I’ve visited three cities that have bike share programs, and it absolutely transformed my experience in each. It wasn’t just the money saved on car rental or cab fare: having access to a bicycle opened up the cities for me.
There are about 530 bike share programs worldwide (and about 30 in North America according to the The Stranger). Stands of a dozen or so bikes are sprinkled throughout the city. Anyone can check one out for a short ride. When you’re done, you check in back in to any stand. The cost is minimal: $12 gives you 24 hour membership, but $85 gives you a year’s membership. Rides under thirty minutes are free (after the initial membership costs) and then a few dollars per half hour after that.
As a tourist, it transforms your visit. Instead of watching the city go by from behind a glass, you can get out into it, stop and peer in shop windows or take detours through tree-lined neighborhoods. In Washington, DC, it meant being able to wend through the monuments, parks and out into the neighborhoods, long past the tour busses idling hotly while sweating tourists filed on. In Toronto, I uncovered a shaded park with musicians: I slotted my bike into a nearby station and spent a day with a book and a bench, far my convention center hotel. In Boston, I left time before my morning meeting for a stroll through the Public Gardens. None of that would have happened without a bike.
Now, Seattle is on its way to offering a bike share system, as well.
Last week, the Seattle City Council approved two bills that set the stage for Seattle to join the ranks of bikesharing cities: one approved bike share vending as an allowed use in public rights of way and the other granted Puget Sound Bike Share (PSBS) conceptual approval for their proposed bike sharing program.
According to the Puget Sound Bike Share web site, Phase I of the project will involve 30 stations in the University District, South Lake Union, Capitol Hill and downtown. Hopefully, Wallingford won’t be too far behind.
I’m an unabashed fanboy of the bikeshare systems from the tourists perspective. I’m curious to see what the experience is like as a resident. Generally, I have my bike with me when I’m out and about, so I’m not sure whether I’ll end up being a user. But I appreciate that it could impact the culture of the city. The Stranger quotes Holly Houser, executive director of the program, on the topic:
“I think that the beauty of this program is that it has the potential to change the culture around cycling—to break down assumptions that it’s only for these more serious, hardcore cyclists with fancy bikes who ride every day.”
The bikes used are certainly not the ridiculously refined models you see the lycra set on: they’re heavy, practical and durable. (But I was heartened to see that the normal three speeds the bike share program bikes are equipped with will be upped to seven speeds to accommodate Seattle’s hills.)
Launch is projected for Spring 2014. That’s just one Seattle winter away!