Earlier today Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter test rode a bike share, well, bike around Rittenhouse Square. Now we’ll see if he can actually get the $3 million he needs from City Council, where the Mayor may face a much tougher challenge.
In budget hearings this spring, some City Council members have referenced Nutter’s proclivity for bike programs as a symbol of what they see as unnecessary spending.
Such sentiments are, of course, absurd. Bike programs are incredibly cheap and, contrary to popular belief, are not just for yuppies and hipsters. Although it’s not shocking that it’s often framed that way, especially given that the Inquirer’s poll on the issue completely ignores the incredibly economic benefits of biking. The question is: “Should the city spend $3 million to launch a bike sharing program?” The only options are: 1) “Yes, it’s great for the environment” or “No, that’s a ridiculous amount of money.”
That’s bad framing. As my friend Dan Kobza writes on Facebook: “Its funny that the poll suggests the only reason you’d be for the program is that its ‘great for the environment.’ Like, what about “‘bikes are cheap and fast, and I’m poor and have to go to work.’”
Right. “The environment” is a very abstract concept and, sure, I want to save the Earth and whatnot. But for most people money is a whole lot less abstract. I bike everywhere because its convenient, fast, and cheap. I’ve spent less than $500 on my bike since 2009.
And bike share programs can be tailored to save even more money for low-income people, as I noted in a recent Next City piece.
In a city like Philadelphia it could be wildly successful, as it is in Boston,” says Nicole Freedman, director of Boston Bikes program. “One thing we’ve done well is making sure we have stations in low-income neighborhoods, making sure we have subsidized memberships available, and we’ve been very successful at making sure bike share is for every Boston resident regardless of income, ethnicity, language, etc.”
In addition to building stations in lower-income neighborhoods, Hubway offers $5 annual memberships to low-income people. Residents are eligible who receive any form of public assistance — from food stamps to the Earned Income Tax Credit — or have an income that is 400 percent of the poverty level. The program has a staff member who spends nearly all her time selling the subsidized memberships, explaining how Hubway works to low-income residents and signing people up who do have access to a computer.