If you’ve traveled to any major cities over the past five years, you may have noticed a long line of shiny new bicycles parked against a rack on a busy downtown street. Look a little closer, and you’ll notice that all these bikes are of the same design and color. Many may have baskets or even bells affixed to the front and, more likely than not, they share a logo that represents an innovative frontier in today’s share-based economy: bike sharing.
“Bike sharing” is a system in which a fleet of bicycles are available for shared use to individuals on a short-term basis. The central attraction is that a person can borrow/rent a bike from one location, ride it around, and return it to any of a number of hubs within a city, usually at a very low cost per hour. The affordability and the at-will nature of these rentals makes them very attractive to tourists, young people, and professionals who have only occasional need for a vehicle.
Bike Sharing: A European Import Becomes a U.S. Revolution
The movement of bike sharing in the United States was largely inspired by the trend’s birth and growth in European cities, where urban bicycling is far more commonplace than in American cities. In fact, in Europe, the practice of bike sharing has existed in one form or another since 1965. But it truly came into viable form in the mid-2000s, as information technology became more ubiquitous. These days, bike sharing around the world is largely enabled by smartphone mapping apps that show nearby stations with available bikes and open docks.
The U.S. bike-sharing movement was spearheaded in Portland in 1994 by a group of environmental activists. While the movement had its kinks at the outset, the system was refined over time and received a huge boost in popularity during the 2007 political conventions in Denver, CO. and St. Paul, MN. Tourists in town for the conventions greatly enjoyed the bike-sharing program, and both cities implement permanent bike-sharing systems in the months that followed.
Financial, Physical and Civic Profits
By 2013, New York City’s Citibike showed the world the viability of bike sharing as a profitable business. As of today, the company is the biggest bike sharing system in the U.S. with 6,000 bicycles and 330 docking stations and plans to double their fleet by 2017.
But not only is bike sharing profitable, it has myriad beneficial effects on the city that implements it—effects that extend well beyond a more physically fit population. An increase in bicycling reduces traffic congestion and its side effects, such as smog and heavy traffic control. It also makes it easier for visitors to explore parts of cities that are off the beaten path and otherwise might not benefit from tourism.
In fact, bike sharing is often found to be a tourist attraction in itself, as it represents a “green” aspect to the city that is increasingly important to today’s world traveler.
In addition, research suggests that access to bike paths and proximity to docking points is linked to higher rents in a city. For example, eight out of ten Washington, D.C. residents said they were more likely to visit a business, shop, or restaurant if it had easy access to a bike-sharing dock.
The cautious will be reassured that, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, bicycle collision and injury rates are actually lower among bike-share participants than those for individual bikers. However, with the increase of use, risks still arise and bike riders, pedestrians, and drivers should all be ready to share the road safely.
“Zyp” Your Way Through Birmingham
Last fall, Birmingham received its very own bike-sharing program. Known as Zyp, the program offers 24-hour, year-round bicycle access to Magic City residents (and visitors too, of course). Riders can either rent bikes for short trips with the swipe of a credit card, or sign up for annual membership that lets you take out a bike any time, as many times as you like, all year long.
Zyp will bring a new technological element to the mix—it will offer “smart” bikes which use electricity to offer a little extra power when needed. These bikes include a battery that is recharged through pedaling, and can be activated while going up hills. They also coordinate with the Zyp app to allow riders to check their routes, speed, and other details of their rides.
In fact, Birmingham is the first city in the Western Hemisphere to use this added technology in its bike-sharing program. Planners are excited to place the city among the forefront of bike-sharing systems around the US.
Zyp BikeShare launched in October 2015 with an already dense network, offering 400 bikes at 40 kiosks around Birmingham. With spring in the air and Birmingham’s downtown Rotary Trail newly opened, the timing could not be more perfect to give Zyp a try.