As a proud Philadelphian, I do not often find myself saying this, but lately I've been feeling really jealous of New York.
Am I longing for the food? The people? The theater? Don't be ridiculous. Philadelphia offers exceptional food and people and theater, thank you very much. It's because of the bikes.
New York's brand new "Citi Bike" bike share system has made fleets of shiny blue bikes available for short trips around Manhattan and Brooklyn, and everyone from the Wall Street Journal to the Daily Show seems to have an opinion about it. While there have certainly been some vocal naysayers, the New York Times Editorial Board was a welcome voice of reason earlier this week, reminding everyone that "bike sharing works" in cities all over the world, and it can work in New York, too.
Boston and Washington, D.C. already have successful bike sharing programs. I got a chance to try out D.C.'s "Capital Bikeshare" bikes when I visited in March and they totally transformed my experience of our nation's capital. But what about Philly? Good news: we're next. In 2014, Philadelphians will get access to a whole new public transportation option, in the form of a robust bike share system that promises to be efficient, affordable, and fun.
As a Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia employee and vocal advocate for bicycling in the city, I have been fielding a lot of questions about bike share in the past month or so. Not too long ago, I harbored some of the these same questions and confusions myself. Here's what I've learned.
The details of Philly's system are still being determined (for instance, the exact locations of docking stations and the pricing scheme), but the basic model is likely to be similar to those of our neighbor cities. In New York, DC, and Boston, users choose either a short-term membership, aimed at tourists, or a longer-term membership, aimed at locals. Members are then allowed unlimited short trips on the bikes, which are be stationed at docks throughout the city, close enough together that one never has to walk more than a few blocks to pick one up.
Each ride has a time limit (usually 30 or 45 minutes) after which fees are applied. This is key: unlike a rental bike you take out for the day, bike share bikes are geared toward short trips across town. Drop the bike off at the closest dock to your destination within the time limit, and that's it. No worrying about bike storage, maintenance, or theft -- it's a easy way to try biking for transportation without having to actually own a bike.
Don't get me wrong: I am not about to give up my own beloved bicycle when bike share rolls into town. (Her name is Helena, she belonged to my grandmother, and she is the best.) But bike owners have plenty of reasons to be excited about bike share: it will be perfect for one-way trips, it will allow us to ride with our friends and visitors who do not own bikes, and an influx of new riders should help speed up implementation of new bike lanes throughout the city, which make the streets safer for everyone.
The number one reason I am excited for bike share is also the simplest. Riding a bicycle around Philadelphia brings me incredible joy, and I want more Philadelphians to experience it. No other form of urban transportation provides the health benefits, cost savings, and efficiency of a bicycle, all with the chance to keep a close eye on our beautiful and ever-evolving city along the way. Bike share will make Philly even more livable and lovable than it already is, and I can't wait to welcome it to our streets.