The first urban bike share program launched in Amsterdam (where else?) in 1965 and was a complete failure due to theft and abuse. Simply releasing free bikes onto the city wasn’t an effective strategy.
But we rode a long way, baby. Today, almost all the most sophisticated cities across the globe have docked or dockless bike share programs that are working. This includes Shanghai (Mobike), Sydney (several programs that compete with each other), Delhi (Mobycy), Paris (Velibe), San Francisco (FordGoBike), Washington DC (Capital Bikeshare), Chicago (Divvy), Chattanooga, Tennessee (Bike Chattanooga), and Montreal (BIXI). All have two-wheeled, human-powered vehicles for short-term use.
It's easy to find fault with certain aspects of these systems. I used the Velibes in Paris this past summer and it would sometimes require trying five or six to find one that was in working condition. But once found, it was the best way to see the Seine and just a little bit of a workout to get up to Montmartre. In Chicago, my home, the Divvy program marked its fifth year of operations in 2018 with more than 15 million rides since its introduction. More than half a million rides happen in each of our glorious summer months by a mix of tourists and commuting workers.
Bike-promoting infrastructure is expanding as well. Chicago has more than 175 miles of buffered and protected bike lanes and off-street trails, including the city’s famous 22-mile-long lakefront park and The 606, a 2.7 mile reuse of an abandoned rail line, newly refashioned as a bike commuter thoroughfare.
Two recent trade shows that I attended suggest that biking is increasingly embedded into cities. At expositions for the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the US Green Building Council (GreenBuild), companies were hawking bike garages, parking hoops, washing tubs (in stainless steel) and self-service kiosks (air pump, tethered Allen wrenches and tire levers, holding rack).
These are not mere first-world dalliances. While researching into a story I wrote for Modern Counsel magazine in 2015, I found that Citigroup chose to be the name sponsor of New York City’s CitiBike program (at a price tag of $41 million) for reasons that go beyond mobile advertising.
“One hundred million people are moving to cities every year, and nearly 70 percent of the world’s population is expected to be urban by 2050,” said Ed Skyler at a “Cities for Tomorrow” conference sponsored by the New York Times in July 2015. Skyler is the bank’s executive vice president of global public affairs. “The top 100 cities in the world will generate 35 percent of global economic growth over the next 10 years. Massive population and economic shifts are impacting cities.”
How will those millions and millions of people get around the finite streets and boulevards of burgeoning metropolises? Quite likely not one-person cars. Instead the smart people who have no time for traffic – bank customers, and bankers too – will have options.