A commitment to biking works

  • Posted: Monday, June 17, 2013 10:15 a.m.
Fully assembled and ready to use bikes sit at the roll-out facility for Chicago's new bike-share program, Divvy. The program will start in two weeks with about 750 bikes at 75 solar-powered docking stations and expand over the next year to at least 4,000 bikes at 400 stations scattered across the city. Users can get a $75 annual membership or a $7 day pass.

The 39 largest U.S. cities designated Bicycle Friendly Communities saw an 80 percent increase in bike commuting from 2000 to 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. That’s convincing evidence that efforts to make the urban environment more accommodating to cyclists will pay off.

At the local level, those efforts include plans to improve access across the Ashley River onto the peninsula. It’s been a daunting process just to get to the stage of serious planning. And there are still plenty of motorists who oppose the idea.

When it seems as if the obstacles to wide-scale bikability are too much, the Lowcountry can look to New York City for encouragement.

We have rivers to cross and traffic to deal with, but they pale in comparison to New York’s notorious traffic and congestion.

Still, over Memorial Day weekend, Citi Bike was launched. The bike share program put 6,000 bicycles and 300 biking stations on Manhattan and in parts of Brooklyn.

It was made possible because Citi Bank contributed more than $40 million — and because Mayor Michael Bloomberg oversaw the city adding 350 miles of bike lanes in recent years.

That’s commitment.

The way it works is that subscribers pay a $95 annual fee for unlimited rides of 45 minutes. Riders will also be able to buy a 24-hour pass for about $10 and a seven-day pass for $25.

Some 36,000 people have already signed up for memberships. But things haven’t gone seamlessly. Software problems have meant 10 percent of the bicycle docks aren’t working properly. Some are calling the program “Glitchy Bikes” instead of “City Bikes.”

But it’s clearly a trend to watch.

Washington, D.C.’s successful Capital Bikeshare has more than 22,000 members and 1,800 bikes. Chicago rolls out its Divvy Bikes on June 28.

Greenville and Spartanburg each have bike share programs.

Some will remember the ill-fated Yellow Bike program attempted by a citizen in Charleston in 1996. Kevin Condon fixed up donated bikes, painted them bright yellow and offered them to anyone to use free downtown. The program failed when bicycles were stolen and others were robbed of their wheels.

Citi Bike is much more regulated, and similar programs have been successful in other large cities including London, Paris and Montreal.

Still, one thief managed to make away with a Citi Bike as workers were loading them on a truck.

Members’ initial reactions have been mostly positive. The general public has been mixed. Some don’t like where the stations are located and some don’t like the way they look.

But New York is intent upon growing the program soon to include 10,000 bicycles and 600 stations, and to serve parts of Queens.

The bikes have three speeds, aluminum frames, front and rear flashing LED lights and puncture-resistant tires.

WNYC conducted a race. Three staffers used different modes of transportation (Citi Bike, taxi and subway) to travel a set route. Citi Bike was the fastest.

Mayor Bloomberg is calling Citi Bike New York’s first large-scale public transportation program in more than 75 years, when motor buses replaced electric trolleys.

The growth in bicycle commuting in Bicycle Friendly Communities shows that bike-friendly efforts are bearing fruit elsewhere.

Some in the Lowcountry say investing in bike lanes and paths is a waste of money and an impediment to motor traffic.

They don’t believe people will park their cars and ride a bike.

If New Yorkers do it — by the tens of thousands — on streets crowded with speeding taxis, why wouldn’t Charlestonians do it across the Lowcountry’s scenic rivers and along its historic streets?

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