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Let’s talk bike-sharing

Here in Washington, DC, we are well into the second year of public bike sharing, on our second major system, and have several other bike fleets or limited access systems throughout the region. I thought that some of the initial excitement would wear off, but the fact that is I can’t help but smile every time I see a CaBi in use — which is to say every time I walk outside or look out my window. This past weekend I got a peek into the inner working of the system and realized we haven’t said as much as we should about how incredible bike sharing is.

carly and darren

With a global recession, you might think that the brakes would be put on bike share systems – but a quick glance at the Bike Sharing Blog tells a different tale. New systems continue to pop-up and existing one’s are thriving. Perhaps the biggest advance in bike sharing in recent weeks is New York City’s Request for Proposals for a 10,000 bike system. 10,000 bikes! We’re fans of the progress and pace of NYC DOT’s work in accommodating and promoting bicycling, though we recognize the city still has a long way to go outside of the lower-half of Manhattan and Northwest Brooklyn. However, even the most hardened skeptics of the lasting impact of Janette Sadik-Khan’s efforts to improve transportation options and expand public space will have to concede that 10,000 bikes will forever change the landscape of the country’s largest city.

Bicycling makes good economic sense. Innovative improvements don’t come free, but all things considered, bicycling is a cheap date. Capital Bikeshare has been so popular that it is likely to break even in three years.  Few entrepreneurial start-ups and even fewer transit systems can make that claim. Still, cities that are not willing to sign advertising contracts or that have concerns about their system’s ability to pay for itself have been seeking new ways to generate revenue.

Philadelphia bike sharing consultants CityRyde may have come up with an answer. The company has submitted tracking software for approval by the Voluntary Carbon Standard program. If approved, the software will “offer additional revenue streams to bicycle-sharing programs through the use of carbon offset credits.”CityRyde goes on to say through the program, “bike shares can track, certify and monetize carbon offset credits gained through the use of shared bicycles, adding a crucial new revenue stream to a budding industry.”

We know bicycling can and should be a part of any plan or strategy  in reducing carbon emissions. With the economic downturn and current political climate, these efforts can be a tough sell. Using bike share miles pedaled as offsets may be a win-win, leading to fewer carbon emissions and a fiscally sound way to improve urban bicycling. “It’s time we stop talking about reducing car equivalents,” says League President Andy Clarke. “This is a way we can  start reducing the need for cars by offering a viable alternative for many people.”


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