By Mike Thompson
It’s perhaps one of the oldest philosophical questions in the book – which came first, the chicken or the egg? This simple question has stirred debate and stimulated interesting conversations for as long as people have wondered. But the concept of the chicken and the egg question is not monopolized by farm animals by any means. It can be transferred to infrastructure issues – which comes first, the bicycle share or Complete Streets?
Implementing bicycle shares and Complete Streets are two important components of a successful, strong bicycling community. However, the implementation process itself is not as clear cut as it might sound. Fortunately for officials looking to boost bicycle transportation in their communities, successful examples of Complete Streets coupled with bicycle shares can be found around the world as well as in the United States, from Barcelona, Spain to New York City.
The above image, created by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, a multi-modal transportation advocacy group, displays the bicycle share ridership and the density of bicycle share stations. The graph shows that station density and ridership have a positive correlation- good news for communities in the process of developing a bicycle share system. Yet, station density is not the only type of bicycling infrastructure that contributes to increased bicycle share ridership. Other infrastructure, such as Complete Streets bicycle elements, play a significant role.
For instance, New York City, perhaps the best performing American bicycle share system, began its Complete Streets initiative in 2008, a full five years before the Citi Bicycle share system was rolled out. A key figure in the implementation and development of bicycle share in the Big Apple was Jon Orcutt, who served as the policy director for the New York City Department of Transportation from 2007 to 2014. During his tenure, Orcutt oversaw one of America’s largest and most successful bicycle share systems. Orcutt sees Paris and New York among the cities with the most successful bicycle share systems, and provides insight as to how these cities were able to create high performing systems in a recent article for StreetsBlog. Calling out station density and bicycle lane network, Orcutt said, “If you can create a good bicycle lane network and create a super density of bicycle-share systems, like the kind of stations where you’re basically coming across them almost every block, it’s a huge recipe for jump starting bicycle transportation in your city.”1
In larger American cities like New York and Chicago, Complete Streets policies predated the bicycle share systems. Perhaps this is due to an existing bicycle culture and a desire to crate safer areas for bicycles and pedestrians. But other American cities are growing their bicycle share and Complete Streets networks simultaneously, including Austin, Texas, Washington, DC, and Denver, Colorado. Orcutt sees Austin, Texas as a future success story for bicycle shares and Complete Streets. Referring to station density and network connectivity again, Orcutt said, “they’re completely focused their initial set of stations in a very small area. The city has been doing a good job of adding protected bicycle lanes and they have a really ambitious network planned.”
In New Jersey, bicycle share systems are not as common as they are larger metropolitan areas. Jersey City is on the cusp of launching its bicycle share system in 2015, with the support of Alta Bicycle Share and New York City’s Citi Bike. This bicycle share program is sure to get a boost from New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Complete Streets policy, launched in 2011. Pictured below is an example of a complete street in Jersey City, whose own policy was adopted in 2011.
Perhaps the bicycle share and Complete Streets debate is not as well-known, but is important nonetheless. Orcutt, a leading American expert in promoting bicycle ridership in the US, said, “There’s a very virtuous dynamic between bicycle-share and bicycle land network expansion, once you have a successful bicycle-share system.” The bicycle share-Complete Streets network development debate has no clear cut answer- each city and town must tailor its development as they see fit. For now, let the chicken and egg debate continue.
Source:  Angie Schmidt, “Why Aren’t American Bike-Share Systems Living Up to Their Potential?” StreetsBlog USA, November 24, 2014, http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/11/24/why-arent-american-bike-share-systems-living-up-to-their-potential/.