A free-bike solution to traffic congestion

| Oct 13, 2009

I took a test drive of the new B-cycle, at the Hill Flea. It’s the free bike system coming to Denver next April, and the first thing I said when I returned the bike was: “OK, I’m in. Here’s my $50.” Then, “How soon can we bring this transportation system to Boulder?”

In 2010, Denver will be the first major city in the U.S. to launch a “Paris-style” free bike program. Minneapolis, Boston, and Miami will come on-line soon after.


So, what does $50 get you? Fifty dollars is the annual fee, per person, to participate in the free-bike program. Next April, Denver residents will be able to pick up a white Trek bike at any of the bike stations around the metro area. Insert your B-cycle card, and the first 30-minutes are free. However, the next 30 minutes will cost you $1. The next 30-minutes, $2 … and so on.

The goal, says Lewis Wolman, Director of Planning and Deployment for B-cycle is to get you on and off the bike quickly. Use it to get from A to B, then park it at a station, and let someone else use it. The longer you hold onto it, the more expensive it gets. Every time you use it for 30-minutes or less, then return it to a bike station, it’s free.

BIKES GALORE. In this successful bike-sharing program, bikes are lined up neat and pretty in Barcelona, Spain. (Reporter photo)

And free may be better than buying your own bike. In Boulder, for example, $500,000 worth of bicycles are stolen each year.

B-cycle is a collaboration between Humana, Trek Bicycle Corporation, and Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. The idea of creating it as a for-profit business that markets a free-bike system to cities grew out of the free bicycle programs used for both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in Denver and Minneapolis.

The business was also catalyzed by the experience Humana had with its 10,000 employees in Louisville, Kentucky. When Humana first experimented with offering free bicycles to employees to make it easier to travel to and from work, they thought the program would probably be used by the more athletic employees.

To their surprise, they discovered that the free bike program had universal appeal. Everyone wanted to try it out. The end result was the improved health of their employees.

So what did my power ride show me? That it is easy to get citizens to move around from home to town and work when you provide them with a free bike that includes: a woman’s style bike (easy on and off), skirt and pants guard on the bike chain and back tire, front and back tire fenders to protect clothing from wet road conditions, front and back lights powered by pedaling, no-flat tires, and a big basket with a bike lock and bell.