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How bike share can work in Philly

I’ve been head over heels for bike share since I first used Capital Bikeshare in Washington DC back in the Spring of 2013.

I've been head over heels for bike share since I first used Capital Bikeshare in Washington DC back in the Spring of 2013. (And wrote this almost-embarrassingly-enthusiastic piece about it.) In the past year and a half, I haven't really stopped gushing about what I see as one of the most exciting transportation innovations of our time. One-way bike trips as part of the public transportation network: It's an awesome thing.

Over the past couple weeks, I've had the good fortune to visit Boston and San Francisco as part of my job at the Bicycle Coalition, and of course I made good use of both of their bike share systems while I was there (Hubway and Bay Area Bike Share, respectively). I know a lot more about the ins and outs of bike share now than I did a year and a half ago, and I wanted to share some of these more recent experiences with readers -- especially with our own Philadelphia system finally on the fast-approaching horizon.

Boston's Hubway system, launched in 2011, has expanded across not only Boston proper but also Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline. The gray and green bikes can be found clustered on streetcorners, parks, and sidewalks, and I used them pretty exclusively to get around for my three days in the city.

Boston is lucky to have Boston Bikes, an office of folks in City Hall working to "make Boston a world-class cycling city," and I was lucky that Najah and Kim, two of Boston Bikes' passionate staff, were willing to bike around with me for a day while I was there. The ease with which we traversed a wide variety of neighborhoods, pausing periodically to discuss the long and storied history of transportation in Boston, would not have been possible had we not been traveling via bike share. I learned about the proposed-highway-turned-bike-path that is the Southwest Corridor Park, the controversies surrounding the implementation of the Silver Line, and the subsidized Hubway membership program that Boston Bikes forged to make sure that the benefits of bike share do not only reach the already-privileged.

Boston and Philly share some common characteristics -- we are cities of neighborhoods, sprinkled with universities, with deep histories and complicated transportation needs. From what I saw, Hubway serves Boston really well - and quite frankly if it can work there, with one of the craziest, twistiest street networks I've ever seen, I think it'll work really well in a city with a grid system that actually makes sense! (Shout out to Najah and Kim, as well as my friends, Kate and Jack, for making sure I didn't get hopelessly lost in Boston.)

San Francisco's Bay Area Bike Share, launched in 2013, is a much smaller system, still technically in a pilot phase. With only around 35 stations clustered in the Northeast corner of San Francisco and a sprinkling of additional stations in San Jose and a number of Silicon Valley towns, there is a lot of potential for growth there. And San Francisco's bike share riders get an added boost to help them with the city's notorious hills: their turquoise-colored bikes have seven gears rather than the typical three!

While I was visiting, I got to take a tour (via bike, of course) with a City employee who works on bike share in San Francisco. The most interesting part of the tour was visiting the CalTrain stop at 4th and King Streets. Every morning, suburban commuters hop off the train here and hop into one of dozens of gleaming bicycles ready to take them directly to their offices, where they dock the bikes and head into work. The issue of how to get from transit to a final destination is what's known in the transportation world as the "last-mile problem," and it was heartening to see bike share working so well to fix that gap. A bike share station near 30th Street or Suburban Station could serve much the same purpose.

These bike share experiences in other cities have only amplified my anticipation for Philadelphia's system, coming this Spring.

On Friday morning, I needed to get from the Spring Garden neighborhood to Woodland Cemetery (for a spooky Halloween staff retreat) and I didn't have the option of using my bicycle to make the trip. I had plans to leave town on Amtrak right after the retreat, and didn't want to leave my bike locked up outside for the weekend. None of my options -- a multiple-leg SEPTA journey requiring exact change, an hour-long walk, or paying for a taxi -- were ideal. I couldn't help but imagine the ease and speed with which I would have made the one-way trip from 19th and Wallace to 40th and Baltimore with the help of bike share. I can't wait for us to catch up to Boston, San Francisco, and many more this spring with the launch of Philly Bike Share!