Thursday, April 2, 2015

Maybe Bike Share Just Isn't Equitable

One of the biggest topics taking up airtime in the resourced part of the bike world is the development and expansion of bike share systems. I've been asked about "equity" and bike share many times. After about the 15th request for my expert opinion on the topic, it occurred to me that the believers in bike share see this as something that HAS TO WORK.

Bike share is one of the current "silver bullets" of bike advocacy, the trends that become THE solution, THE intervention that is going to fix the United States' problem with biking. Bike share creates access to bicycles; boom, problem solved.

The thing is, no matter how many vision boards y'all are creating to attract customers and resources to bike share, there is no silver bullet. And this groupthink around bike share seems to have made it difficult for folks to recognize something that matters: maybe bike share just isn't equitable. Where stations go, what kind of bikes are used, how you pay for them; all of these are interesting design questions that are hard to answer in a way that works for everyone in a given city.

Maybe we'll find that these inherently limited bike share systems aren't a great use of public resources. If companies want to invest in them as a lifestyle amenity making certain neighborhoods even more desirable according to "livability" standards, that's a different conversation than this idea that bike share is somehow a public transportation resource.

There's a lot of other more immediately equitable stuff to invest in if you want to spend transportation dollars on bicycling. Money could go to local entrepreneurs who want to start up bike shops in neighborhoods where there hasn't been one in many years. Money could go to youth education programs where kids learn to build bikes for themselves and for family. Money could go to community events where people find out that hanging around outside of cars in the street is pretty fun.

Given the fervor and flurry of investment I've seen around making bike share equitable in recent years, I think I might be saying something pretty controversial right now. Well, that's on purpose. The bike world needs more controversy if it wants to grow bigger and make bicycling work for more people. It's important that people researching bike share as a possible use of public resources remain open to the potential conclusion that these systems simply aren't the best option.