DOCKLESS BIKE SHARING:
A Great Leap But An Uncertain Landing
In barely five years, dockless bike sharing systems have gone from exciting idea to world-phenomena. There are over 70 firms that have placed somewhere between 10 and 25 million “park anywhere” bikes in several hundred cities with over a hundred-million users. China is the epicenter of this modal tsunami but the industry is rapidly expanding around the globe, including explosively in the USA.
The hope is that these systems, like the Hubway-style dock-station services that preceded them, will massively increase bike usage – reducing future increases in car congestion, improving air quality and public health, helping promote local businesses. The hope is that their low cost, ubiquity, and flexibility will make expansion easy and solve the geographic inequities of the dock-station-based approach. The Hubway model has proven to be not viable in the suburbs: boosters claim that the much-lower entry cost of dockless systems (cheaper for the vendor, no upfront investment for the municipality) will lead to their presence in a broader set of communities and help create a critical mass of voters pushing for improved cycling infrastructure, better traffic speed enforcement, and kid’s programs.
Sometimes a phrase, image, or idea is so responsive to a situation or mood facing some portion of the population that it just goes viral, spreading seemingly by magic. But, in addition, there is always a hidden engine of someone’s energy (or some other investment of resources) turning the cultural gears. The “Dutch Reach” – a.k.a. “Far Reach”, “Far Hand Reach”, “Right Hand Reach”, “Reach Across”, and “Safety Exit”, among others – is a case in point. It is also an excellent example of how individual initiative still makes a difference even in today’s digital world.
Even though the mirror sticker says “watch for bikes” most of us forget to do it as we grab the door handle and push out. Dutch Reach is the simple idea that car drivers should open their door by reaching over with their right hand (passengers with their left hand), thereby turning their body and head so that they have a clear view of their outside mirror (and, if their bodies are young and flexible, perhaps the road behind them), making it much more likely that they’ll notice if a bicyclist is approaching. Waiting a few seconds before opening their door prevents them from accidently hitting the cyclist, knocking her into the street where she could – and tragically often does – get hit by a passing car or truck. “Dooring” is one of the most common causes of injury and even death for urban bike riders; nearly every cyclist has regular N.D.E.s – near door experiences. Dooring is a lot less likely to happen with the Dutch Reach.Read more
Road Rage is aggressive anger and dangerous behavior. It carries overtones of self-righteous arrogance and potential violence. It’s incredibly scary and deeply disturbing, especially as the number of carried guns and the amount of culture-permeating violence increases. To reduce our chances of becoming the victim – or the initiator – of road rage, we need to de-escalate tense situations.
When confronted by an emotionally out of control or threatening person, our first act must be to remove ourselves to safety. More often, however, we are faced with an unintentionally and unknowingly endangering behavior by a thoughtless person. Both situations are frightening and infuriating, but exploding in anger is not usually our best response – either in its deterrence effect or its impact on ourselves. Anger may sometimes give us a feeling of regaining control, but makes others see us as being out of control.
Sometimes, even merely trying to assertively deal with the situation triggers fury rather than understanding, potentially creating an escalating feedback loop that spirals out of control into emotional or even physical injury. Sometimes, we need to walk away – for our own sake. Without compromising our right to be on the roads, the route towards more civil interaction is to always try to make ourselves part of the solution rather than part of the problem. We need to be true to our better selves, doing what we can to make our streets safer and more welcoming places for everyone. Our goal must always be to make our roads friendly at the level of interpersonal interaction as well as mode interaction – which also implies the importance of improving our street design, of adopting and implementing Compete Streets and Vision Zero programs.
A panel discussion organized by Ken Carlson, chair of the Somerville Bicycle Committee, prompted some thoughts and this blog. (Full disclosure: I moderated the session and will lead another panel at MassDOT's upcoming Moving Together Conference.) I’m writing this from the perspective of being a year-round cyclist who occasionally drives a car or takes transit, and starts or ends every trip with some distance on foot.Read more