Bike Sharing on the Move in the U.S.


I was surprised to hear recently that theft and vandalism is taking some of the momentum out of bike sharing in Paris, one of the most successful programs out there.

Of all the bike share initiatives that have swept Europe in the past few years, from Barcelona to Copenhagen, it’s the City of Lights that’s arguably been the most besotted with bicycling.

Yet the love affair is getting stormy—the New York Times reported that 80 percent of the initial 20,600 Vélib bikes have been stolen or damaged, with many ending up on black markets in North Africa and Eastern Europe.

Paul DeMaio, founder of MetroBikeLLC, a bike sharing consulting company, pointed out on his blog that high rates of vandalism make Paris an outlier among other programs.

For instance on this side of the pond, bike sharing is on the upswing, with several new initiatives in the works.

In August, I wrote about how SmartBike DC became the first high-tech bike-sharing venture in North America, launching with 120 bikes in 10 greater downtown neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. The program’s goal is to cut down on traffic congestion—one of the worst in the nation—and reduce air pollution.

So far the program seems to be moving right along—I see suited professionals pedaling furiously during the workday several times a week.

Earlier this year San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced a $500,000 pilot bike sharing program that would install 50 bikes at 5 stations.

But the launch awaits an environmental impact report to find out whether adding new bike lanes and getting rid of parking spots could be detrimental to the environment, NBC reported in August.

Denver is planning a bigger program, called Denver B-Cycle, inspired by a temporary bike share during the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

A pilot bike share program for Denver city employees is currently underway, and 600 bikes and up to 40 stations will be ready in spring 2010, according to the Denver publication Westword.

In addition, BIXI, a bike share company in Montreal, has its eye on expanding into the U.S. West Coast. The Brandenburger Foundation is helping to create a program in Newport Beach, California, for instance.

Lest we forget why we should leave the car at home, experts say bicycling not only beats driving and even walking as the most energy-efficient way to travel, it also keeps harmful pollutants to a minimum.

For example, a 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) roundtrip journey on a bike instead of in a car would save nearly 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms) of carbon dioxide—the main greenhouse gas that causes global warming—from entering the atmosphere, according to a calculator on Bike Metro’s Web site.

Pedaling to work also streamlines our bodies: The average person loses 13 pounds (5.9 kilograms) his or her first year of commuting by bike, the Bcycle Web site says.

We’ll just have to ride it out to see whether bike sharing is here to stay.

—Christine Dell’Amore

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–Read how the U.S. is becoming a bicycle nation.

–Check out the top 25 U.S. green cities.

Photograph courtesy D.C. Department of Transportation

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.