In September, 2012, the French-language Montreal newspaper Le Devoir published an article, also distributed as a blog post, reporting on a conference in France about bike share systems, and extensively quoting economist Frédéric Héran.
The headline, translated in to English, is more or less “what is bike share good for?” or “What does bike share accomplish?”
Héran’s conclusions are somewhat out of step with the usual promotional buzz: bike share costs some $4000-$5000 per year per bicycle, and operators keep quiet about this to avoid upsetting taxpayers. Bike share is only practical in dense urban centers; it may follow from increased bicycle use, rather than lead to it. Fewer than 10% of bike-share trips substitute for car trips, according to the few studies available, but bike share does cut into use of public transportation. Widespread traffic calming — avoiding ghettoizing bicyclists — and bicycle parking may be better investments. Héran thinks that bike share may, in the end, have more of an effect as a promotional tool, mainstreaming bicycling, than directly as a means of transportation.
The Google translation of the article into English leaves a tolerably accurate overall impression, though there are a number of awkward phrasings, and translations of several sentences are incorrect enough to be misleading.
I’ve prepared my own complete translation. Le Devoir did not respond to my request for permission to post it. If you would like me to send you the translation privately by e-mail, please let me know. Following up on my summary of the article, here are summaries of readers’ comments:
The Montreal program is only replacing bicycle dealers with subsidization by the public, and that problem will rebound at us.
The program does not pay for itself in cities which have redesigned themselves to be bicycle and pedestrian friendly. Thanks for a good article. Montreal needs an overall plan worthy of the name.
I’m an experienced urban cyclist; the Montreal program is a political smokescreen. Montreal is like Los Angeles in having such a poor public transportation system. [Not so bad in my opinion — John Allen]
Bixi could be very beneficial if it doesn’t fishtail, and instead leads to Bixi 2.0.
Bixi is suffocating because it has been taken up by commuters and is emptying the subways. At night, all the bicycles are in the residential areas. A lot of effort goes into redistributing the bicycles, in vain. Bicyclists have always asked for secure parking for their own bicycles.
The space occupied by a 23-bicycle Bixi station could park over twice as many conventional bicycles at a lower cost.
A bus transporting 120 passengers uses less fuel and has much less impact on traffic than 3 or 4 trucks redistributing Bixis.
Bixi 2.0 would simply put money into infrastructure and bicycle accommodation.
(Quotes Héran’s comments about traffic calming). I can already dream of it. I leave my courtyard on my bicycle, and the cars are not menacing mastodons which lay down the law and occupy the territory. We interact in a certain harmony.
If my attitude as a city-dweller only results from propaganda and conditioning, then I’ll choose the propaganda which comes closest to what I sense for myself.
My bicycle is my daily transportation but when I drive my little car, there are lots of other people driving way too fast in high-powered cars. It’s take a lot of effort to correct this.
Bike share has to continue, no matter what it costs, for reasons of health, urban education, reduction of pollution, quality of life.
I have my own bicycle but I subscribed to Bixi. It has its hitches, but I like it. Mostly it has helped when there public transportation didn’t work out. One day when the subway broke down, I got home easily by Bixi. I’m also relieved to the hassle of parking a bicycle and the risk of theft. The lights also are good — too many bicyclists ride without even reflectors.
There has been a study of the Barcelona system, published in the British Medical Journal and reporting hat health benefits outweigh risk, and carbon dioxide emissions reduced.