Quote of the day, revisiting "when you define everything as a success"
Mainly Macro is a blog by Oxford University economist Simon Wren-Lewis, which I read to try to upgrade my knowledge about economics and the UK. In a recent post, "The lesson monetary policy needs to learn," he refers to the writings of economist Martin Sandbu at the Financial Times--unfortunately only available to subscribers--where the final point in a recent column is:
"admitting one has got things badly wrong is a prerequisite for doing better”Revisiting bicycle sharing as an example of policy making and program implementation that needs to be better evaluated. I wrote "The problem when you define every outcome as a success, you don't learn, and therefore failure is more likely: bike share as examples" over my frustration (not limited to) in discussions about bike sharing programs how everything is defined as a success, making it difficult to do better, or assess whether or not large investments in bike sharing are the best use of resources in fostering greater take up of biking for transportation as a significant element of sustainable mobility policy and practice.
I was thinking about this a couple weeks ago, not just because of the entry of "Chinese bike share" into the U.S. and specifically into DC where five different bike share companies have entered the market on a test basis, but because I had to get my bike fixed, and while in the shop I read through the current issue of Adventure Cycling Magazine, a publication from the Adventure Cycling Association, which is focused on promoting bike touring (something I don't do, because I don't really ride for recreation but for utilitarian purposes).
Atlanta and bicycle sharing. One of the articles focused on an increased promotion of bicycling for transportation in Atlanta and quoted the city's director of bicycle planning and discussed her satisfaction there with their bike share program--they have at least 500 bikes--because they are used at about the rate of 0.7 times per day per bike, and "that is the rate we were aiming for."
Because the most successful systems in Europe have 10 to 15 times that rate of use, and the most successful system in North America, New York City, has about 8 uses per bicycle per day ("Citi Bike Sets New Ridership Record In 2016, With Nearly 14 Million Rides," Gothamist), which is more than double the rate in DC, this strikes me as an incredibly low bar to reach -- comparable to the metrics most cities set for achieving various milestones, what we would call a C- (or lower) grade in school.
That grade isn't really passing.
College student bike sharing. Separately, I have been e-talking with an instructor at a university that is looking to launch bike share, and because "they have no money," they are in talks with a company that will provide bikes on a basis similar to the "Chinese bike share" companies at $1 per ride.
I said that won't serve your students very well, nor broader transportation demand management practice, because it won't promote regular use both daily and multiple times per day.
Instead, I recommend what is called a "bike library" or "bike fleet," how schools like UCLA or North Central College provide a bike to a student for the entire semester for either free or a "low price" (UCLA's price has more than doubled over the past couple years) along with a lock, helmet, and repair services -- the point being that you want to support the use of biking as a routine behavior rather than as a casual less committed practice.
Per ride priced bike sharing services. I am fine with the per ride bike sharing services being offered. My problem with these services is two-fold. First, they are somewhat chaotic as many of the users deposit the bikes when they are done in ways that aren't properly respectful of the public space.
(Although some riders do park the bikes at bike racks. Suzanne also points out that maybe some of the bikes are left askew because someone tried to ride it without paying, and the bike wouldn't move, so they just abandon it.)
Second, it's that these services vastly re-price upward the use of a bike--if you were to ride twice a day, it would cost over $700/year--it's only comparatively cheap if you compare a single use to a transit fare or taxi ride.
But if you buy a bike for between $300 and $400 (used bikes can be had for much less) and use it for 5 to 10 years, even spending $200/year on maintenance means the cost for use, no matter how many trips you take, is less than $1 per day.
Lessons. The primary question we need to be asking is what is the purpose of bicycle planning?
1. Is it to promote the development and support of people making a choice to predominately cycle for at least some (but a significant number) of their transportation needs/trips?
2. And should cost for use and access be an element of the program?
3. Or is the purpose of bike planning primarily to support occasional, casual use on the part of people with a very limited interest in biking for transportation?
From a transportation demand management standpoint, it is the first--to make bicycling a significant and real form of (sustainable) transportation that is efficient and effective and regularly used.
For discussion about biking to work in the DC metropolitan area, see "Surprising stats: How many people bike to work around DC and more," WTOP-radio).
That choice should then shape the agenda, planning, and implementation process of various infrastructure, facilities, and programs developed to support biking for transportation. It should shape the choice of programs you want to support and promote.
If you want to make biking visible, but not a substantive mode (except in places with the right pre-conditions for success) focus on bicycle sharing. Because the way bike sharing is implemented now, it likely doesn't lead to substantive take up of bicycling for transportation.
But, if you want bicycle sharing to work as an entrypoint to regular bicycle use, then complementary programming needs to be developed to encourage people to shift from occasional, casual use to regular, frequent use, to leverage the visibility of bicycle sharing for "a greater purpose."
But that question isn't being asked either.
And so bicycle sharing is one of many examples of how defining every program as a success without regard to objectively setting and measuring outcomes is problematic.
Doing bicycle planning without enough attention to "transportation demand management planning." Part of the problem is that sustainable mobility needs to be planned as a system, what I call the "sustainable mobility platform," where bicycle sharing is an element in a complete set of "technologies" or modes. Bike sharing has a place in the panoply of services, but perhaps not as great a role as has been assigned.
By looking at TDM/SMP planning more broadly, better decisions and outcomes can be realized.
Labels: advertising and marketing, bicycle and pedestrian planning, bicycle sharing, provision of public services, sustainable mobility platform, transportation demand management, urban design/placemaking