Design Solutions & Challenges

U.S. Bikeshare Programs on the Rise

City bikeshare program pod in Gothenburg (Göteborg) Sweden.
Written by Haley Jordan

Creating more walkable and bikeable neighborhoods means fewer cars on the road, easier access to public transportation, and healthier communities—all important ecocity goals. Metropolitan areas around the world are working to encourage bicycle use by taking actions such as increasing cycling-specific infrastructure and establishing bike sharing programs.

Bike sharing is gaining popularity in American cities as a tool for providing convenient and low-cost transportation for traveling short distances, reducing traffic congestion, and improving air quality and public health. Bikeshare systems feature networks of docking stations where riders can check out bicycles for short periods of time, typically with cards activated through per-use rates or annual memberships.

San Francisco is among the growing number of U.S. cities with successful bikeshare programs, and Bay Area residents may soon start to see new bikeshare stations popping up and an increasing number of bikes on the road. In April, four Bay Area mayors announced a proposal which if approved will expand the Bay Area Bike Share program tenfold — from 700 to 7,000 bikes — by 2017.

Several other U.S. cities are also working to expand existing bike sharing networks or launch new systems. Philadelphia launched its long-awaited bike sharing operation Indego this spring, and Birmingham will become the first city in the Western Hemisphere to have its bike fleet include “electric-assist” bikes that help with pedaling in hilly terrain when it implements its new bikeshare program this fall.

Bike sharing has exploded in recent years, but ten years ago, the idea was nowhere close to being at the forefront of urban transportation planning. That changed when in 2005, the Velo’v bike share system was launched in Lyon, France. A few earlier bikeshare systems existed in the U.S. and Europe, but the Lyon program was one of the first to bring together and scale the elements of purpose-built bikes, dedicated docking stations, smart cards, and a fee structure that encourages short-term rentals. That program’s success and popularity led many other cities to establish similar systems. There are now more than 850 bikeshare programs in operation worldwide.

Washington, D.C. became the first major city in the United States to implement a modern bikeshare program in 2008, followed by Denver in 2010. There are now 54 active bikeshare programs in the United States, a number which continues to grow.

In addition to the environmental benefits of reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality by removing cars from the road, bike sharing alleviates road congestion and pressure on parking supply. It also encourages expansion of public transportation (by making bus and subway stops more accessible with short bikeshare trips) and promotes healthier and more active communities, particularly when bikeshare travel displaces car trips. Bike sharing programs can reduce the personal cost of urban transportation by offering an affordable public option, making urban bike travel available to a broader range of people.

According to a 2015 research survey and analysis published in Transport Reviews, “Bikeshare: A Review of Recent Literature,” convenience and distance between users’ homes and the nearest docking station are significant factors in bikeshare use. One example from the 2015 analysis cited that Montreal residents living within 500 meters of a docking station were 3.2 times more likely to have used the city’s bikeshare system than those who lived further away. For lower-income users, the opportunity to save money compared with other transportation options was also an important factor.

Continued political support for bike sharing in many U.S. cities has supported the recent bikeshare boom. Business models and funding structures vary greatly from program to program. Among U.S. cities, bikeshare programs are generally owned and managed either by the local jurisdiction (Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare), a nonprofit organization (Denver B-Cycle), a for profit company (Miami Beach’s Deco Bike), or a hybrid between these models. A young and rapidly evolving transportation service, new strategies and best practices are emerging as bikeshare projects are implemented.

The bikeshare experience is also improving with technological advancements that improve functionality. Many modern systems are characterized by automated credit card payments, the use of GPS systems for bicycle tracking, and mobile and web applications that show the availability of bikes and dock spaces in real time.

According to a 2012 best practices guide prepared for the Federal Highway Administration, successful and sustainable bikeshare programs should work hand-in-hand with other efforts to accommodate and encourage cycling, strive for participation among low-income populations, and be integrated with other public transportation options. The 2012 guide also cited examples of jurisdictions that were experimenting with programs such as reduced-rate memberships to facilitate access to bikeshare programs for low-income and minority communities.

Bikeshare programs are changing the way that people think about personal mobility and urban transportation. As they continue to expand and evolve, they will likely become a permanent part the of transportation picture in many cities. To explore a full list of American bikeshare programs and a bike sharing world map, visit




About the author


Haley Jordan

Haley Jordan is a coastal New Jersey native currently based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is a Masters of Environmental Studies student at the University of Pennsylvania, where her studies focus on urban sustainability and environmental policy. She can be reached at

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