Philadelphia could take a step toward Mayor Michael Nutter’s goal of becoming the country’s No. 1 green city by implementing a public-use bicycle system.
Such a system could double the amount of people biking in the city, raising the number of residents who do not own cars, which is currently one-third of the population, said Alex Doty, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia.
“[Philadelphia] is already a bikeable city,” Doty said. “There are a lot of things we can do to turn it into a world-class biking city.”
Bike sharing would have many positive effects on the city. Not only will it reduce pollution, but it will also heighten the health of residents, decrease traffic congestion by taking cars off the roads and make public transportation a more attractive means of getting around the city.
“Bike sharing allows you to knock out some of those connectors to speed up your commute,” Doty said.
Kalvin Louw, who bikes from Fairmount to Main Campus, said the program would be great for the large number of commuters at Temple.
“I think it’s awesome,” the junior tourism and hospitality major said. “The fewer cars you can get in Philadelphia, the better.”
These programs have been quickly spreading to cities across the world, with one of the most successful models called Vélo’V, in Lyon, France. Russell Meddin, a member of the Bicycle Coalition, saw this program in effect there as he was getting off the train while visiting his daughter, who was studying abroad in December 2006.
“All of a sudden, I saw what was happening and said, ‘This is something we had to have in Philadelphia,’” Meddin said.
When he returned to Philadelphia, he began researching the programs and soon organized a symposium, which was held in January and attracted more than 400 residents, as well as the mayor and other politicians.
It included speakers representing Vélo’V, Dasani Blue Bikes, a recreational program in Pittsburgh and Freewheelin’, a program for hospital employees in Louisville, Ky.
The following week, a resolution was created in City Council by Blondell Reynolds Brown and Curtis Jones, Jr., authorizing the Environment Committee and the Transportation and Utilities Committee to hold public hearings and examine the creation of a public-use bicycle program.
“This is one of the opportunities we need to look at. Just like the car share program that has taken off, there’s a growing interest in the bike share program,” Brown said. “I’m curious to see where this is going to lead us.”
The project is estimated at $10 million, Doty said, noting the collaboration with PhillyCarShare due to their experience with a similar program.
The ideal program would model successful European programs with stations of 10 to 15 bicycles every 300 yards where a member can swipe his or her smart card to unlock a bicycle.
“And for Temple students, it will be incredible because the system calls for bicycle stations that would be no more than three football stadiums apart,” Meddin said. “It would mean that Temple students could easily get around campus and around the city. It only takes 12 minutes to get from Temple’s campus to City Hall [by bicycle].”
Josh Laskin, a sophomore environmental engineering major, owns a car but utilizes his bike for trips within the city. He said he is in favor of the program.
“I think a lot of Temple students, if they were informed about it, would use it,” he said.
On the basis that 10 percent of Lyon’s population is enrolled in its program, it is estimated that 125,000 Philadelphians would enroll and 4,000 bicycles would be needed, Doty said.
Also, in order to prevent theft, the bicycles are made with custom parts and installed with a GPS unit for tracking.
“What’s amazing about it, and a shock to many people who say it, is that within the first year, 97 percent of the rentals were by people who had never ridden a bicycle in Lyon before,” Meddin said.
While there is no set timetable for this project to get underway, funding is the key to getting it off the ground.
“People are really excited about it,” Doty said. “We’re really excited about it. A lot of it depends on how quickly funding can be found. Once we find funding, it will probably take within a year.”
Funding can come in multiple forms. It can be financed through the city, a non-profit organization or an advertising company as a part of a bus shelter or street furniture contract, according to the resolution by City Council.
Aside from Philadelphia, many other U.S. cities are considering undertaking such a program. Within the next month, 120 SmartBikes will be unveiled at 10 locations in downtown Washington D.C. Funded by their bus shelter advertising company, the program will cost $39 a year without hourly charges for the first year, said Jim Sebastian, the bicycle and pedestrian program coordinator in Washington D.C.
The planning for the program began three years ago, and plans for an expansion is developing.
“The moment you see it and either use it yourself or see it being used, you understand,” Meddin said.
Amanda Snyder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.