Denver's B-cycle urban self-service bike-sharing program is launched.
Jessica spotted a station this last weekend, when driving around Denver. Somehow, I missed the fact that this was coming -- this is awesome, and Denver is the first major US city to offer this model, similar to Velib in Paris.
The Paris system seemed great, and spread out across the city. I was dying to try it out, but I required a modern, Western European chip-based credit card, not the simple magnetic stripes of the states. (Those lame Western Europeans, with their modern credit cards, transportation infrastructure, wireless cell phone and internet technology, etc.)
I also lived in Madison, WI when they started their free red-bike program. I rarely saw these red bikes around town. So a system requiring some sort of accountability does seem necessary for success and sustainability.
Now, some observations on the Denver program:
1. There are a good number of stations open at initial launch -- but they're all clustered closely, downtown.
2. "System Hours: 5 am to 11 pm daily" Not practical for cutting down on the DUI's as much as I'd like -- but maybe avoiding BUI's and trashed bikes, for all I know.
3. "System closed during winter" -- You can't base your lifestyle on it, all year, for getting to work, school, etc. Somewhat understandable for keeping the bikes from getting trashed.
So far, I see this mostly as a service for summer tourism. Not that there's anything wrong with that...But the message remains: if you live and work downtown and need to get around, this cannot replace your means of transportation. If you live near one of the bike locations already (Cherry Creek, downtown, Highlands): congratulations, you're already affluent; or you're an urban hipster that already has a singlespeed with mismatched tires. That is, there aren't bike locations near where people can afford to live, or where they work. I even wonder if quick 0.75 mile bike trips in dense downtown will just as likely replace walking.
But maybe it's a gateway to more cycling. Maybe it will be mostly tourists, but they'll get outside and maybe go back home and fix up their old bike in the garage. Maybe tourists will pick Denver as a place to visit in summer for this very reason, much as I was excited to rent a bike in Amsterdam and Paris (though denied), and we otherwise pick cities for travel that don't require car rental. So it's not a bad thing -- it's just that it still puts bikes as a niche, limited-use means of transportation, when it doesn't have to be that way.