like bike

11 07 2007

Sitting down in a neighborhood community-growth discussion group in south Chicago last year, someone mentioned a far-fetched and distant dream they had of loaning bicycles out to residents on faith that they would be returned. The room buzzed with laughter. “Yeah right,” someone muttered.

Trust is not something that runs freely in this country. With our conservative every-man-for-himself, dog-eat-dog collective mentality, a shared-bicycle program in a major metropolis is an idea for radical socialists whose minds are less grounded than runaway balloons.

But New York instigated just such a test-program only five days ago, setting up a station where people could borrow a bicycle — provided they showed photo ID and a credit card number for security reasons — for up to half an hour.

That said, the New York Times blog post on the subject is almost hilariously headlined, “Dozens Turn Out for Bike-Sharing Program.” Ooooh. Dozens. In a city of 8 million people, you’d think that more than 25 would snatch up the opportunity to ride a free bike around a big, bike-able city.

But the program (which was only in the testing stages, I must emphasize, and ends today until further decisions about instigating a permanent version can be made) is flawed. First, by mandating photo identification and a credit card, the program shuts out all those it should be encompassing. Those without the financial means to have a state-issued ID or a credit card would not be able to ride on the bicycles. Basically, the program is limited to the bourgeoisie who have a half hour to leisurely pedal through Central Park before their afternoon frappacino.

Second, the half-hour time limit is extremely restrictive — especially in a tangled, intimidating city like New York. A program like this shouldn’t just be available to people who know the area and want to take a short ride — bicycles are great for anyone trying to make a job interview or get to the subway on time. With only one drop-off station two of the days the program was working, biking free could be more trouble than it was worth.

And of course, if the bicycle group couldn’t trust the people to return their bicycles without a credit card number for security, how could they expect the people to give their credit card numbers without fear of unlawful distribution?

Similar programs have been successful in cities like Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas. In Austin, particularly, the project (dubbed “The Yellow Bike Project”for the bright yellow bicycles that are distributed throughout the city) has flourished, offering not only free rides for those who need them, but also build-your-own bike classes for those who cannot afford their own bicycles, and bike distribution and donation to non-profits like Bikes Across Borders.

Basically, the Yellow Bike Project releases about 30 bright yellow bicycles — rebuilt from unusable and defunct old ones — around the city. Anyone can ride any bike at any time and leave it wherever she wants when she’s done using it.

The key here is that the Project doesn’t take the problem of stolen bikes too seriously. As Project Coordinator Marci Schneider put it:

“When we release them, they’re around for about a month or so, then they start to disappear.”

And that’s to be expected. Run on donations, volunteer hours and manpower, those who run the Project can’t expect its bicycles to stay out there forever. Nevertheless, the city is much better off, and the Yellow Bike Project has done a fabulous service.

New York has higher-grade offers being made by shady corporations like Clear Channel, JCDecaux and Cemusa, but they’ve got it all wrong. The city would be well off instigating a for-everyone program like Austin’s — only on a much larger scale.

Interest in programs like these speaks at great volume to the country’s increasing concern about carbon emissions and global warming. It won’t be long before major corporations attempt to make a profit from the nation’s legitimate apprehension. Frankly, I’m okay with that. But, as always, we must keep in mind those who can’t afford solar panels on their roofs or $2000 road bikes.

Global warming is a unique cause because it’s growing more and more non-partisan. With escalating scientific evidence, it’s growing near-to-impossible to deny the boundless reaches of its effects. The positive side of this, if we must find one, is that this cause may bind us as a common people in ways that have since been unknown. And if there’s any cause that must resist the shackles of grid-locked class divisions, this is the one.

Advertisements

Actions

Information

One response

12 07 2007
Bill

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/23/AR2007032301753.html

Here is a link to a relatively recent Washington Post article that describes a bike-sharing business to be launched in Paris this Sunday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: