Recent Advances in Bikeshare Systems from Miami Beach to Washington, DC

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Bikeshare systems bring a number of economic and environmental benefits to cities, as previously outlined and in NLC’s new municipal action guide, Integrating Bike Share Programs into a Sustainable Transportation System.  Furthermore, they are attractive to residents and tourists, thereby contributing to a city’s reputation for livability.  Riding a bicycle as a means of transportation or recreation allows individuals to experience a city on a human scale, observing the details that contribute to a thriving urban landscape.  Bikeshare systems bring the convenience and affordability of a bicycle while allowing users to forgo maintenance costs, theft prevention, or the need to always make a two-way trip.  Comments on existing bikeshare systems’ websites demonstrate that many bikeshare users did not previously partake in urban bicycling, but now see their city in a new light and intend to switch travel modes, contributing to the ranks of urban cyclists and serving as a traffic calmer (studies of a “safety in numbers” phenomenon show that the more people riding bikes, the safer it is for all, as drivers become more accustomed to sharing the road).  As cities continue to enjoy successful bikeshare programs – albeit with bumps in the road and lessons learned about redistribution, station placement and system size – the trend is likely to spread to other cities and towns that observe the benefits.  The past few months have already brought a number of bikeshare system expansions and launches across the U.S.

Miami Beach opened DecoBike on March 15, 2011 with 50 stations and 500 bikes.  After its grand opening, DecoBike logged 10,000 rides in less than a week and 20,000 rides in the first 15 days of operation.  At times, 30% of the Decobikes are in simultaneous use – the point at which it becomes difficult to find a free bike at many stations, and an indicator that the system can support an expansion.  On Easter Sunday, 37% of the bikes were checked out at once, demonstrating strong demand for bikes as a transportation and recreation option.  The second phase of expansion will bring the system to 100 stations and 1,000 bikes for a city of nearly 90,000 people – giving it the best bike-to-population ratio of any system in the Americas.  DecoBike’s station placement and pricing scheme are designed to be attractive to both residents and tourists, and an advertisement contract with a major airline will provide a strong source of revenue, in addition to other private sponsorships.  Miami Beach also incentivizes sustainable commutes: employers that purchase memberships for their employees get a tax credit of $20 per month if employees ride bikes to/from work at least ten times a month.

Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC, commonly known as CaBi, has continued to grow in system size and popularity.  In the first three months of operation, users logged 100,000 trips.  Within three months of opening, the total number of rides surpassed 300,000.  An unseasonably warm February day drew 2,927 trips, a sunny day in early April saw 3,248 trips, and the Sunday after Earth Day shattered the previous record with 4,197 trips.  The impending spring weather and tourist season promises a steady increase in demand, but CaBi already plans to add docks to popular stations and create 65 new stations in Arlington and the District – a handful of which have already gone live in Rosslyn, VA.  A new 5-day membership option is tailored to tourists who can enjoy exploring the city by bicycle.

A number of creative marketing techniques have increased awareness of CaBi and driven a surge in membership.  The Winter Weather Warrior contest awarded prizes to the members who took the most trips, rode the most miles, logged the most minutes and achieved perfect attendance in January and February.  An online discount through the popular daily deal site Living Social sold 8,123 monthly and annual memberships at 50% of the regular cost, enticing new members and encouraging existing members to renew for another year.  The online deal helped push the total number of annual memberships from around 6,600 to 10,700 by the 7th month of operation – giving DC the highest ratio of members to bikes in the world.

Other cities also developed bikeshare networks in the past year.  Des Moines opened its pilot B-cycle system in September 2010 with 18 bicycles across 4 stations with the intent to expand to 100 bikes at 12 stations in the next year.  Chicago’s pilot B-cycle system included 100 bikes at 6 stations during the summer of 2010, and involves plans to expand to a demonstration project at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  With staff support from a local bicycle retailer and start-up funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Communities Putting Prevention to Work Initiative (part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, San Antonio Bikeshare launched in March 2011 with 140 bikes at 15 stations and hopes to expand to 50 stations and 500 bikes by 2013).

The next few years promise more bikeshare system expansions and launches in cities across the U.S., from Chattanooga, Tenn. to New York City, Nashville to Aspen, Colo.  In Minneapolis, NiceRide plans to install about 45 more stations in the summer of 2011.  Boulder B-cycle is scheduled to launch on May 20, 2011 with 100 bikes at 12 stations, and Madison B-cycle could open as early as May 2011 with 35 stations and 350 bikes.  Boston plans to launch in July with 600 bikes across 61 stations.  The system’s start-up costs will be funded through grants and donations, while operating expenses will be paid with corporate sponsorships and revenue from riders.  No municipal tax revenue will be dedicated to the bikeshare system.

This trend, stemming from the confluence of high gas prices, budget crunches, climbing obesity rates, persistent air pollution and a desire to build livable communities, holds potential for addressing all of these challenges.  In the years to come, bikeshare systems are likely to grow in cities and towns across the U.S. to become a ubiquitous component of the public transit network.

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