24 June 2017

Bike Share In "Dutch" Country

Yesterday, I wrote about two bike-share programs that went bust.

One of them, Pronto, was based in Seattle.  Its demise came as a surprise to some, including yours truly, because Seattle has long had a reputation for all of the things one associates with cities that develop successful share programs.  For one thing, it had an active, vibrant cycling community long before Portland or other cities developed their reputations as two-wheeled utopiae.  For another, it also has a large population of young, educated and creative people:  the very sorts of people who are most likely to be bike riders in urban areas. 

In other words, it seemed to have a lot in common with other cities in Europe and North America where share programs have succeeded.  Some blamed the failure of Pronto on Seattle's climate, which may have been somewhat of a factor, although other places where share programs are popular get as much rain (or as little sunshine, depending on your point of view) as the Emerald City.

When we think of the cities where bike share programs have succeeded, we think first of the US coastal cities and European capitals.  But they have also worked well in "second" cities like Lyon, France (whose "Velo'v" is often cited as a model) and  Hamilton, Ontario.  Even a town like Chattanoga, Tennessee has managed to support a thriving program.

But most people, I think, wouldn't expect to find the ingredients of vibrant cycling communities or successful bike share programs--let alone attempts to develop other kinds of cycling infrastructure--in declining industrial cities like Reading, Pennsylvania (which I mentioned in an earlier post). Or nearby Lancaster.

I have to confess that when I think of Lancaster, I think of the Pennsylvania Amish Country or "Dutch Country".  My family took a trip there every summer, where we would visit farms and the so-called "Dutch Wonderland".  In those days mega-theme parks like Six Flags were either new or in development, the Dutch Wonderland and Hershey Park still could capture a kid's short attention span.

We would simply pass through the city itself which, even then, seemed to consist mainly of factories and old buildings that didn't seem to be used for anything but no one had gotten around to declaring as historic landmarks.  I liked the train station--which served the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads, and now is an Amtrak stop--mainly because I liked trains and the Reading still had some of the old steam locomotives.

But Lancaster, like Reading, has witnessed the loss of its old industries and a population that has grown poorer, darker and older--though, to be fair, not to the same degree as Reading.  Interestingly, Lancaster has earned a new nickname: The City of Refugees.  It's believed that refugees make up a higher percentage of the population in Lancaster than in any other US city.

This is not what one normally associates with cycling:  Indeed, even today, when I ride through blue-collar and immigrant neighborhoods and suburbs of New York, I see no other cyclists. But, when you think about it, such places--like Lancaster and Reading--are exactly where cycling should thrive.  After all, generations of working-class people all over Europe, Asia and other parts of the world were, until recently, the vast majority of the world's cyclists.

So, in a way, we shouldn't be surprised that Lancaster is launching a bike share program.  What surprised me, in reading about it, is the degree to which the city is trying to develop a cycling infrastructure.  While I am not always enthusiastic about bike lanes, it seems that planners are at least trying to make them practical:  They lead to places like the train station and there seems to be some notion that a bike lane isn't just a few lines painted on asphalt or concrete.

Almost nobody believes that Donald Trump can actually deliver on his pledges to revive moribund industries.  After all, even if some company decided to build a steel mill or open a coal mine in Pennsylvania or West Virginia, it would be more automated than the ones that closed.  Thus, fewer workers would be employed--and few, if any, of them would be those men in their 50s and 60s who got laid off during the last economic downturn.  Instead, almost anybody who's not a direct adviser to Trump says that such workers should be retrained in the new technologies of the "green" or "greener" industries.  

It's not as much of a stretch as one might think:  People in industrial and rural areas tend to have more mechanical, and other practical, skills than MBAs or lawyers.  If we think of bicycles as part of the "green" economy, it's not hard to imagine employing workers from a variety of other industries--or simply folks who don't have the aptitude or desire for university--in them.  

One might say that nearby Reading--which I described in an earlier post--is attempting to do that, if on a small scale, with its efforts to make cycling more accessible for the working-class, poor and unemployed of that city.  Such efforts almost inevitably involve employing, directly or indirectly, the very people such programs try to put on bikes.  Perhaps something similar will happen in Lancaster.  If nothing else, as in Reading, Lancaster's new bike share program and infrastructure could make cycling affordable and practical for people who could benefit from it.


  1. Kudos to Lancaster for making bike lanes that actually go somewhere. Some of the most beautiful lanes I see around here are inside McMansion subdivisions. They don't go anywhere but rather wind around aimlessly inside. I prefer to think of them as yuppie mazes. I think the lack of outside connection is discourage the unwashed masses from cutting through and also the people who live there would never consider using a bike to actually go SOMEWHERE.

  2. Phillip--"Yuppie mazes" is a great name for those beautiful lanes that go nowhere. I've seen too many of them.