by Eileen Weber
Could a bike-sharing program be in the works for the Hartford area? If you’re John Zito from The Green Vibration, then the answer may be yes. Zito and his wife, among other green business ventures, are hoping to start a bike-sharing program in the city’s center. There’s one teeny-weeny problem: there aren’t enough bike racks.
“This has been a little more of an investment than we thought,” said Zito of the program. With only a handful of bikes all in varying levels of repair, “We’re on a shoe-string budget.”
While Zito has an idea and a dream, there are few other details that need to be worked out before his program gets up and running. For one, he will need the full support of the City of Hartford.
According to Tim Ericson, Co-Founder of CityRyde, a bike sharing consultant firm in Philadelphia, Zito’s task will be a lot easier said than done. “Things like this can move quickly if you have the full support of the city,” he said. “It’s possible to have it up and running in six months. But more likely, it takes at least a year.”
But that hasn’t stopped other cities around the country from starting their own programs. Washington, D.C. and Seattle are two cities in particular whose programs are thriving. “I’ve used the ones in Seattle,” said Brian LaVoie, Manager of the Streets and Traffic for the City of West Hartford. “I think bike-sharing is great. If I could bike to work, I would. But, I live about 25 miles away.”
Even college campuses have been getting into the act. The University of New England, Emory University, and UC Berkeley are just a few of the schools that have successfully tackled the program.
There are some, however, that didn’t bode as well. According to an October 20, 2008 article in The New York Times, schools like St. Mary’s College in Maryland and Juanita College in Pennsylvania had their share of problems. St. Mary’s shut down their program because of vandalism and theft. Juanita College had a different issue.
“The kids weren’t taking care of the bikes, leaving them wherever instead of parking them in the bike racks,” said John Wall, a spokesman for Juniata College as quoted in the article about the school’s two-year-old bike-sharing program. “The other problem was that the bikes weren’t the greatest to begin with. They were donated by Wal-Mart, and others were rehabbed. They had also been out in the weather. It just didn’t work out.”
The city of Minneapolis along with the university has just recently received a $1.75 million grant for a bike-sharing program. While initially slated for this year, the project may have to wait until next spring. Once launched, the program will provide 1,000 bikes for use around town and on the university campus. A season pass will cost around $50 or $5 for a one-day use.
There has been some political opposition to bike sharing programs. Eric Cantor, House Minority Whip and Republican from Virginia, says that the programs illustrate wasteful spending in a bad economy, from the creation of bike paths to the installation of additional bike racks. But not every area looks at bike sharing that way.
“These days, every city is looking to lower their carbon emissions,” said Ericson of City Ryde. “Bike-sharing is an immediate way to do that.”
While bike-sharing may be a new concept to the U.S., it has been thriving in Europe for quite some time. France, Italy, and Spain are just a few of the countries with flagship programs that have been very successful. Just recently, Spain celebrated their second anniversary of their bike-sharing program, Bicing.
The biggest hurdle for the U.S. may be those areas of the country in which biking is unreasonable. If you live in a rural area several miles from work, you’ll hop in your car rather than on your ten-speed. But for those that live in a city or major town in which the traffic congestion is a growing problem, then bike-sharing might just be the answer.
If more towns, cities, and college campuses take on the challenge of organizing a bike-sharing program, the more likely people will warm up to the idea. It will reduce our carbon emissions, traffic congestion, and, if nothing else, our rampant obesity rate. What’s not to like about that?
Image courtesy of Flickr.