Beware: Latest evidence suggests that bike sharing is contagious

January 09, 2014

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer

A Divvy Bikes user in Chicago. Photo: Steven Vance.

The first week of 2014 brought the latest chilling sign that public bicycle sharing in North America has reached a new level of virulence.

Far from slowing the growth of their recent epidemic, bike sharing systems now seem likely to leap from major metro areas into college towns and dozens of smaller cities across the continent.

Since their emergence from central France in 2007, electronic membership-based bike sharing systems have spread rapidly around the world. Though experts have identified a few factors that can slow their advance, such as excisions of on-street bike infrastructure and occasional mutations within the organism itself, there is no known cure for modern dock-based bike sharing once it becomes operational and public understanding and enthusiasm for the system becomes too powerful to resist.

Now, a list of subscribers to a webinar series that discusses how to secure funding for such systems offers a peek at 22 cities that don't have bikesharing yet, but face a high risk of contracting bike sharing in the near future. They're marked in red in the map below. Cities that are already known carriers of bikesharing are marked in green, and those already showing symptoms are marked in yellow.

Perhaps more clearly than ever before, this map suggests that when a bike sharing program infects a major metro area, all nearby cities are at risk. From Charlotte, it can leap quickly to Raleigh and Norfolk; from New York City, to Newark and Hartford; from San Francisco, to Reno and Santa Cruz; from Portland, to Bend and Eugene.

Even Texans, long thought to be inoculated against urban bicycling, have seen sharing systems spread rapidly since 2011 from San Antonio to Houston, Austin, Fort Worth and El Paso. The participation of Texas A&M University in this week's webinar suggests that even the vulnerable youngsters of College Station, Tex., may soon be exposed.

There is also continuing evidence that cities with bike sharing tend to develop other troubling comorbidities such as protected bike lanes, another highly infectious variety of urban infrastructure.

Here's the latest list of cities that showed early signs of interest in bicycle sharing by RSVPing for this week's webinar:

Albuquerque, NM
Bend, OR
Calgary, AB
Canmore, AB
College Station, TX
Columbia, MO
Dayton, OH
Edmonton, AB
Eugene, OR
Greeley, CO
Hartford, CT
Nanaimo, BC
Newark, NJ
Norfolk, VA
Peterborough, ON
Raleigh, NC
Reno, NV
Santa Cruz, CA
Springfield, MO
Tucson, AZ
Winooski, VT

In addition to these 21 cities without bikesharing that sent government employees to join the webinar, participants also came from cities such as Columbus and Indianapolis, already known carriers of bike sharing that seem now to have been seized with a fever to expand their existing systems into more neighborhoods; and cities such as Honolulu and Greensboro, where local retail associations and bicycling advocates — two risk factors that strongly correlate to future bicycle sharing — seem to be taking the lead.

"The bikeshare infection has hit different people here in Albuquerque," Julie Luna, a trail planner for the Mid-Region Council of Governments, said in an interview Wednesday. "The downtown business organization is interested in bikesharing. The university is interested in bikesharing. Some people at the city are interested in bikesharing."

David Hutchison, a city engineer in Springfield, Mo., said he'd joined the seminar after being exposed to bikesharing systems in Boulder, Colo, Fort Collins, Colo., and Washington D.C. and finding them "quite useful."

"Springfield is about the same size as Fort Collins, and Missouri State is about the size of Colorado State University," he said. "So I like to think of them as sister cities. Seems to me that what they can do, we can."

The Green Lane Project is a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow us on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for our weekly news digest about protected bike lanes. Story tip? Write Correction 1/10: An earlier version of this post included an incorrect version of a quote from Luna.

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