Is there a right place for bike share?

The Greenway of Grand Forks-East Grand Forks earlier this spring published an online survey to ascertain the community’s interest in possible bike rental system.  The focus was obvious on our much-celebrated trail system, but the system theoretically could extend to other areas as well.  Not surprisingly, the reaction was mixed.  Some were very excited.  Others were less enthusiastic. The more skeptical comments ranged from the mundane “This is a dumb idea” to the more direct “NONE! ARE YOU NUTS??” (Note the capital letters and two, count ‘em – two – question marks).

The most points for cleverness go to the response for question #3 – Where would you like to have rental bikes available?  Answer: At the city’s monorail station.  Kudos to that respondent for both participating in an optional online survey and for including a well-founded sense of humor (and the obligatory Simpson’s reference).

Many believe that such a program is not a basic service in a limited government model that we at least try to espouse.  There were plenty of respondents that said a venture that cannot exist in the private sector should not exist in the public sector either.  That leads me to an article from two weeks ago in the Atlantic Cities on this very issue.  Skepticism of bike share programs is not reserved just for relatively small, relatively conservative areas metro areas.  A writer for the Washington (DC) Times called a similar program “communistic.”

It is a fair point; within reason (although I would argue that use of the terms metrosexual” and “girl bikes” may be a tad over the top).  We have to consider constantly public service versus private provision when we embark on a new endeavor.  Where does the public sector end and the private sector begin?  Almost all cities have some form of refuse collection.  Some use private firms.  Some in-source the job.  And, some, such as East Grand Forks, have a combination.  Historically, where would we be (especially in the Great Plains) without government land grants to build railroads?  What if the government did not invest substantially in the interstate highway system?  Ever hear of this thing called the internet?  Public health codes were started initially by a few local government officials (communists?) who did not like to see the continuation of preventable disease.  Government has often blazed trails (no pun intended) where the private sector was skittish.

I applaud the Greenway group for even taking the chance by making this issue public.  They had to know they would invite some vitriol simply by proposing a new idea.  I am not close enough to the issue to if the proposed program has a chance of being self-sustaining.  Clearly, much more analysis is required.  I hope the Greenway, and by extension, the City of Grand Forks does not let some initial criticism stop at least further study.  As a newly-minted (again) bike owner, I can personally attest to the joys of touring our beautiful greenway with pedal power.  It’s family-friendly and very healthy.   The very discussion is healthy even if the program ultimately could not survive on its own.  Let’s not kill new ideas before they can even be proposed.

Update: Here’s an editorial from the Grand Forks Herald with which I agree profoundly, and by extension, with Tom Dennis (lest one thinks I was too hard on him a few days ago).  And, there was also an original article in the Herald for which the link remains active.  That article generated 87 comments