Benefits of Bike Sharing for You and the Planet

By Maureen Wise in Thinking Sustainably

Bike-share programs are on the rise in the United States, which is good news for city dwellers and visitors who want to help the planet and improve their physical health! Bike sharing is an affordable way to commute or tour a city, and it also helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by vehicles and other forms of public transportation.

What Is a Bike-Share Program?

Bike-share systems help people get around without the need to own or bring their own bike. According to an article from Smart Cities Dive, Amsterdam started the first bike-share system in 1965, but it wasn't a success. The program used white-painted bikes and placed them throughout the city for people to use for free—but without any rules or accountability, many bicycles were stolen or broken. Modern systems now usually require payment, and some also require membership. China has over 200 bike-share programs, while Paris's Vélib' Métropole bike-share program is the largest in the world, offering nearly 20,000 electronic and manual bikes.

bike sharing hub with red bikes

Who Uses Bike-Share Programs?

Bike sharing is great for people living or working in a city, or those visiting one. For instance, I live far enough away from my job in Cleveland that I can't ride a bike there, but I might want to get to a meeting across the city without the hassle of parking my car again. Enter Cleveland's UH Bikes program. I can pick up a bike, use my app to pay for a two-hour ride, and make my way to and from the meeting without using a car or producing any greenhouse gas emissions beyond those used to charge my phone.

Additionally, it's often hard for visitors to find car parking spots in most cities. Garages and parking lots can be expensive. And metered spots usually have time limits, which means you'll have to keep going back to pay for extensions. If your hotel is downtown and you want to get to attractions outside the neighborhood, your car might feel like a bit of a burden. Why not bike there instead?

Bike-Sharing Basics

Some systems have docks throughout the city at which you can pick up or return a bike, while others are dockless and allow you to simply leave the bike in a safe spot. For payment, many let you use a credit card, though some may require you to use an app. Others may just take cash or coins.

I recommend looking up how to pay for and use your community cycling system beforehand so you know what to do once you go to get a bike. It'll be easier to sign up at home rather than juggle your phone to study instructions while grabbing a bike.

Just like you wear a seat belt in a car, you should also wear a helmet when riding any bike. If you don't have your own, some programs offer helmets for rent or sale.

Bikes are vehicles, and it's expected that you'll ride in the street, so you must obey all traffic laws—for your safety, as well as for the other bikes, cars, and pedestrians around you. Stop at all stop signs and lights, and use the universal hand signals when you're turning or changing lanes. Never used hand signals before? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers a one-page overview. It can be intimidating to ride in the street, but commuters in popular bike-sharing cities are relatively more adjusted to sharing the road with cyclists.

Biking in the city

Benefits of Bike Sharing

A study published in Sustainability quantified the benefits of bike-sharing programs in Beijing. The study found that the programs dramatically decreased traffic, reduced energy consumption, decreased greenhouse gas emissions, improved public health, and promoted economic growth in the city.

For me, riding a bike to my across-city meeting is a healthier choice than driving. It gets me outside to gain some vitamin D on a sunny day, and it also helps me move and exercise instead of just sitting stationary in a car. I'll also be in a better mood since I won't have to deal with car traffic! Community cycling programs are very convenient and flexible compared with other modes of transportation, which is why more and more people are choosing to bike.

Cycling over driving or riding in a car also benefits the planet. It reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions associated with vehicles. You'll also use zero gasoline and lessen the environmental impacts associated with oil mining to produce fuel. Bonus: less traffic congestion means less frustration for everyone!

It may also be safer to travel by bike. One study published in The BMJ looked into Barcelona's public bike-sharing system, called Bicing. Researchers concluded that residents using the bike-share program had a reduced risk of traffic-related death and death as a result of air pollution. Another study, also published in The BMJ, found that London's program led to fewer fatalities, too—especially among younger men.

yellow bike lane symbol on brick pavers

Try the Ten Minute Challenge

Bike Cleveland, a cycling activist group, encourages people to start small when picking up cycling with their Ten Minute Challenge. They tell those on the cycling fence to opt for a bike instead of a car for drives that would normally be five minutes or less. This bike ride will probably equal about ten minutes, and losing five minutes won't feel like much. More than likely, you'll find that parking a bike easier than a finding a car parking space, and it will probably be closer to the building you are visiting! Cycling to complete small, quick errands is an easy first step as you take up biking.

Do you have a bike-share system near you? Will you take on Bike Cleveland's challenge? Share a photo of your biking adventures on Instagram and tag @toms_of_maine!

Image Sources: Pexels | Maureen Wise | Pexels | Pexels

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

Using a bike-share program is better for you and the Earth! Next time you're grabbing the car keys for a quick ride, consider biking instead and do your body and your community a solid.