Bike sharing has become a staple for urban commuting in city's all over the world. Since its reintroduction into urban culture in the 1990s, it has taken on many forms. Today it is being optimized to serve dense cities to help alleviate traffic congestion, provide people with more transportation options, and to encourage a healthy way of commuting. An article by the Earth Policy Institute by Janet Larsen marks the exponential progress of bike-sharing programs, noting innovative solutions in cities across the world that make the programs safer, more accessible and more streamlined.
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Amsterdam was the first city to introduce bike sharing in 1965, relying on honest citizens to return bikes and treat them with care. The system did not work in the city's favor; many bikes were damaged or stolen and the program was closed until more sophisticated methods were established to make sure the bikes were available to everyone at any time.
Today, many bike-sharing programs have operate a membership service, have gps-systems that track the location of bikes, and incentives that encourage people to make short commutes. The enthusiasm for bike-sharing programs expanded most substantially between the years 2008 and 2009, when fifteen countries added programs of their own. There are now 500 cities in 49 countries across the world that have bike-sharing programs for its residents and visitors.
Cycling is a more mobile alternative to driving in dense urban environments. The growing infrastructure of bike ways and paths, dedicated lights for cyclists on busy intersections, bike racks and bicycle shops en route have also contributed to the rising popularity of cycling as a mode of transportation. Aside from the obvious advantages to residents of these cities, it also offers tourists an alternate way to use the city, especially in those where public transit systems are already crowded or cumbersome.
It is certainly encouraging to see cities plan for this type of transportation, accommodating it with new infrastructure. In the United States, there are already 26 active modern bike-sharing programs. NYC is gearing up to launch its own program, called Citi Bike, after several years of hang-ups. Stations are already popping up all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, promising 5,500 bikes to released in May.
Visit earth-policy.org for more statistics on programs all over the world. And check out this map, put together by Russell Meddin and Paul DeMaio, that points out bike-sharing programs across the globe.