Why Bike Share SHOULD be for Tourists

For 23 hours of 24, most of the world’s cars are in storage, with their steel parts slowly oxidising and their rubber parts perishing. How noble, that cycling is being kickstarted with fleets of bikes that are in constant use. It is particularly the case in New York and Paris that planners could replace the word “cycling” with “bike share” and not even notice the former term missing.

After we have met at our hot-desks and raised our recycled paper cups of kefir to our frugality, I propose we stop and think this one through. Would the automobile industry have grown quite as large had Henry Ford only sold Model-T zip cars?

Were it not for the profits they make from private car ownership, magnified by rusting bodywork and perishing gaskets, car manufacturers could not engage in the cheque book advocacy behind governments’ overspending on parking and roads. I recently got an inside scoop from an official in Boston that the car lobby there helped to fund feasibility studies to redevelop the seaport. If only a bike lobby could pay me to investigate the development potential of such a site, on the proviso my plans showed bike tracks and bike parking, rather than roads and parking for cars.

Bike share is a seeding measure, for kickstarting bicycle transport where there is none. Long term though, it would be better if people spent as much buying bikes as they might otherwise have spent buying cars. We should likewise hope people start paying premium prices for apartments with indoor bike parking, so they can care for their luxury bikes the way they might otherwise have cared for their luxury cars. We should hope peoples wardrobes one day will be brimming with Rapha and Outlier gear.

People become passionate advocates of modes of transport when they are financially invested in using them heavily. At the same time, companies profiting from individuals’ investments, can provide the financial arm of their advocacy. Bike share looks great from a green point of view, and from the point of view of a marxist. However, from a bicycle advocacy standpoint, and looking into the future, it really should be for the tourists.

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5 Comments

  1. Dmitri F says:

    Not sure I agree that you have to be financially invested to be an advocate for a mode of transport. I have recently discovered bike advocacy and I consider it to be a matter of freedom rather than finance. Sure, I don’t have a car and I don’t use public transport. But the reason for both those things is not necessarily economics – even though economics is a positive side effect.

    I dislike public transport because I like to be in control, there is nothing worse than having to pay for riding a bus that is late, or not riding at all because of a snow storm.
    And I do not own a car because I live in the city where I can get everywhere faster on a bike, and having a car is just a useless expense.
    I also get bored easily, and you never get bored riding a bike. The same can not be said about a bus or sitting in a traffic jam 😉

    I do have a nice bike and tend to indulge on Rapha wear from time to time, but those are things that started as a result of my passion for cycling and cycling infrastructure, not the other way around.

    I also know several people who own 5000 US dollar bikes and could care less about bicycle advocacy or infrastructure, since they tend to ride for recreation…

    I suppose you could say that I am financially invested because I do not wish to spend money on other modes of transport, but that is just one reason I cycle.

    However, there is one truth I suppose – rich people tend to be better advocates since politics is all about money 😉

  2. Dmitri F says:

    On my recent visit to Amsterdam I saw that most people there had rusty old bikes that they bought at local flea markets. People treat bicycles as an old pair of sneakers and not more. And yet the infra there is some of the best in the world?

    I suppose from an advocacy perspective unless there is a rich and powerful bicycle lobby, cycling is left at the mercy of public opinion and the benevolence of government…

    As for bike share, I think it suits both tourists and locals. I often ride bike share bikes in Stockholm if I’m too lazy to bring my bike out of the garage to go to the corner store or if my own bike is broken.
    Bike share is also a great gateway drug to transport cycling for many city dwellers. People who never rode bikes in the city can easily experience the convenience and awesomeness of city cycling… I see a lot of fancy looking people riding bike share bikes, and you can nowadays regularly see photos of celebrities on NYC Citibikes… Again, people who never rode bikes before can suddenly try it…

    Would people who buy ultra expensive bicycles really be more invested in advocacy than if they just had an old 50 dollar bike or commuted on a bike share bike daily?

    I guess the effect would have to be on an industry level, but can the bike industry ever become as large as the car industry? Do we want it to?

    Not sure I’m making any sense…

    • Steven says:

      Yep, you’re making sense. I’m designing building types that would let us take our precious bikes with us, to all destinations, like handbags. To my mind, it really doesn’t matter how folk make do in cities retrofitted for cycling like New York and Amsterdam. Projected population growth should make us cast our eyes on redevelopment districts and what can be done there. Are you an architect? Thanks for the taking the time to leave thoughtful comments.

  3. Dmitri F says:

    Hi Steven!
    No I’m not an architect, just a strong believer in the bicycle as the best form of transport in cities and beyond, and part time freelance advocate for better bike infra in Stockholm.

    I guess my viewpoint and arguments are strongly influenced by retrofitted cities, rather than cities designed for cycling from the start.
    For the record, I love your ideas of cities and buildings designed for cycling, in most modern cities walking seems to be the lowest common denominator, but I much prefer your ideas on using the bicycle as the first and last mode – designing city blocks and squares around bicycle distances rather than walking distances etc.
    Even the staunchest bike advocates and advocacy groups, as well as cities like Amsterdam and other cycle friendly dutch cities still strongly pander to “walking” as the main mode, I suppose it might be because it is politically correct to do so…

  4. Tourists can use them – as long as they’re happy to blow through the attractions in a New York Minute – for the price of a Manhattan panini! Was great catching up with you Upover – I mention you here. Let me know if I quoted you right! http://galfromdownunder.blogspot.com/2013/08/citibike-nyc-giving-my-little-wheels.html

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