What Do Bike Sharing Systems Tell Us About Urban Sustainability?

As American cities reinvent themselves as dense, sustainable centers of commerce, opportunity, and social networks — attracting young, educated residents by the thousands — they are increasingly promoting sustainability in their building stock, land use patterns, and in their transportation networks.

A relatively new sustainability feature, “bike sharing” systems are now available in more than 35 U.S. cities, including larger metropolises like New York City and Chicago and smaller towns like Missoula and Cambridge.

While the carbon and climate benefits of bike sharing remains an open question, as detailed in a recent article from Climate Central, there are numerous urban sustainability co-benefits that say a great deal about how the new urbanism in the U.S. intends to promote healthy, inclusive transit options that build communities and reduce pollution – all at the same time.

Bike sharing delivers a multitude of benefits to cities. Bike sharing promotes active transportation, contributes nothing to climate change, encourages healthy individual lifestyles, and enhances neighborhood connectivity. Bike sharing is also very safe, with no fatalities reported in the U.S. after more than 23 million rides. Moreover, bike sharing promotes the “sharing economy” that provides members access to bikes, cars, tools, living space, and other goods and services without the costs and burdens associated with ownership of those items.

Bike sharing also takes cars off the road and reduces crowding on transit, while also providing access to vital access to transit hubs that helps promote an integrated, multi-modal urban transit system.

Lastly, bike sharing promotes the notion that bicycles belong on urban streets by placing thousands of uniformly designed bikes on hundreds of streets, making bikes ubiquitous rather than marginal modes of transportation.

Even as the direct energy and climate benefits of bike sharing are evaluated, researched and debated, there can be little argument that these innovative transit options are here to stay in U.S. cities, and that they provide cities with many benefits and virtually no costs.

Every bike share bicycle we see on a city street in the U.S. is a rolling billboard that tells us the bikes belong, bikes are beneficial, and that cities are centers of innovation where good ideas and informed leadership can improve peoples’ lives.

To learn more about bike sharing, visit http://bikeshare.com/.

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