When the City of Seattle first permitted a dockless shared bike pilot program to descend upon the city last July, I was delighted at the potential it offered Seattleites and tourist to experience the city from the saddle. During the year this convenient low-cost option to cycling has taken the city by storm. Although reports on usership have yet to come out, anyone in the city can see the shared bikes littering our sidewalks, streets, and even trees.
While I try to remain optimistic about the benefits these bikes can offer (increased mobility, decreased traffic, and a happier planet), it can be difficult when I see these bikes abused by humans (mostly adults) and novice riders wavering down the sidewalks and trails.
The other day, I left work late and looked forward to a congestion-free ride. Even though I missed the work rush-hour, I ran straight into the holy-shit-it’s-sunny-in-Seattle-rush. The trail was mobbed with smiling faces gleefully wandering all over the trail. As I cautiously pedaled past the bike-newbies, I tried to remain patient. I took a breath and said to myself “at least they’re on a bike!”
I am also discouraged when I see the bikes being vandalized by full-grown tax-paying adults, more a symptom of a toxic culture than the program. We’ve all seen these bikes thrown in bushes, artfully balanced in trees, or (my favorite) the intentionally constructed bike tower.
There is hope
While I was in my studio last week, I heard an unusual sound for my neighborhood. It was the laughter of radiant joy. Since my studio is in an industrial neighborhood, more common sounds are of chatty adults, determined partiers, or young children being dragged around by their parents. But on this day a group of about a dozen or so cheerful unchaperoned teenagers descended onto my block at the very same location that the lovely bike tower once stood.
I have no idea how these kids made their way to this block, but it appears as though the only purpose of their visit was to ride bikes. Between the twelve of them, they rented three bikes and took turns riding up and down the block. While the smiling riders cruised by, the spectators gazed eagerly as they waited for their turn to ride. No destination, bike towers or trees, just the joy of riding bikes.
For all of the potential socioeconomic and environmental benefits that this bike pilot hopes to bring, to me the real benefit is the joy and happiness that easy access to bikes can bring to our community. A public good, if you will. So thank you LimeBike (and the like) for attempting this social experiment in my city.
While I’m happy to see the growth of human-bike interaction that this program has enabled, I look forward to a respectful and responsible symbiotic relationship between the city, humans, and bikes the future can bring.
But this future will not happen on it’s own and I think there’s a lot that we can do to ensure this optimistic eventuality. Here are my thoughts
Outfit the bikes with spy like cameras to shame any middle class bachelor(ette) party vandals
Install bike alarms that go off anytime the bike is greater than 3 ft from the earth
Give kids school class credits for free bike rides so that they can grow up to be bike responsible adults
What do you think?