Monday, January 21, 2013

Houston's B-Cycle Bike Share Program

My older son and his wife live and work in Washington DC and I visit them fairly frequently. In 2008, DC launched what I believe to be the first bike share system in the US. Bike share systems provide bicycles for a fee for short term use to supplement the public transportation system by providing transportation for short distances. Wikipedia has an excellent article on the concept and its execution around the world.

Although DC's first system was more or less a failure, in 2010, DC launched its replacement, the Capital Bikeshareconsidered by some to be the most successful bike share program in the US. In a recent visit, I could not help but notice the system. When I discussed it with "the kids", they told me that they thought it was too expensive to be useful to anyone but tourists. It was a surprise then, when a few months ago my daughter-in-law told me that she had been using Capital Bikeshare to get to work. Apparently, when she factored in the (lack of) proximity of her work to public transportation and the actual cost of other alternatives, Capital Bikeshare made sense. It was with that as a backdrop that it caught my eye when our city of Houston began its own bike share system, B-Cycle.

The system in Houston is undeniably in its infancy, having only 3 stations where bicycles can be obtained or returned and 18 bikes compared to the 175 stations and 1670 bikes in Washington DC. Out of fairness to my city, ours was clearly described as a pilot program. That said, the event that sparked this column is that, thanks to a partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, the Houston system is about to be expanded to 24 stations and 200 bikes. Here is a map of the expansion from the Houston Chronicle article on this expansion:

How successful is this system likely to be? Honestly, I have no idea, but will be eagerly watching to see. It is somewhat less expensive than the DC system. The billing structure is similar for the two. One purchases a membership which covers short trips, 30 minutes or less in DC and 90 minutes or less in Houston. An annual membership in Houston is $50 as compared to $75 in DC. (Shorter memberships, as short as a day, are also available.) In Houston, trips over 90 minutes are billed at $2 for each additional 30 minutes, and in DC, trips over 30 minutes are billed at $1.50 for each additional 30 minutes.

Another factor that will influence the success of the Houston system has nothing to do with bike share itself and depends on the "bikeability" of the city. I have commented on Houston's bikeability in previous posts and will continue to do so, but there is now a more objective and comparative measure provided by the Walk Score website:

"Somewhat Bikeable" doesn't sound so good, nor does a score of 49/100. How does Washington DC do?

What is worse, DC is not even the United States most bikeable city:

Clearly, there is nothing I would like more than to see Houston get better. However, in defense of where we are today, I will ask you to look back at the maps and notice the color code: green is the most bikeable and red the least. The difference is partially in how intense the green of the DC city center is compared to Houston's city center, but even more that Houston is a big, sprawling city, and although the downtown/midtown/Medical Center region is reasonably bikeable, the vast outlying areas are not and bring down our score. In that spirit, I would like to conclude this post with a picture from the Houston B-cycle Facebook page taken on one of the prettiest pieces of Houston's cycling infrastructure, the bike paths along Buffalo Bayou in downtown Houston which I plan to cover in a future post:

See previous posts for explanations of my aerobic training program, MAF tests, and this graph. My average performance is still not improving, but I continue to think this is not significant. As I said when I first posted one of these graphs, the reason I am presenting the data this way is because there is so much "noise" in the data caused by weather (among other things). Over time, I believe the noise will begin to average out as the number of tests increases. Philip Maffetone, author of the training program I am using, predicts that performance should start to improve "after two or three months". Please stand by.

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