I admit, I have some qualms about the idea of bikes and cars co-existing peacefully together. I live in Toronto, the location of many a pitched battle about what should be built for whom and how much it is worth spending on roads or bike lanes or whatever. Much more significantly, I sometimes come across ‘Ghost Bikes’, white painted bicycles surrounded by flowers, set up as memorials to bicyclists who have been tragically killed. I sometimes think that bikers might do better to stay off of city streets.
As it turns out, bikers are not heeding my concerns and are in fact taking to the roads in droves. According to this piece from Bloomberg, bike-sharing – where riders use bikes provided by a government or other body on a shared and short term basis – is a phenomenon that is growing around the world at a staggering speed.
New York has put in bike lanes, and frequently does not have enough bike-share bikes available and Europe is full of bike share bikes. The real appetite for shared bikes, however, is coming from China, where over the last seven years bikes for bike share have gone from zero to 650,000. India is also now joining the trend.
So is the share-bike phenomenon a fad or does it have staying power? If you look at the bigger – I call them ‘Economorphic’ – trends shaping the world, it is clear that bike sharing is here to stay.
To start, we are in the era of the mega city. Right now there are only 28 of them in the world – and by them, I’m talking about cities with more than 10 million inhabitants – but the United Nations figures we will have 41 by 2030 . That will mean a lot of people packed into relatively small spaces, which will pose significant challenges in terms of moving everyone around.
As the Bloomberg article also points out, the environment is a factor as well, particularly in China. China should be poised to become the biggest country in the world in economic terms within a few years, but its environmental issues might stop that from happening. Beijing is overcome with smog, and adding more cars to the mix is not going to help. So bicycles for everyone it is!
If I have one misgiving about bike-shares’ future, it is that the developed world is aging, quickly, and that that might have an impact on the decision to ride bikes. An older population is going to choose cars (or taxis, or maybe even transit) more than a younger one will. That does not mean bike share programs are doomed, but rather that municipalities will need to look at the demographic outlooks for individual areas very carefully.
And if there is one more trend I want to see, it is a huge, well-financed public education programs that show everyone how to peacefully and safely co-exist together in the cities of the future. Whatever their size, tomorrow’s cities will be the location of much of world’s economic output and ideas. Bikes can be part of keeping things moving, but they should solve problems not create new ones.