Though news about bikes flows all year long, the beginning of National Bike Month provides a great opportunity to highlight the ideas and decisions that could improve biking, and therefore mobility, for communities across the US (and, by some accounts, even save our cities).
There’s a lot to learn from the dozens of city-sponsored bikeshare operations that have launched in the past few years, and more recently the advent of private, dockless companies. Austin, Texas, in particular has shown how the confluence of design and policy can make bikeshare systems wildly successful, and can serve as a model that other communities can explore to build their own ridership numbers.
In addition, the rapid changes that dockless bikeshare companies have provoked show that engagement among officials and private operators can foster relationships that benefit the communities where the systems launch. Indeed, anecdotal evidence from pilots in cities like Washington, D.C. show that dockless companies may serve as important complements to city-sponsored systems by serving areas that existing bikeshare stations have not been able to.
Another development in technology that has gained a lot of attention in the past year is electric bicycles. Pedal-assist versions, which use a motor to boost a cyclist’s speed as they pedal, have led previously skeptical people to begin replacing some car trips with bikes. The electric boost allows riders to easily climb hills and minimize physical exertion (read: sweat) while covering longer distances than a solely human-powered version allows. Unlike transportation network companies (TNCs), enabling people to use this type of bike has actually been shown to reduce driving and car dependency.
Bikes also open up a range of creative options for mobility managers, particularly when it comes to moving people into job centers. In New York City, where the L Train from Brooklyn to Manhattan is shutting down for 15 months, the non-profit group Transportation Alternatives is leading a weekly “bike train” for commuters facing the disruption. Running these bike trains connects new, potentially uncomfortable, cyclists with more experienced riders to help them build confidence in their route and city riding in a way that provides an affordable alternative without adding to the city’s congestion.
Best of all, the creativity biking allows opens the conversation to rethinking public spaces and engagement. Crystal City, a neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, now holds a springtime series of bike races in the area’s parking garages that empty out after work hours. The event blends the wants of serious racers and whimsical fun-seekers, making it a welcoming event for many types of people and showing the power of the bike to build community.
And if you’ve felt that bikes are having a particular cultural moment in unexpected ways, you’re probably right. The United Nations recently declared June 3 World Bicycling Day, and many of its motivations reflect the goals of mobility management.