After years of false starts, Los Angeles will finally receive its first bike-share system this summer, with Metro’s rollout of 1,000 shiny new bikes docked at 80 solar-powered stations. It’s about time. Nearly every first-class American city already has bike share; even Santa Monica has one. The last attempt, headed in 2012 by a private company, targeted several parts of the city, including Hollywood and downtown, but fell apart over advertising contracts. This effort concentrates just on downtown, a compact area roughly bounded by Washington Boulevard, the L.A. River, Chinatown, and the Pasadena Freeway. Which makes sense. Research shows that people will ride only when they can easily find a bike and then an empty slot to return it to.
They also need to know it’ll be affordable and safe. With a $40 annual fee (waived for qualifying low-income riders), a half hour will cost $1.75—the same as a bus ride—though one-timers will pay $3.50. The dense structure of downtown L.A. is a bonus because it keeps auto speeds lower than, say, on Sepulveda or Olympic. Better yet, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation is creating protected north-south lanes, which include a physical buffer separating cyclists and cars, on Main and Spring streets; similar projects are coming to Los Angeles Street and a stretch of Figueroa near USC. All of them should be completed by 2017. “At that point we’ll be a lot closer to having an actual network of safe bike lanes downtown,” says Eric Bruins, policy director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition.
This may be cold comfort to those who want those sequestered lanes right now (for the time being they’ll have to make do with the unprotected one on Spring), but officials argue that, as with other cities, they can use bike share’s success as a catalyst to get better safety features budgeted and built. “It’s a virtuous cycle—when you have a lot of bikes visible and lower the barrier to people being able to jump on a bike and give it a try, people have a more positive impression about investment in high-quality infrastructure,” says Seleta Reynolds, the LADOT’s general manager. In the meantime novices should ponder this: A study released in March by the Mineta Transportation Institute concluded that not a single person has died on a bike-share ride since the systems were broadly introduced in the United States in 2010.
Metro has plans to extend the system to Pasadena in 2017, with kiosks in Venice and elsewhere slated after that. Considering that nearly half of all trips in the L.A. area are three miles or less, the potential is there for droves of people to pedal along quality bike lanes past gridlocked Uber drivers.