Bike Sharing in Los Angeles: Let's Not Stick with the Conventional Wisdom

A bicycle sharing rack in Washington D.C.

The idea of bike sharing is slowly gaining momentum in Los Angeles, as other cities across the country have begun experimenting with the idea. Streetsblog Los Angeles recently spoke with Deputy Mayor Borja Leon who had this to say about bike sharing plans for Los Angeles: "Infrastructure is undoubtedly a key component to any successful bike share program and we need to keep expanding it. At this time, studies have shown there are a few neighborhoods that have the density and transit resources to support it -- for example, downtown L.A., Hollywood and Westwood."

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There's a certain conventional wisdom there--one that seems logical, but actually severely limits the beneficial impacts a properly administered bike sharing program could have. I recently visited both Washington D.C. and Boston--cities which only have bike sharing in the densest parts of the urban core. After trying out both plans, I discovered the hyper-density prerequisite neglects an obvious fact: those areas already have sufficient public transit. It's the areas on the periphery, a few miles outside the core, that could really use the bike share.

For instance, my sister lives in the city of Sommerville, on the other side of the Charles River in Boston. The L.A. equivalent of, say, Glendale. Her neighborhood has public transit, but it is inconvenient, time consuming and often requires multiple transfers to get where she needs to go. That said, she is about 5 miles from downtown Boston--an easy bicycle ride. When I told her the city just built a bicycle sharing system, she was beyond excited. Only problem: there is no bike sharing in Sommerville. Partly because her neighborhood isn't considered dense enough, but also because Boston didn't coordinate with surrounding cities to build its program. As a result, if my sister takes the train to Boston and winds up staying late, after the subway shuts down for he night, she has no other options than an expensive cab ride home. Sommerville has no where for her to park a public bike. And to keep it overnight would cost more than a taxi ride.

D.C. has the same problem. I have a friend who lives in Arlington, about five miles outside of D.C. proper. He would love to ditch his car entirely and use a combination bike/bus/subway system to get around. But he's too far away from the nearest subway stop to really make that work. A bike share from the subway to his neighborhood would make things perfect for him. He could pick up a bike near his house and ride it to the Metro. But, for the same reasons as Boston and Sommerville, Arlington is not part of the bike share program. So my friend drives to work.

If we're serious about bike sharing in Los Angeles, we need to approach things differently than these other cities. An L.A. bike share program would need to be administered by Metro, so it could break through cross-city jurisdictional boundaries. So we could have public bikes near stops in Glendale or Burbank or...not to get too crazy but...Beverly Hills.

Also, unlike D.C. or Boston, if Metro were to take charge of bike sharing we wouldn't need to create a new entity to manage the system and collect payments. The TAP card could handle it all. A completely integrated system.

But most importantly, a bike sharing system would work best by helping communities underserved by public transit. Bike sharing can and would make already dense connected areas more livable. But it's the areas on the immediate fringe who could really use the infrastructure boost.

The L.A. Vitamin Report is a column about quality of life issues by Matthew Fleisher. It is brought to KCET's SoCal Focus blog in partnership with Spot.Us, which receives support from the California Endowment.


The photo used on this post is by Flickr user *Sally M*. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

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