In light of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, many Americans are understandably angry at BP, and want to do something about it. This has led to calls for boycotts of gas stations bearing the BP logo. However, this would prove ineffective, as BP does not own most of these stations. In addition, BP is a wholesaler of petroleum products, so you may be buying gas from BP no matter what station you buy from.
The appropriate response if you want to hurt BP, or, more importantly, try to prevent further environmental damage, is not to look for the most moral oil company. Instead, take BP at their word, and move Beyond Petroleum.
Maybe you’re not in a position to make a dramatic lifestyle change like going car-free. But with a little planning, it’s not too hard to replace several car trips per week with bus or bike trips. And if you’re lucky enough to live in Minneapolis, you have a new option to make bike riding even easier: Nice Ride Minnesota, a new bike-sharing program.
Based on the Bixi model, recently implemented in Montreal, the system allows users to pay a small subscription fee ($5/24 hours, $30/month, $60/year), and then take one of the 700 neon green bikes out for a spin, returning it to one of 60+ docking stations at the end of the trip. The first half hour is no additional charge, so it encourages short trips, although the density of the stations in the covered areas makes it easy to hopscotch across town. The system currently covers downtown and surrounding areas, including the University and uptown neighborhoods, and there are plans to expand.
Some have been dubious of how popular the system could be, but I have seen many of the bikes daily since the program was launched less than a month ago. In fact, over 10,000 rides were taken during the first 20 days of the program. This is encouraging news, not just for the success of this program and others like it, but also for encouraging bicycling as a common mode of transportation, not just recreation.
If you’re in Minneapolis, I encourage you to try it out! It’s a small investment of time and money to see just how bike-able the city is. It’s an easy and enjoyable way to travel, and helps you feel more connected to the neighborhood than just driving through, windows up, with the radio on. (Not to mention the health and environmental benefits.) After trying it out, you may find it worth your while to invest in a longer-term subscription and make Nice Ride part of your regular commuting and recreation plans.
Minneapolis was recently named the #1 bicycling city in the country, and with bike sharing and dozens of miles of new bike lanes and trails in the works, it can only get better. I look forward to the day when people don’t act surprised that I ride my bike 3-4 miles to get somewhere, but see it as just another way of getting around.
I can’t forget to mention safety. Bikes are considered equivalent with cars, and are meant to be ridden on the road. This is not as dangerous as it sounds, especially on roads with bike lanes. (Google maps now has a bicycling feature, that shows the bike trails and lanes.) Just assert your right to your place on the road, travel in straight, predictable lines, and signal your turns with hand signals. And please don’t run the stop signs and red lights. It’s dangerous, plus it diminishes the respect that car drivers have for bicyclists, which is an important part of this movement. It’s generally more dangerous to ride on the sidewalk, because it’s harder for drivers to see you when they make their turns, but it is legal in Minneapolis as long as the street is at least 50% residential.
Other cities with bike sharing:
- Paris, where Velib is probably the most successful example anywhere
- Ottawa, pilot program in 2009, to be expanded
- Melbourne, started this year
- Denver, Bcycle
- Boston, coming later this year
- Washington, D.C. / Arlington, VA; coming later this year
- Toronto, coming 2011
Please share your bike-sharing or bike commuting stories in the comments. Also, let me know if I’ve missed any cities with bike sharing programs.