Cities Energy & Green Tech

Sharing Bikes Can Lead to A Sustainable World

We’ve asked speakers at our upcoming Techonomy Detroit conference to share perspectives on topics they will discuss at the event relating to U.S. economic growth, jobs, and urban renewal. (To register for the conference, click here.)

The author wields one of New York City's iconic CitiBikes.

The author wields one of New York City’s iconic CitiBikes.

“Transportation, Recreation, and Innovation” is the tagline of my company, Alta Bicycle Share. We manage bike-sharing systems in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, Boston, Toronto, Melbourne, and other cities. In five years our bikes have been ridden more than 35 million miles on more than 25 million rides. That’s more than a billion calories burned, and with zero fatalities.

New York’s CitiBike—a bikeshare program with significant corporate involvement in a global media center—has quickly become something of an icon. The CitiBike has appeared on The Daily Show (including in Robin Williams’s last interview and the classic Full Pedal Racket episode), frequently shows up in the Wall Street Journal—including as the object of its editorial board’s disdain, and had a cameo in “Sharknado 2.” CitiBike blue was even the official color of Fashion Week last September.

But what seems like a fast-rising trend is really the result of decades of work by many people, communities, and visionaries who believed that the simple bicycle could be an economic, environmental, and quality-of-life panacea for modern society. Considering the convergence of the sharing economy, solar power, and wireless technologies that enable bike-share stations, it’s now possible to imagine living, working, and playing in our cities more sustainably.

Alta’s multiple offices in great places are populated by young people who are motivated by our mission, who want to spend every day working to make the world a better place. They share the vision I described in my book, “The Third Mode,” that walking, bicycling, and trails are local solutions to the global issues of our time. After 29 years of work that has felt like pushing a rock up a hill, I think we’re finally at the top, ready to enjoy the downhill ride with the wind at our backs.

Projects that we dreamed about a decade ago are now underway: the Arkansas Razorback Greenway, Jackson Hole’s Pathways system, Dubai’s Bicycle/Pedestrian networks, the innovative new National Association of City Transportation Officials Design Guide, the Saratoga Greenbelt Trail in my hometown, and so many others. We’ve achieved scale and scope that make major changes possible.

I see the glass half-full now, but still, our work is only half done.

The Techonomy Detroit conference is a great setting for sharing a vision of how new methods of mobility can move us all forward and for exploring the potential to combine public, private, and non-profit leadership resources to help make people healthier and happier.

The work of people like those gathering for Techonomy gives me hope for the future. Let’s keep moving towards a green society one day at a time, one project at a time.

Jeff Olson is an architect, planner, and author who co-founded Alta Bicycle Sharing. He will speak on a panel about responsive transit at the Sept. 16 Techonomy Detroit conference.

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