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Bike Sharing Programs Make City Travel Easy
By Judith Nemes
Judith Nemes is a reporter for USA Today. She is a freelance journalist originally from Chicago. Nemes specializes in green issues and health care. This article was first published in USA Todayon June 11, 2013.
Adam Sledd and his wife, KC, never dreamed of riding bikes through the busy streets of Washington, D.C., until they moved last fall to a neighborhood with bike-sharing stations.
“Suddenly, there were a lot of places closer to us that made sense to get [to] by bike. It was faster than walking, but not practical to drive my car and then have the hassle of finding a parking spot,” says Adam, 31, a program manager at a non-profit that promotes energy efficiency in buildings.
The Sledds were hesitant to spend money on bikes they might not use regularly or that could get stolen. So they tried the bike-sharing system for a weekend. They were hooked and continued to use the service. An app on their smartphones identifies the closest bike-sharing station and lets them know how many bikes are parked there. “You see things differently in a city while you’re riding … I also like keeping carbon out of the atmosphere. Even though it’s miniscule, it’s better than nothing,” he says.
The Sledds are riding the wave of eco-friendly bike-sharing programs that has been spreading over the past decade and is popular with tourists as an easy means of getting around a new city. European cities paved the way, but U.S. cities are quickly catching up.
And better late than never. “A bike doesn’t pollute. It’s clean, healthy for the rider and a fun way to get around the city,” says Jeff Miller, president of the Alliance for Biking and Walking, a coalition of more than 200 state and city active transportation groups.
New York launched its bike sharing program last week and Chicago is gearing up to launch its later this year. The programs will put thousands of short-term, rentable bikes on the streets, available at hundreds of docking stations. Other cities with programs in the works include San Francisco; Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; Seattle; and Vancouver, Canada.
Chicago hopes to make 4,000 bikes available at 400 stations across a wide swath of the city within the first year of the program, says Gabe Klein, Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Transportation. “This will be a game changer,” he says. “People are moving back to cities because they don’t have to be in a car all the time. We’re playing to our strength as a city.”
The stations will be linked closely to the Chicago Transit Authority’s buses and trains, downtown office buildings, grocery stores and other desirable locations. “Bike share is one of those missing links in transportation, especially for that last mile of connectivity from the bus or train. It will give people mobility they’re not used to having,” Klein says.
The Capital Bikeshare program in Washington, D.C., has been hugely popular. Launched in 2010, it clocked 1 million trips in the first year of operation; in only eight months, it recorded the next million.
Adam Sledd uses the system as often as three times a week, but he may ramp that up and eventually use a bike on his 2.5-mile commute to work. “I’m not sure how comfortable I am yet riding through downtown D.C. in rush hour,” he admits.
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