To Share is to Care: Vélib in Chicago

My lasting recollection of the Paris bike share program is walking 2 miles home at 2am while savvy Parisians zipped by on Vélibs, fueled by joie de vivre and eau de vie. How I’d wished I could join in their frolicking, cursing my behind-the-times American credit card with no smartchip.

Now, finally, Chicago will have such a program.

You might think we already do, but Grid Chicago called it when they said: “No, B-Cycle is not a bike sharing program, but a kiosk-based bike rental program, as bicycles are only available in touristic locations, plus two locations on the IIT campus.”

Another astute blog post from Payton Chung pointed out what I’d seen in Paris: “it will be very difficult to keep the bikes/spaces balanced, the biggest operational problem that’s emerged in urban bicycle sharing.” People on the periphery of Paris ride into the city in the morning, riding back out at night, often forgoing the latter up-hill ride in favor of the metro. Ah the freedom!

The result is a mass of shared bikes at stations downtown with none on the outskirts. And Paris is supposedly perfectly suited for such a thing.

In Paris, they employ a veritable armée to move bikes around to keep bikes from over-accumulating or the opposite.

Chicago, not being perfectly suited for such a sharing program, has certain challenges but benefits from learning from other city’s struggles.

Some ideas:

  • Grid Chicago blew my mind in suggesting that the Bike Share program be included on a “One City, One Card” that would work on CTA, Metra, and the forthcoming casino.
  • Chicago wants to make its program the largest in the US but should move towards effectiveness first, then girth.
  • The system should be arranged so that very little manpower be used to move bikes around; this seems wasteful.

My one suggestion:Though it should be one system with one membership, there should be different zones in which you can use the bikes. People should not be encouraged (or allowed) to pick up a bike in Wicker Park and ride it all the way downtown. Our city is too spread out; get your own bike. The downtown region should be its own entity; people take the train in from the burbs, pick up a bike and ride it the rest of the way; with the density recommended by Mr. Chung, people would circulate the bikes themselves throughout the day. Bikes at Wicker Park would be more for people running errands, much like an I-GO car, rather than transportation. I mean, really, Chicago’s area is 5.8 times LARGER than Paris; we’d need to restrict movement somewhat just to keep it manageable.

ADDENDUM (9/27/11):

Maybe bike sharers should be allowed to take bikes downtown but should be charged a fee for moving bikes between certain zones: the northside redline zone, the northwest blue line zone, the southwest pilsen zone, the downtown zone, and the southside bronzeville zone.

Filed under: Bike Share

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