Trading Petrol Power for Pedal Power in Our Cities

One of the best ways to clear up traffic congestion in our cities is to convert daily drivers into public transportation consumers. However, investing in new buses, subways, and light rail is often not a real option for cities due to prohibitive costs, long term planning, and zoning constraints. One solution, which is gaining more and more attention, is investing in robust bike share programs.

The concept of city-wide public bikes, or bike shares, is simple: provide residents access to bicycles, at a low fee, for use as needed. Whether for touring the city, commuting to and from work, or simply making point-to-point trips, these programs offer flexibility, easy access, and convenience for city dwellers. Because bike shares are relatively low-cost to implement and can be uniquely suited to each city’s needs, they have seen rapid growth over the past decade—and mayors are taking note.

Why Bike Share

Bike share programs build community connections. Whether in New York City, Los Angeles, or small cities throughout the country, public bike access helps to connect residents with the services they need most. By locating public bike access hubs near schools, shopping centers, museums, parks, and tourist attractions, community leaders are able to offer city dwellers a cheap, effective, and attractive way to ditch their cars in favor of cycling to their destination.

Philadelphia, whose bike share program is often used as a model of success for large cities throughout the nation, has been particularly successful at communites. The city’s mayor, Jim Kenny, speaks to this important element of public bikes: “It’s a public amenity, and for many people it’s a great way to connect with their communities, their families, jobs, and with health.”

And an increasing amount of research supports the health claims made by Philadelphia’s Mayor. Cycling instead of driving has been shown to improve the health of riders—with benefits ranging from decreased BMI numbers, weight loss, and even stress reduction among regular users.

On top of connecting communities and improving health, these programs are also good for the environment. By trading gas power for pedal power, cities are able to decrease traffic congestion, thereby reducing air pollution and cutting fossil fuel emissions. It is estimated that by trading your primary means of commuting from a mid-sized car to cycling, one could cut 1.3 tons of CO2 emissions, or 124 gallons of gasoline, per year. With more and more residents opting for the convenience of bike shares, these numbers can really add up.

Why Mayors

Traditionally, bike shares have been confined to major metropolitan areas, where existing municipal departments have implemented and maintained the programs. Los Angeles, for example, is currently in the process of rolling out a robust program including 1,000 bicycles at 65 locations throughout the city. The program is under the control of Metro LA and the city, and has strong backing from the mayor.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti captures the goals of big city bike programs with these words: “We are always looking to help people explore our incredible city in new ways. Now, through Metro’s new bike share program, residents and visitors from around the world can to check out a bike and see downtown L.A. with a fast, fun, and affordable system.”

For small cities with limited funds, programs like the one in Los Angeles simply aren’t an option. Luckily, a number of private companies and non-profits have cropped up to work with cities and facilitate bike shares in places where they were once out of reach. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, a two-year Community Economic Development Tax was implemented, raising $45,000 per year to jumpstart their bike-share program. Leaders in the city then partnered with a private organization to build and support the program.

Mayor Henry of Fort Wayne credits the program as illustrating that the city is “a great place to live, visit, and work, and the addition of bike sharing is a great way to enhance our quality of life and keep our community moving in the right direction.”

The variety of programs is matched by the diversity of cities that have now implemented or are in the process of implementing programs. Whether the program is run by the city or a private-public partnership, the terms of bike rentals, costs to users, and the number of bikes and hubs can all be tailored to meet the needs in each city.

As climate leaders, mayors must identify all leads that can help improve communities and positively contribute to climate solutions. Bike shares represent a perfect nexus of these interests. To find out more about communicating with residents in your city about the benefits of these programs, check out our communications guide at Let’s Talk Climate. Or, join with leaders to learn and share climate solutions at Path to Positive Communities

Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and adjunct professor. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University, where he focused on climate change, political communications and psychology. Email him at

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