There was a great article in yesterday’s New York Times by David Byrne, formerly of Talking Heads and about 1,000,000 other projects, about New York City’s new bike share program and his experiences with similar programs in other cities. Memphis is slated to adopt its own bike share program, although I have few details about it, as I missed the Pizza with Planners meeting last week due to vacation. And, the University of Memphis should be implementing a bike share program for students beginning in the fall, subject to approval by the Board of Regents. I’ve been working on that project for some time now, along with my friend and colleague Amelia Mayahi, the University’s Sustainability Coordinator, and many others. Hopefully the two programs will complement each other as well as the existing bike share program at Rhodes College.
New York’s bike share program would offer unlimited rides for $10 per day, as long as the rides were 30 minutes or fewer in length. This time restriction is made easier by plans to install 450 (corrected: 600) bike share kiosks and station around the boroughs. In a practical sense, this means that if you wanted to bike from home to the grocery store, you would need to find a bike station near your home and another near the store. You would check out a bike near home, bike to the station nearest the store, and return the bike. After shopping, you would return to the station near the store, check out another bike, and continue on to your next destination. You could do this as many times as you like that day. The ease of finding bike share stations is enhanced greatly by offering an app for iPhones (and hopefully Android devices as well), that shows the location of nearby stations.
I don’t know where the bike stations will be located around NYC, presumably near population centers, entertainment districts, subway stations, and so on. As for Memphis, I could imagine numerous bike stations in downtown (i.e. at South Main and Patterson, further north on Main, near the Convention Center), in the Pinch district, Uptown, the medical district, Overton Square, Overton Park, Cooper Young, near college campuses, and so on. Basically, anywhere where there are lots of people or where lots of people like to go.
One thing to consider is the number of stations relative to the time limits on rentals. The basic equation is that fewer stations = longer rental time. If we start out with, say, 10 stations in Memphis, a 30-minute window might be too short for many rentals, and might inadvertently discourage participation. On the other hand, making sure that bikes are returned in a timely fashion is important. If relatively few people account for most of the rentals, effectively hogging the bikes and preventing others from using them, dissatisfaction with the program will manifest. This is a concern that Amelia and I heard from some of the other bike rental programs we investigated.
The bike rental program at U of M will have a two-week window for using a bike. Upon returning a bike, the student must wait 24 hours before re-renting a bike if there are no other bikes available. The program will be open to all students for a flat annual fee. We’re going to start with 50 bikes which will be housed at a central location on campus. We won’t have the kiosks that are typical seen in municipal share programs due to the initial expense of acquiring and installing them.
Another concern with bike share/rental programs (by the way, I am using “bike share” and “bike rental” as synonyms, although there might be a difference that I am missing) is helmet use. According to the Annals of Emergency Medicine, only 1 in 5 bike share users wear helmets. While I am 100% pro-helmet use, and never bike without one, I am also respectful of the right of adults to engage in risky behavior at their own discretion, without the government forcing them to use safety devices. I’ve never written about them before, but I am generally opposed to laws that require adult cyclists to wear helmets (although this rapidly turns into a discussion on the relationship between the state and the individual and such issues as helmet laws for motorcyclists and seat belt laws). Helmet laws for minors are a no brainer.
At U of M, we’re going to address the helmet issue by providing helmets and other safety gear for all riders and, of course, requiring that they sign a waiver indemnifying the University from injuries, etc. Also, the students will be responsible for any damages to the bikes, equipment, or theft.
I don’t know how the helmet issue could be addressed in a municipal share program'; perhaps with one of these? It would be difficult to mandate that riders wear helmets, although having them available would be good and might enhance participation. Of course, there’s also the ick-factor of wearing a sweaty, stinky helmet that just came off someone else’s head. Maybe some Lysol would solve that.
Whatever the case, I am very excited about the bike share programs at U of M and in the city itself. They both show that Memphis is growing into a truly bike-friendly city. Good times.