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January 17, 2014

The Power of Sharing Hits the Streets

How bike sharing benefits even people who already own bikes

When bikeshare systems started popping up across North America, I got excited.

I knew bikeshare had improved life in European cities by offering people a convenient way to get around town on short trips. “It’s like a whole new kind of transit system on two wheels,” explained a friend who’d used the system in Paris.

But I never imagined myself renting bicycles from automated stations. They’re for people who don’t own bikes, right? Why would I pay for bikeshare when I have several bikes of my own in the garage?

Well, I was wrong. The power of sharing, it turns out, is greater than I even imagined.

In the four years since bikeshare hit the streets here in Minneapolis, I’ve discovered many reasons why it’s nice to have instant access to a bike wherever you are. For those times when you arrive somewhere by foot, on transit or in some one else’s car and then want to pedal back home. Those times when the folks you drove with want to leave earlier—or later—than you. Or they are headed in a different direction afterward. Bikeshare is also handy when you ride your bike and then want to go somewhere else with a friend who didn’t.

And for many people who are not inclined to pedal to work due to distance, poor biking conditions or fear of a disheveled appearance, bike sharing offers an opportunity to hop on a bike for lunch or short trips around town. I’ve heard of numerous people who started taking transit to work because with ready access to a bike, they don’t need their car for meetings or errands during the workday. So bike sharing reduces traffic in the streets, and all the attendant pollution and frustration.

But, most of all, I appreciate bikeshare when I’m traveling.

The sheer wonder of being able to hop on a bike anywhere I happen to be first dawned on me last year in Ottawa, Ontario. I had just a few hours before leaving town and wanted to see the sights. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to cover much ground on foot. As I was weighing the cost and hassle of renting a car, I suddenly spotted a bikeshare station. Hurrah!

With a quick swipe of my credit card, I was cruising through downtown, around Parliament Hill, along the Rideau Canal, visiting the historic market, touring Notre Dame cathedral, stopping by Chinatown for lunch, crossing over the river to explore Quebec.

Since then, bikeshare has boosted my fun on trips to Washington DC, Brookline MA, Boulder, Des Moines and Kansas City. I’ve also saved time and money by biking to business meetings.

Pedaling a bike around a new town, I feel a part of the place not merely an observer behind glass inside a car or a bus.

So the upsurge in bike sharing systems across the US is good news for us all.

Adapted from the People for Bikes website

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