When Borrowing to Save Actually Makes Sense
October 21, 2008 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Portland's got white ones, Austin has yellow ones, Vassar has them in pink. What are they? Community bikes. Colleges, universities, even whole cities are seeing the benefits of offering their students and citizens an alternative to cars, fossil fuels, and parking lots. Want to start a shared bike program in your community? Here's how. (previously)
posted by Toekneesan (42 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
lah-dee-dah . . .

$500B / $250/bike / 3,537,441 sq miles in the US = ~500 bikes per square mile.

Thanks, Ralph!
posted by troy at 10:11 AM on October 21, 2008


The bikes we have on our corporate campus were about $100 per bike and apparently they're looking to get even less expensive ones for the next round. And they're fine bikes. So you could have 1,000 bikes per square mile. But I think the true cost is maintenance, not capital costs. The items are minor - thrown chains, flat tires - but someone has to round up the busted bikes and fix 'em every night.

Anyway, I love our bikes here. They're awesome.
posted by GuyZero at 10:15 AM on October 21, 2008


I think you'll find that a lot of those square miles in the U.S. don't really need 500 Bikes.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:32 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


That'd never work in Edmonton (oh wait...).
posted by hangashore at 10:43 AM on October 21, 2008


A bit of a derail, but I heard the bailout package included a tax incentive that offers deductions for those who buy equipment for bikes they ride to work. Could that be legally construed to help me pay for a new bike if I get a job within biking distance? Also, could that incentive also help pay for membership in one of these programs?

I'd like this on my campus, but I tend to bike for pleasure and I'd just end up using the community bikes as an even bigger excuse to put off getting to class since I could just pedal faster. Besides, I'm on a small campus meant for walking. I could see this being useful at a bigger campus like Rutgers when something is just far enough away that walking isn't practical, but the bus would feel like overkill.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:51 AM on October 21, 2008


And some day Philadelphia might even get on board. Good post.
posted by fixedgear at 10:52 AM on October 21, 2008


Bike commuter bill. My employer - aka Uncle Sam - offers mass transit subsidy so since they offer this fringe benefit they should be among the first to offer the tax credit for cyclists. I'd like my $240 per year, but there is no language in the tax code implementing this benefit (yet).
posted by fixedgear at 10:58 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ha! This is great. We have the same sort of program here on Key West....people ALWAYS move bikes around. The bikes here are called Conch Cruisers (because people from here call ourselves "conchs," and they are in all sorts of various states of repair.

Generally it works like this. About 2 AM coming out of the Green Parrot on Whitehead Street with who knows how many drinks under your belt because its Tueday (your Friday), you wonder, "How am I going to get home?" You see a bike. You get on it. You ride it home.

The next morning, you ride it back and drop it off, or you just leave it somewhere else.

We've been doing this for at least fifty years. Key West may be a terrible place to own an expensive bike but it's a great place to ride one!
posted by humannaire at 11:09 AM on October 21, 2008


I don't think this would work too well in Berkeley. I can just imagine caravans of crackheads balancing multiple bicycles on their shopping carts on their way to make big cash. The number of bikes necessary to compensate for this would be astronomical.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:13 AM on October 21, 2008


Community bikes. What a great idea. Wish something like this would happen in NYC.

The bike trailer. The bike shopping cart almost works. Needs changes. I like modded bikes, like this one, the bicycle schoolbus.

In India the Atlas bike is everywhere. Incredibly sturdy. Often the whole family rides on one bike, in the city and country.
posted by nickyskye at 11:14 AM on October 21, 2008


Now we just need more bike lanes.

And signs to remind people that bike lanes are not for parking in. Or live parking with your hazards on, as though that somehow makes it better.

Also: can't you be charged with a DUI on a bike? Not like taking away your license is going to prevent you from riding a bicycle legally or anything.
posted by giraffe at 11:14 AM on October 21, 2008


I recall undergrads at my university having great late-night fun throwing these off of the top of their dormitories, riding them into fountains, leaving them in the street for cars to run over, etc.

It was like a university-funded Jackass prop. (Though still not a bad idea.)
posted by resurrexit at 11:17 AM on October 21, 2008


I'd like to point to the VĂ©lib program over here in Paris, which was introduced in the summer of 2007. It definitely has had problems, which incited some to create a collective complaint blog (which is also a useful support blog), but it works surprisingly well. I switched to it 2 weeks ago and now I bike literally everywhere. Of course, it helps that Paris is a densely, densely packed city; I can bike from one end of the city to another in about an hour.
posted by LMGM at 11:26 AM on October 21, 2008


Does anyone know what the make and model of the bikes are for the DC Smartbike Program?
posted by parmanparman at 11:29 AM on October 21, 2008


While it seems like a great idea, and perhaps it is a great idea, here in Austin, I think it's been met with just about abject futility. People tend to take them and keep them. No matter how many bikes the YBP puts out, you just never see ANY. The first few weeks they started the whole project way back when (late 90's?) I saw a few dozen around, but they pretty quickly became the hastily-painted-another-color bike project, and every wino in town had him a bike for a while. These days, I have no idea where they go. I think they're just zapped straight into another dimension from the YBP's warehouse. I haven't seen one in over a year.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:35 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, just saw this bike hack, bus racks on buses and subways. Now that would be way cool. Wish Mayor Bloomberg would consider this as an issue for his third term in office.
posted by nickyskye at 11:36 AM on October 21, 2008


Problems with this:

(1) They encourage people to bike without a helmet. Of course, you can carry around a helmet in hopes of finding a community bike. But realistically, most use of community bikes is probably going to be someone who doesn't have a helmet coming across a bike and deciding, "cool, I'll use a bike."

(2) Most cities aren't well laid out to allow biking in the streets, which leads to people biking on sidewalks, which, of course, is dangerous and illegal. Biking on sidewalks also discourages people from walking and is thus indirectly harmful to the environment.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:43 AM on October 21, 2008


Hampshire college had community bikes, and they were all beat up, the brakes didn't work, etc. You would be on the walkway with friends and hear someone shout "COMMUNITY BIKE" and everyone dove out of the way.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:45 AM on October 21, 2008


I started something like this by me. I went to work last Monday and when I came out, my bike was gone (and so were my locks that secured it). I like to think it's a community bike now.
posted by ShadowCrash at 11:59 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't think this would work too well in Berkeley. I can just imagine caravans of crackheads balancing multiple bicycles on their shopping carts on their way to make big cash. The number of bikes necessary to compensate for this would be astronomical.

I predict the same outcome in most major American cities, Trashicagotm included. I've known friends to have bikes stolen from all manner of 'secure' storage: apt bike rooms, locked garages, even locked to balconies on multi-story buildings. My condo assoc won't let me lock a bike on my deck for that reason.

Too bad, because while I do own a car, I'd easily use a freely available bike almost daily. But I won't buy one here because I'd rather burn the money I'd spend for warmth.
posted by ninjew at 12:03 PM on October 21, 2008


I swear that Minneapolis used to have a program like this (yellow bikes, if memory serves), but it seems to have gone away.
posted by ekstasis23 at 12:04 PM on October 21, 2008


They encourage people to bike without a helmet

So what? Showering is pretty dangerous (ever see the stats on bathroom accidents?) and plenty of people drive cars sans helmets. It's a USA obsession. Full disclaimer: I wear one, but don't give a rat's ass if anyone else does or does not. I'm too lazy to use the Google but a study in Australia demonstarted that mandatory helmet laws for adults discouraged cycling. Overall, worse for health.

Back to the subject at hand: Most of the late-model programs, not the 'yellow bikes' of the last century, feature some method of theft prevention. They require some form of registration, swipe card, credit card deposit, etc. Some bikes have chips or are GPS enabled. The one I rode in Copenhagen worked like a supermarket shopping cart - insert a coin, get a bike. The bike was fat, heavy and plastered with ads. Even if you painted it black with a rattle can, you'd still spot it as a bike share a mile away. It beat walking, but you probably wouldn't want to steal it. Not that these are perfect systems, but the problems are gradually being solved.
posted by fixedgear at 12:15 PM on October 21, 2008


parmanparman: Hard to say but they look pretty sick.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:55 PM on October 21, 2008


I don't think this would work too well in Berkeley. I can just imagine caravans of crackheads balancing multiple bicycles on their shopping carts on their way to make big cash. The number of bikes necessary to compensate for this would be astronomical.

I predict the same outcome in most major American cities


Indeed. It certainly didn't work out well here in bike-friendly, uber-progressive Portland, Oregon. I've mentioned this on Metafilter before, but in 1998, some years after Portland had given up on the yellow bike program, a couple of friends and I moved into a rental house on a slightly iffy, mostly industrial block in SE Portland, just south of Powell near the railyards.

The house we moved into had clearly had an...interesting history, from the generations of graffitti in the back yard, to the bullet holes in the plaster wall of the living room, to the basement that had been framed out into a mazelike warren of extra bedrooms but never quite finished, to the junk still left in the house when we moved in. Junk like dirty, stained, ancient mattresses. Junk like non-functioning electronics of dubious provenance.

Junk like a couple of Portland's missing yellow bikes.

I moved out of that house in 1999, and a guy who promoted punk shows took my place. As far as I know he's still there, and so are those yellow bikes.
posted by dersins at 12:55 PM on October 21, 2008


So what? Showering is pretty dangerous (ever see the stats on bathroom accidents?) and plenty of people drive cars sans helmets.

I don't understand the shower comparison. People should be careful in the shower. Showers are dangerous. You could easily slip and injure yourself, and you should take whatever precautions are necessary to avoid that. So even if there is a good analogy between biking without a helmet and showering, that doesn't explain how biking without a helmet is safe.

As for cars, (1) they're horrendously dangerous and fatal, so saying saying that something is like cars isn't a good way to show that it's not dangerous! More like the opposite. Cars kill 10s of 1000s of Americans a year. (2) It's actually not a good comparison since your whole body is enclosed in a car, which isn't the case with a bike (plus bike riders are less visible, etc.). So in short, bikes are like something that's really, really dangerous -- except even more dangerous. Not reassuring.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:31 PM on October 21, 2008


I'm too lazy to use the Google but a study in Australia demonstarted that mandatory helmet laws for adults discouraged cycling

Those people are retarded children. I'd rather not foot the bill for your ICU stay and thirty years of rehab visits for a wholly preventable problem.
posted by docpops at 1:34 PM on October 21, 2008


I'd rather not foot the bill for your ICU stay and thirty years of rehab visits for a wholly preventable problem.

I'm sorry? What country do you live in that you personally have to foot someone's medical bill for 30 years?

I understand the logic of the whole mandatory helmets thing, but I don't like it any more than the idea of outlawing Little Debbie Snack Cakes. Because, y'know, they do nothing but make you fat and increase your chance of health problems.

That and the fact that Swiss Cake Rolls are delicious.
posted by nushustu at 1:47 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


nushutsu - same country as you, apparently, and yes, you and I are paying for the unrecovered costs of medical care for trauma victims. Legislating the taking of a simple step that improves your odds of walking away from a collision vs. being a vegetable, while not obviously appealing to the individual, isn't the same as living in a nanny state. But if you feel like it is then by God stick it to the man and ride with the wind in your hair, you rebel.
posted by docpops at 2:52 PM on October 21, 2008


I don't understand the shower comparison. People should be careful in the shower. Showers are dangerous. You could easily slip and injure yourself, and you should take whatever precautions are necessary to avoid that.

Wear a helmet in the shower. I think I'll lobby my elected officials for mandatory shower helmet laws. Anybody who slips and falls in the shower and isn't wearing an ANSI/SNELL approved shower helmet gets no coverage. And since cars kills tens of thousands per year, I'm also in favor of mandatory helmet laws for motorists.

The larger point is that Europeans hop on their bikes and ride. They really don't agonize over this stuff. People should be encouraged to ride without helmets. They should be encouraged to ride without clipless pedals, spandex, gloves or expensive sunglasses. The barrier to entry should be really, really low. It's a big part of the solution to our huge dependence on fossil fuel. Americans view bikes as either a) toys or b) sporting goods. We need to change that mindset, and not requiring special equipment is a start.
posted by fixedgear at 2:56 PM on October 21, 2008


Reno had gold ones. Gold as golden spray paint gold. They even painted the seats which is where the stain in my shorts came from.
posted by clearly at 3:10 PM on October 21, 2008


.People should be encouraged to ride without helmets.

You couldn't pay me enough to ride around my city (Pittsburgh) without a helmet. Drivers around here are oblivious at best and usually just outright hostile to cyclists. No one ever looks before they open their car doors to get out (or spit) and the roads here are barely wide enough for the cars themselves.
posted by octothorpe at 3:24 PM on October 21, 2008


Or you could just have good Bike infrastructure and then people would want to buy bikes. Where I live now in Scandinavia has the same topography and climate as Chicago, but far more people bike because it is not scary. Some bike paths are on roads, but there are many separated, which let's be honest about even though we love to share the road...is much nicer because you don't have to be so close to stinky large noisy *&(*^^&% cars.

In Chicago after I get off my bike I think about how many times I almost died, here I commute several miles without batting an eyelash. People ride with children, ride with helmets, ride without helmets, ride unicycles, ride in the rain...the snow...it's a great place however you chose to ride and you can do it on your own damn bike, customized how you like it, without being continuously terrified.
posted by melissam at 4:00 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Vassar's pink bikes were yellow when I was a student there. It cost $5 to get a key and they were pretty rusty pieces of junk. Nothing like those shiny new pink bikes they have there now.
posted by k8lin at 4:18 PM on October 21, 2008


I think what would really help bike commuting become more popular is the development of a decent, secure bike. Specifically, it needs a lock that actually works and cannot be defeated by a bolt cutter, a car jack, or a bic pen (seriously, that was just sad.) Additionally, it needs some way of attaching the components so it cannot be stripped down easily, especially the seat and front wheel. Also, a locking cargo pod would be nice - something the size of a decent basket but secure and weatherproof. It must fit the rider's helmet and accessories at the very least.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:50 PM on October 21, 2008


We're actually working on a new bike share system in Minneapolis. We're in the late stages of vendor selection and hope to get 1000 bikes out in May. It's been one of the most exciting programs I've ever worked on.

http://www.twincitiesbikeshare.com/

Like the system in Paris, you can rent by the day, week, or long term subscription. Credit card deposits will hopefull reduce the loss to theft and vandalism. It's not free bikes everywhere, but it's probably the best way to get a system running sustainably.
posted by advicepig at 5:41 PM on October 21, 2008


In Chicago after I get off my bike I think about how many times I almost died..

Yeah, I forgot to mention that above. There are varying levels of danger, from "Wow, that was close" to your remains being scraped off some jerk's bumper. Personally, constantly expecting to get door'd, dealing with kamikaze cab drivers (who I'm afraid of even while in my car), and pedestrians who don't even look for cars, much less you on a bike, before crossing the street were just too much. Combine that with not being sure your bike would still be where you left it when you need to use it, it just isn't worth it for me.

Even the admittedly amazing lakefront bike path is hazardous. The city loves to talk up it's bike-friendliness, but I just don't think they can do enough to separate the cars from the bikes on the road. As much flack as King Daley gets for a lot of things, he'd do it if he could. Or make the drivers give a fuck about someone on two wheels.

It may sound like I'm complaining, but I had a bike in the city for years, and I didn't even look back over my shoulder when I left in the alley for someone else to deal with. I'll get a bike again when I live in a nicer city.
posted by ninjew at 5:48 PM on October 21, 2008


My left-coast brain read "Portland's got white one's" as being white bicycles in Portland, Oregon (oh the hubris). It was interesting to see Portland, Maine is trying the public bicycle experiment with white bikes. Portland Oregon's white bikes are memorials for cyclists killed in traffic accidents.
posted by dylanjames at 6:31 PM on October 21, 2008


The one I rode in Copenhagen worked like a supermarket shopping cart - insert a coin, get a bike. The bike was fat, heavy and plastered with ads. Even if you painted it black with a rattle can, you'd still spot it as a bike share a mile away. It beat walking, but you probably wouldn't want to steal it.

Yeah, but that was in Copenhagen. Why take the city bike? There will be a hundred bicycles lying around with nothing but a rear wheel lock securing them. Or instead of stealing a bike at all, marvel at the fact that there are a hundred unlocked bicycles lying around.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 7:50 PM on October 21, 2008


The Portland, Oregon free public bike program was called the Yellow Bike Project. That changed to Create-A-Commuter, which no longer exists. As I recall they did two seedings of bikes and the bikes vanished, entirely, within 3-4 days. Rumor was enterprising people gathered them up and sold them in other cities. Part of Portland's thriving bike culture is a thriving bike thief culture.
posted by eccnineten at 6:00 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Docpops,

Hey cranky. I hope you're doing all of your typing on one of those split keyboards that relieves wrist stress, because I would hate for your carpal tunnel bills to end up the responsibility of some taxpayer. Or, maybe I should just get off your lawn.

Seriously though, if you want to legislate things like that, fine. I don't really have a problem wearing a helmet. But if what you're worried about is saving 50 cents on our annual taxes, we should also make a law that every automobile come w/ front and side air bags standard, because there are a hell of a lot more ugly auto accidents than there are bike accidents.

Sheesh.
posted by nushustu at 7:56 AM on October 22, 2008


I think fixedgear's got it. I remember riding my bike as a kid. It was fun. Now you see kids on bikes, and they look like they're going to go jousting on those things. So much body armor, just to ride a bike.

Again, I'm not against helmets. You should wear one most of the time. City riding especially. But when I see people who won't let their five year olds ride in the driveway w/out a helmet, it's depressing. You're basically telling the kid: this is dangerous. Be afraid.

Biking in Europe is fun. You just ride. And if you want more car-drivers to be more aware of cyclists, the easiest way is to get them on bikes occasionally. And the easiest way to do that is to make it fun.
posted by nushustu at 8:05 AM on October 22, 2008




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