Bike Share in Indy: Think of the Possibilities

It has been a few months since the city of Indianapolis announced its upcoming bike share program. At the time, there was a healthy discussion on our blog’s e-mail group about the potential for this bike share moving forward in the city. I thought now would be a good time to discuss the reasons I think it could be successful, as well as potential pitfalls to avoid if B Cycle wants to make this service more inclusive.

First, the positives:

  • A bicycle is great for medium-distance rides. I work right downtown, and often would like to have lunch on Mass Ave or Fountain Square. Currently I either have to walk about a mile, or walk a block and a half to my car (if I drive to work that day) to drive to those locations. Bike share would help downtown workers visit more local businesses more efficiently.
  • It will be cheaper than renting a car for visitors.  The only time I’ve used a bike share was in Washington DC, and it was a huge plus to be able to expand the areas that I was visiting while being above ground.  (The Metro is great and all, but a tourist wants to be able to see the city).
  • The city could dedicate less space for parking cars around bike share stations.   Less space for cars, more space for commercial activities or public spaces.
  • It could actually encourage me to ride the IndyGo buses more often.  Sometimes there are days when I need to make a short trip after work that is usually done by car or a long walk, but a bike share would make these trips more simple.
  • One of the arguments against bike share seems to be this one:  People can bring their own bike with them, including on IndyGo, so why do people need a publicly shared bike?  My answer is this: I bring my 2 year old daughter downtown to daycare before going to work.  I’m not going to be dealing with putting my bike on a bus while making sure she doesn’t get run over by another vehicle.  And, I suppose I could put my bike on my car when I drive downtown, but  I would have to walk a block and a half just to get to the car/bike.  Next door access would be a nice benefit.

I’m sure that there are many other benefits, but these are a few.  Now, the pitfalls:

  • Bike Share station location is easily criticized for favoring affluent neighborhoods.  The Daily Show did an amusing segment on the bike share that was initiated in New York City, but at the end it also makes a critical point.  These bikes could do a lot of good in neighborhoods that are more transit-dependent and less affluent as well.
  • Most bike shares are paid by credit cards, which is another issue that hinders access.  A better way would be to also allow users to reserve the bikes and link the charges to their cell phone bills, which is a model being used by Social Bicycles in five US cities.
  • Most fledgling bike shares do not provide helmets.  Boston will be the first in the nation by the end of the month to provide a helmet vending machine.
  • Not exactly a family friendly venture at this time.  I have yet to see a bike share program with either kids size bicycles or trailers.  This could be  a legal liability issue for the corporations, though, so perhaps this problem will go unsolved.

I hope to hear some other positives and negatives through reader comments.  Post away.

Comments 11

  • I would like to see Bicycle Helmut Vending machines at different bike station locations. The cost to make disposable helmets from recycled paper is approximately $1.50 so providing a safety Helmut to riders at a reasonable cost is possible. The helmets can be returned for recycling and a deposit refund. I am not sure the renters of bikes will bring helmets so making helmets available will enhance bike sharing program. Plus, it is another plus for environment to have the helmets made from recycled paper and further asked to be recycled at a $1.50 cost. A company in England is already manufacturing the helmets and the product meets safety ratings. The program in Boston uses plastic helmets that require return and need to be washed before the next use.

  • Regarding helmets, I’m not convinced by their efficacy:

    I do wear a helmet most of the time, but I also don’t freak out if I don’t have one available. Especially if I’m using the Cultural Trail.

    This brings me to my second point, while I question helmet efficacy, there is no arguing the benefits from protected bikeways. The Cultural Trail and Shelby St bike track are far safer than a helmet could ever be.

    As for access, I would love to see local supermarkets, post offices, IndyGo service centers, etc sell reloadable plastic cards that can be used to rent the bike. I understand that a deposit is needed, but perhaps the deposit could be based on need and anyone with a low income could qualify. Anyone not qualifying could simply have a deposit on their card.

    Having used B-Cycle in San Antonio, I can unequivocally say that this is going to change Indianapolis.

    • All that is certainly true regarding helmets and separated path safety. And I don’t ride with one every time either. But I still would like to have the option if needed.

      I like your plastic card access idea, I hadn’t thought of that.

    • That’s a good article, and I totally agree with his final comment:
      “I’ll keep wearing a helmet. I am a) Risk averse and more importantly b) Signalling to my wife that I pay attention to her opinion.”

      • Yeah, that quote definitely resonated with me as well, Dan. The other reason I wear a helmet is to indicate to everyone at the library/grocery/brewery that I biked there. Makes me feel better and hopefully will cause others to think about biking occasionally.

    • Thanks for sharing the link. I’m not convinced of the efficacy of helmet *laws*, and I think that’s his strong point in the article. Like you, I’d rather see more effort put into infrastructure.

      The pace I typically ride, the locations I typically ride, I tend to agree with the point about cycling not really being more dangerous than walking. Gut feeling, no data. The difference is somehow it became culturally acceptable, even expected in many circles, to wear a helmet while cycling, but you’ll be sent to the nut house if you wear a helmet while walking or running.

      Maybe I’ll setup a chair at the upcoming Monument Marathon and heckle the runners for not wearing helmets. Haha, j/k of course.

  • But we still don’t know where the stations will be, or how far out from downtown they might extend? Certainly, a bike share program will be great (I mean, why wouldn’t it be?), but I certainly hope it extends out beyond just hugging the Cultural Trail. Would there be enough demand to have stations extending north to Broad Ripple, east to Irvington, south to U of I, and west to…(sorry, I can’t come up with anything here) oh, how about to IMS?

  • The Carshare, bike share and transit cards are all linked together in Chicago.

  • A yearly membership I would guess would be at $50 (Nashville’s yearly membership cost) Not only is it cheap, but you are given a B Cycle ‘Access Card’ that is used to take a bike from a station and if you lose your card you can just use w/e credit card you used to purchase the membership and use that at the station to pull a bike out. It’s great and convenient. I’m sure they will go beyond the realms of the Cultural Trail. And if it doesn’t w/in the first year, the idea is that private entities will purchase stations to be placed wherever they would like, i.e. a YMCA and advertising is then placed on the bicycles that begin at their station.

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