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April 20, 2015

For the love of bike sharing: Is Philly ready for Indego?

Lifestyle Indego
Indego Bike Share Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

An Indego Bike Share station near the intersection of Germantown Avenue and North 2nd Street in Northern Liberties, Thursday, April 10, 2015.

Bill Chenevert doesn’t need any convincing. The 32-year-old from Newbold is already geared up for the new bike share program that launches in Philly later this month. 

“It’s just time,” he says. “There’s a critical mass of cycling happening in Philadelphia, and I’m pumped to just have more cyclists on the road making motorists more aware of us and our rights to be on the road with them.” 

Even though Chenevert is already an avid cyclist, he’s signing up for Indego, a new bike share program launching on April 23. Sponsored by Independence Blue Cross, there will be more than 60 different bike stations around the city – from Center City and West Philly to South and North Philly. 

“I will be able to use it as a rider because of its convenience for pickup and drop-off, so it’s really easy to take one-way trips,” says Chenevert. “That means that I could have a lovely ride from South Philly to, say, Old City, do some shopping and take a train back to my neighborhood with goods that I've purchased. Or I could have gotten a ride with some friends to the Art Museum and not be constricted by bus and train lines and I can ride home without a cab.” 

As bike stations are popping up all over town (click here to find locations), the system, which is operated by Philly’s own Bicycle Transit Systems, promises to be similar to New York City's Citi Bike, the nation’s largest bike share, with more than 8.7 million riders in its first year. Citi Bike began two years ago, and there are now hundreds of stations and thousands of bikes on New York City streets.

“If you look across the United States, indeed, if you look all across the globe, we are seeing the enormous potential that bike share has to transport cities,” says Jay Walder, former chief of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and head of MTR, Hong Kong’s transit company. “As cities become more and more complex, we are looking for creative solutions about how we live. We want our transport choices to be better, and we want greater convenience in everything we do.”

What makes a bike sharing program truly game changing in dense urban areas is the flexibility it provides. A rider picks up a bike, uses it and then leaves it, creating an efficient means to get from one place to another without needing to take responsibility for a vehicle before or after the experience. Like a car share program, the experience is streamlined. Unlike a car share program, no pre-planning is needed to book a bike in advance. Members can bike anywhere at anytime, while non-members need a credit card to access bikes. 

Here in Philly, more than 600 bikes will be available around-the-clock. All would-be riders need to do is purchase a pass or use a credit card, pick up a three-speed bike (the seats are adjustable, and each bike has front and rear lights) and go for a ride. The bike can then be docked at a nearby station at the end of a trip. Fees are determined by the length of time for any given ride, though gung-ho cyclists may want to consider an annual pass, which ends up being considerably cheaper than paying as you go. 

The program, which is managed by the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU), even has a handy app – B-Cycle – that allows riders to find stations to pick up and park bikes at easily. The bike models themselves, made by B-cycle, were first used in Denver, where one of the country’s first and largest public bike sharing systems was unveiled five years ago. B-cycle bikes are now in more than 30 cities on two continents. 

Public bikes have become more than an amenity in many cities. Not only do they save time, they introduce new areas to residents and tourists alike. With bikes distributed around Philly, a person could potentially use a combination of transportation – like a bike, cab or Uber, or even a bike, subway and bus. The possibilities are varied, and the impact on the street culture is staggering.

The bikes are also great for the environment. For each mile someone rides on a bike instead of driving a car, 1 pound of carbon dioxide is kept out of the atmosphere, according to Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California-Berkeley. 

More bikes could mean even fewer cars on the road. Nice Ride Minnesota, a bike sharing program in Minneapolis and St. Paul, reports that after it started, more than half of the riders used their cars less often. And in Denver, about 41 percent of people replaced car trips with bike rides. B-cycle estimates that more than 1 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions were saved as a result of more bikers and fewer automobiles on the road. 

Of course, for Philly to be a successful bike share city like the more than 20 others that have launched programs in the last few years, drivers will need to brace for more bikes on the road, as well as riders who may not be as familiar with bike etiquette. 

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philly offers some excellent advice for newbies to street biking, like what to do in the event of an accident, how to handle bridges and bike trails, and everything you need to know about bike laws in general. 

As more cyclists hit the streets, many hope there will be more support for biking culture in general – think more bike lanes and a better overall biking infrastructure, much like we see in European cities, where bike sharing has been a staple for decades. 

Joseph Hallman, a 33-year-old resident of the Gayborhood, says even though he rarely bikes, he’s eager to sign up for Indego. 

“For me, it represents a convenience,” he says, like not having to maintain or store a bike in his apartment. “I like the grab-and-go concept,” he says, echoing what the Mayor’s Office uncovered when it first began conducting interviews and doing research about a bike share in Philly. It’s convenient for locals and tourists alike. 

“Part of what’s appealing about the system is its equity,” says Chenevert. “It promises transportation flexibility such that lower-income folks don’t need to cough up $90 for a TransPass, and they don’t even need a credit card to sign up because bike share has established community partners throughout the city who’ll facilitate memberships purchased with cash. So, in a way, part of my excitement about it isn't necessarily how I'll use it but how important it is to Philadelphia.”