For a time in America during the bicycle craze, seemingly everyone had one of those two-wheeled machines and relied on them to get around town. For many, it was the only way to feasibly get to work. And although a lot of us rely on cars these days for transportation, bikes never truly went away. In fact, bike usage has been increasing in recent years in America. Since 2000, we have seen the amount of bike commuters grow by more than 50% overall.
You may have noticed changes happening around your city when it comes to bikes. Hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent on on installing new bike lanes and adding barriers to protect ones that already existed. One of the biggest obstacles that prevents more people from riding bikes are the safety concerns when it comes to sharing lanes with cars. Cities are trying to get more people to commute on bike by making safer, dedicated areas for them to ride on.
But what if you don’t have a bike or want to keep one in your apartment or house? Well the good news is the ride sharing craze has also spread to bicycles; you can find bike sharing programs in just about every big city these days. It’s clearly catching on - bike sharing has increased from about 2.5 million rides to 28 million in just 5 years.
Zyp BikeShare (based in Birmingham, Alabama) is one such company trying to get more people out of their cars and behind a set of handlebars. The process is pretty simple: download their app, buy a pass, check out a bike at the nearest station and then drop it off when you’ve made it to your destination. And if you need to go on a longer ride but don’t want to wear yourself out? Use one of Zyp’s pedal-assisted bike, the first of its kind to hit bike sharing programs. When you pedal, a built-in motor adds some extra juice to make it easier to ride and help go up those dreaded hills.
One of the big challenges to the growth of bicycle riding is the popularity of ridesharing companies like Lyft and Uber, that allow you to dial up a driver from a program on your phone. When so many people have the option to let someone else do the commuting while you relax in the passenger seat, what advantage do you get from hopping on a bike?
When we posed this question to Executive Director of Zyp, Keith Rawls, he had a different view on the benefits of biking across the city.
“Bikes allow for a unique way for people to explore their city. You can get out on a bicycle at a slower pace and take in the city. Stop and patronize businesses. Which, if you’re in a car and passing through, you kind of miss a lot of things you would obviously see at a lower speed.”
Keith makes a great point; it’s hard to get to know your the local neighbors if you’re speeding through at 40 miles an hour. Homes and people pass by in a blur, seen through a car window. There’s a different connection you get from exploring a place at a leisurely speed, offering opportunities to stop and chat with interesting new people you meet.
Not to mention, local businesses seem to benefit from the extra traffic coming in from cyclists. When high-traffic streets in New York City added protected bike lanes, local businesses saw an increase of 50% in sales. The same effect happened when bike lanes were installed in San Francisco, Seattle, Memphis, Indianapolis, and the list goes on. When you’re traveling at slower speeds, you have more of an opportunity to stop and look around at the shops you pass by, which naturally leads to more sales.
What is often overlooked is how critical bicycles can be for people to get money in the first place. If you can’t afford a car, or even daily public transportation, bicycles can be a saving grace. Redemptive Cycles is a non-profit bicycle shop that recognizes that challenge and focuses much of their efforts on helping the community.
“We believe that our streets should serve low income and homeless community members,” said Kathryn S. Doornbos, Ph.D. Executive Director of Redemptive Cycles. “Just like [how] they serve someone privileged enough to own a vehicle. And we believe that providing a bicycle helps to equalize that a bit. It allows people to get around and use those streets in a more complete way.”
One of the ways Redemptive Cycles works to make bikes attainable for everyone is their unique earn-a-bike program. Members of this program work either at Redemptive or their many partner businesses in order to earn their very own bicycle. They’ve seen first hand how a single bicycle can radically change someone’s life.
We were curious: how many people has the earn-a-bike program served?
“In 2017, we served 153. In the four years that the program has been going, we served just over 300,” Kathryn mentioned.
Although our methods of transportation have radically changed over the past 100 years, bicycles have still maintained a special place in our culture. It’s a great option for those who want to connect with their communities and their surroundings, enjoy nature a little bit more and even check out cool new businesses in their neighborhood. For some, it’s an absolutely vital part of their livelihood, enabling them the freedom to prosper economically. When the bicycle initially caught on in America, it completely changed our relationship to our society. And it looks like it hasn’t run out of gas yet.
(You know. Because it’s a bicycle.)