goals in the community. And on the health note…anything that will get our citizens outdoor and exercising more is a win in the overall community health factor.
From personal experience I have recently enjoyed the bike share systems in New York City and Des Moines, Iowa. As a visitor to these towns providing a bike share allowed me to explore more of the community and cover more territory than I would have on foot. As to why not just use your car - get real. Car travel in a congested downtown area….while I could…I don’t. In both NYC and Des Moines, I was granted an opportunity to discover more of the local business, and attractions as well as get some greatly need exercise after long drives to arrive at my destinations. Also, of interest to some might be that the slower mode of travel and being at eye level with shopping, restaurants, museums and galleries stimulated some “visitor spending” that would not have otherwise found its way out of my wallet if I were moving about in a car.
I recently read about a bold move for Chicago in which the Mayor proposes bicycle accommodations within a half mile of every resident! The last time I read something like that it was about a small hamburger joint with the goal of placing a restaurant within 5-minutes of every American. That was a golden arch of a reach, but it proved successful. More mayors and community leaders should consider how a bike share program might benefit their community’s residents, students, visitors and bottom line.
It can’t hurt to look at bike sharing and in the competition to attract new business, future employees and create a vibrant community, I go with an old saying from Chris Carmichael, cycling and triathlon pro coach: “Train your weakness and race your strength”.
Think about it….it relates to community design and development.
Terry Whaley is the executive director of Ozark Greenways, a citizen group working to develop Springfield, Missouri's network of greenway trails and on-street bike routes.