The Car and the Bicycle, Part 3 - The Bike Sharing Boom: A Symbiosis
As noted in an earlier posting on this blog, bicycles were the forgotten stepsister of the early part of the twentieth century when the automobile was in its ascendancy. As a symbol of reckless independence, macho bravado, and conquest of a vast continent, the motorcar represented American know-how in all its swank and swagger.
The dominance of the auto grew exponentially following WW2 after President Eisenhower established the nation’s manifest destiny of laying asphalt from sea to shining sea in order to allows cars and commercial freight to get there faster. What hope was there for the humble bicycle other than to continue to be the vehicle of choice for children with training wheels or eccentrics?
But bicycles have make a comeback. Beginning with the emergence of the environmental and preventative medicine movements of the 1970s and 1980s, the millennial age has given rise to fervent further concerns over climate change, urban dystopia, and a social connectedness about it all. As a part of these movements, the bicycle is now regaining its cool chicness. And in many major cities, including Boston, bike-sharing options have made “share the road” a priority.
This is a familiar road sign I grew up with in the 1970s, the symbol of how far the sharing-of-the-road movement had reached by that time.
You might have seen bikers on the pathways back then, but not much territory was formally granted to them particularly in highly trafficked urban roads.
Not so anymore. These are the new signs of the times.
Though bike lanes have been around a few decades now, a 2014 article in Boston Magazine heralded the arrival of the now ubiquitous green painted bike lanes in Somerville, a hot spot of urban cycling activity in the area.
And by 2018, the 21st century cycle has arrived to Boston scene. Sayonara penny farthers from the 1800s. Welcome to the Matrix.
With the quick swipe of a credit card, or the tap of Venmo or PayPal, hip customers can easily rent these new fangled wireless embedded, app activated two-wheelers for jaunts around the city or a day in the country. In New York, they’re called CitiBikes because of its sponsorship by CitiBank. In Boston, there are Bluebikes (Blue Cross is a current sponsor), which are docked to a hub, or LimeBikes which are dockless and can be picked up or parked anywhere.
BlueBikes, with its 2,500 bikes strategically placed at 260 locations, including the city’s three main transportation hubs (North, South, and Back Bay stations), claims it can get its customers to their jobs faster than they would in cars, and with an added therapeutic bonus: “It’s also a great way to energize the start of your day.” The bike-sharing service has a variety of pricing plans to suit various customer needs: $2.50 for a single trip, $10 for unlimited two-hour trips in a 24-hour period, and $99 for an annual membership.
LimeBikes has rolled out some intriguing video introductions for both its bikes and scooters.
What is inspiring about the new bike-sharing services is that they take a symbiotic approach, not an us-vs-them, bike-vs-automobile attitude. Though there are some vocal exceptions, most of today’s bicycle advocates don’t want to monopolize the roads—they want to share them via such innovative solutions as the Bluebikes and the rails-to-trails movement described in an earlier post.
Even the on-demand services like Uber and Lyft are getting into the act. Uber, for example, is rolling out its JUMP service, which provides easy-to-get bikes and scooters to users in cities around the globe. Plus, they use pedal-assist electric bikes that provide a boost of up to 20 mph as the cyclist rides along—especially helpful in hillier cities like Montreal or San Francisco. For more than two years, Uber Technologies has been quietly engineering its own electric scooters, and in 2018 acquired Jump Bikes for more than $100 million, tasking them to oversee this operation. Though not yet in Boston, JUMP is already available in 20 North American cities as diverse as New York and Nashville, Austin and Atlanta, Miami and Montreal.
As CEO Ryan Rzepecki has blogged: "Our mission at JUMP Bikes is to build the bike you want. A bike that can take you farther, get you there faster, and be the most fun to ride. A bike that you don't even need to own, doesn't cost a penny to maintain, and is always nearby when you want it. If we achieve this mission then we'll see more people on bikes — meaning greener, more accessible, and healthier cities."
Not to be outrun, Uber’s archival Lyft is also investing heavily in the bike-sharing boom. A year ago, Lyft reportedly spent around $250 million to acquire Motivate, the bike-sharing company that operates CitiBike in New York City and Ford’s GoBike program in San Francisco.
According to Lyft, Motivate was responsible in 2018 for operating about 80 percent of bike-share trips in the US in Boston, as well as Chicago, Washington, Portland, Oregon; Columbus; and Minneapolis. networks in Chicago; Boston; Washington, DC; Portland, Oregon; Columbus; and Minneapolis. At the time of the acquisition, Lyft vowed to “invest to establish bike offerings in our major markets and pursue growth and innovation in the markets where Motivate currently operates.
Lest you think bicycles are just antique contraptions mired in the nineteenth century, you should take note of some newfangled electro-technological mutations of your basic analog bicycle. I’ve seen some of these in my travels on the road so I can attest that evolution is indeed in motion.
The progenitor of these Jetson-like contraptions could be the sleek Vespa (Italian for “wasp”) bikes that got their start in Italy around the end of World War II. (Company Website). (Perhaps the trains stopped running on time after Mussolini died.) Since its manufacturer, Piaggio, was prohibited by the Allies from developing any more aircraft, the firm’s designers decided to develop a line of scooters to help the nation get on its wheels again after the war.
There are electric skateboards galore (more reviews) and other mutants such as a OneWheel skateboard like contraption zipping along the bike lanes. Lyft scooters have already been rolled out in a score of American cities, though not yet in Boston. And I’ve even seen odd triangle shaped scooters around too.
Bird and Lime started a pilot project in Brookline this spring a year after Bird was ordered to remove its installations from several Boston-area municipalities after installing them without permission. Lime reported in mid-June that more than 13,000 users had already logged 31,000 trips, with the average Lime scooter ride lasting about nine minutes and 0.8 miles. While Bird did not release detailed ride statistics, it reported that a survey of its Brookline users found that 21 percent of them used an e-scooter to replace a trip that would have been taken by a car, or a ride-hailing app like Uber or Lyft.
Lastly, although a step up from scooters, although one step below motocycles, I’ve seen a sort of mini-me motorbike called “GoGreen”. Like a scooter on steroids.
Alas, a Brookline town legislator was hospitalized when she fell off a scooter during the rollout earlier this year, but it was reported that she tried to use the brake and the accelerator pedal at the same time. And of course there is the sad case of the late Jim Heselden, the British tycoon who bought the Segway company and ended up riding one of the scooters over a cliff on his Yorkshire estate.
Maybe they needed lessons from Elvira Gulch aka the Wicked Witch of the West. Augustus Pope, the pioneer bicycle manufacturer in our area back in the 1800s, is surely is pedaling in his grave.