The Latest Trend in Technology is… Bicycles?
About a week ago, a number of bright green bicycles starting showing up all over my front lawn. I didn’t put them there, and they didn’t belong to my neighbors. They simply decorated the sidewalks in groups of four or five, positioned every couple blocks on my street. It turns out, they’re called LimeBikes, and they’re part of the newest trend in public transportation; bikesharing.
This is not a concept I’m unfamiliar with; after all, Hubway bikes and stations (now Blue Bikes) have been scattered across Boston since 2011. But the LimeBikes showing up in my neighborhood were a bit of a surprise, and the fact that they’re dockless has me a little… well, uncertain at best. Who keeps track of these bikes? What’s preventing someone from running off with them? What do bikes have to do with the slow advancement of technology in our everyday lives?
Well, as our cities get smarter, larger, and denser, we need to come up with greener, cheaper, more efficient ways of navigating. Elon Musk and his Boring Company have suggested tunnels as a way clear up the traffic congestion that plagues urban environments, but while that can alleviate some of the strain caused by through traffic, it does little to empower pedestrians. Publicly provided bikes like the LimeBikes can help footbound locals and even tourists travel between their destinations much quicker and easier than they could by walking.
This infographic from the takeaway.org not only shows how bike sharing in America is on the rise, but why more Americans are choosing to use bike sharing programs as well.
But bikes aren’t the only transportation solution out on the streets. Electric scooter have now started rolling out across major cities, and their latest conquest? Boston. And make no mistakes, the introduction of these scooters is akin to a brute force invasion; both Hubway and LimeBikes were discussed and approved by officials within their respective cities, but Bird, the company behind the scooters, simply left them out for people to find in Cambridge, Somerville, and Providence.
It wouldn’t have been a problem if Bird had gone through the proper channels and gotten a permit, but for the moment, Boston officials are intent on kicking them out. One of the issues that plague dockless bikesharing products is that… well… they tend to end up underwater. Now, this may primarily be a Boston problem, as there are plenty of watery places for the bikes to end up, like the Boston Harbor and Charles River, but vandalism is not the only problem.
For one, they clutter up the streets. Without docks or designated stations, they get left wherever, which can also lend itself to uneven distribution. Sometimes, people hoard them by parking them behind houses or on porches. Sometimes, they end up places they don’t belong simply because a user has crossed a city line, into another bike company’s territory.
A map of all the LimeBikes currently located near the Deep Core Data offices. They’re not too close, but they’re not too far away, either.
But it’s not all gloom and doom when it comes to dockless bike sharing. While yes, many of the issues can be solved simply by providing docking stations, in many of the cities where these bikes are located, vandalism and theft only accounts for about 1% of bike use. Most cities report huge usage rates, and many locals are quick to report broken or unfortunately located bikes. And these bikes are all equipped with GPS devices, which makes them easy to find if they’re not simply peppered in your front lawn like they are for me, so they’re not that hard to get ahold of.
They’re not all that expensive to rent, either. While prices vary between cities and companies (Blue Bikes have a variety of subscription plans while LimeBikes are a $1 per ride), it’s much cheaper than owning, maintaining, and parking a car, and nearly on par with public transportation costs.
I have to admit, I find the bikes intriguing. I’ve never been very good at riding bikes myself, but my driveway is long enough that if I felt like it, I could get some fairly decent practice in, should I decide to snag a bike for myself. And luckily, my commute leads me from one town peppered with bikes to another, so I don’t have to worry about a bike ending up out of place. Granted, the bike may wander off while I’m at work which would make getting home a chore, but hey, at least I’d be getting my daily exercise in.
Finding time to exercise can be incredibly difficult when you have an office job; working nine to five makes your schedule pretty stable, but if you want to get in any exercise, you have either get up super early or work out in the evening. Even then, when you throw daily chores and house maintenance into the mix, you might just find yourself letting a couple days slip. Using a bike or walking to work is a great way to make exercise a part of your daily routine.
Regardless of how I personally feel about the bikes, as our cities grow larger, our tech needs to grow smarter in order to accomodate all the people living and working together in the same space. Bikes might feel like a low-tech solution in a high-tech world, but sometimes, simpler is, in fact, better.
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