As everyone who pays attention knows, April 22 is Earth Day. There’ll be environmentally-conscious events and efforts in cities all around the world. And this year, Fort Worth will not only have one, but we’ll have what is perhaps one of the biggest ones in America and on the whole planet.
Though we didn’t get the modern streetcar we
wanted needed thanks to crooked local politics (killing the streetcar will probably, and hopefully, be Mike Moncrief’s legacy), we will get something just as neat on Earth Day of this year here in Fort Worth: bike-sharing, brought to us by The T and Fort Worth Bike Sharing.
No, bike-sharing is not how you and your cousin use the same Schwinn to ride to the corner store, though it’s slightly similar. Basically, here’s how it works:
Around a bike-sharing city, there are “bike-sharing stations”, which consist of a rack with the bikes and a kiosk. The bikes are usually identical or nearly identical to each other, and are branded with the name of the bike-sharing system and the city it’s located in. They are usually built with unique parts, to distinguish them from regular privately-owned bikes, and sometimes use special screws, bolts, and such. Why? We’ll get to that in a minute.
Bike-sharing systems use a membership system, where citizens (and tourists/visitors) purchase a membership in order to use the system’s bikes. To get a membership, it’s usually a matter of visiting a website, using the kiosks, and/or visiting an office of the system.
Memberships to use bike-sharing systems cost a modest amount of money, with payment structures not too much unlike that of a public transit system. Most systems use systems that allow the customer to choose an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly rate—just like systems for purchasing transit passes for use on buses and trains.
Again, like some public transit systems, some bike-sharing systems allow users to ride for small amounts of time (usually thirty minutes or an hour or less) for free, with any time over that being a rate per hour that is added to the base membership fee.
Memberships are usually charged via credit or debit card, sometimes with other payment options for those without such cards. An ID may also be required.
“Checking out” a bike is almost like checking out a book from the library. The bikes are docked in the racks via a hinged/spring-loaded heavy-duty metal mechanism, generally with a secondary lock. A scanner will be present for each bike.
The customer swipes their membership card over a scanner, which disengages the mechanism and the lock, allowing them to remove the bike. They are then free to use the bike anywhere within the service area. When they are finished with the bike, they dock the bike at the station closest to their destination, and are charged the appropriate amount. Failure to return the bike will incur a card charge/fine of the total cost of the bike, usually around $800-$1200. This potential severe expense serves as a good incentive for people to not be careless with the bikes—to keep them in sight when unlocked, and to lock them with the built-in lock(s) when not in sight.
Note that earlier, I used the wording, “’checking out’ a bike”. Bike-sharing systems emphasize sharing over rental; the bikes are not meant to be held by a customer for days or weeks, but are instead meant to be “checked out”, ridden around/to their destination, then “checked in” at the nearest station to their destination. Otherwise, there’d be days where hardly any bikes are available, because they’d almost all (or all!) be checked out. This is why there is an hourly rate.
Now, to the elephant in the room. Many people, when they hear about bike-sharing, one of their first inquiries is, “how do systems deal with the scourge of theft and vandalism?”
Well, there are several ways. First, the bikes themselves are made to look different from civilian bikes, so stolen ones would be very distinct and too “hot” for the vast majority of potential thieves, since there’d be many sets of eyes looking out for a stolen bike of this kind. They also use special parts, including special screws that require special tools to mess with. Some systems, including Fort Worth’s bike-sharing bikes also include a GPS unit, so the bikes can be tracked if they are stolen. Going even further, the stations will have maintenance people coming and going, and be in busy public areas, acting as extra deterrent.
American bike-sharing systems using these methods—which is pretty much all of them currently operating—have seen theft/severe vandalism rates of generally less than 2 percent.
The bikes will be available 24/7/365 and also be maintained by the aforementioned maintenance crews. The crews will also make sure that the stations’ number of bikes remains relatively even, so that potential users have less of a chance of approaching a station just to see there are none available.
The bikes are meant for use in urban areas only, and it’s a bring-your-own-helmet affair.
Fort Worth as a city has done quite a good job of promoting cycling as a form of transportation in recent years, starting with the addition of bike lanes and routes during the middle of the last decade.
Now, there have been rudimentary bike lanes in the city since at least the 1990s. I recall first seeing them as a little kid. They are designated with the little lane-marker humpy thingies, and look like this (this is South Drive here in Fort Worth):
These, however, are sparse (I’ve seen approximately four of these type in the city) and likely were not placed for serious transportation in mind; I’m thinking recreation.
It was about 2007 when serious bike lanes started to appear here in Fort Worth, ones that abandoned the obsolete ‘humpy thing’ design with the modern painted-line type. The first were on Magnolia Avenue, and have been slowly expanding through the core of the city, along with streets without dedicated bike lanes being designated as bike routes, all interconnected with the lanes. The city plans to expand these bike lanes and routes all the way to the city limits, and, according to the map on the city’s website, even run routes through some surrounding municipalities, such as Forest Hill (Heh. Good luck with getting THOSE jerks on board…).
Bike lane along Vickery Boulevard in Fort Worth’s south side.
The city has also launched educational campaigns promoting cycling. The current mayor, Betsy Price, is a big promoter of cycling, and is often seen riding around town, as well as hosting “rolling town halls” where citizens ride bikes with her and participate in discussions about municipal politics and issues.
However, with all of this said, there is a major, dire barrier that is holding cycling away from its full potential here, and it’s not something that the city government can do.
It’s something that the cycling “community” itself has to do.
Due to my joints atrophying and my asthma getting worse—both thanks to loneliness-induced depression—I no longer cycle much. Even if I was still in relatively good health, however, I still would have given up cycling.
Why is that, you ask?
Well, let me put it this way. I showed up to Critical Mass two months in a row back in ’11, and I vowed never to return, ever.
I had not hardly seen such an exclusive and cliquish hobby in my entire life, and that’s saying something, ’cause I’ve dealt with vicious nerds before. Cyclists, however, are worse.
When I rode up the first time, I remember the dirty looks. I felt so small and worthless, and the fact that hardly anyone there even did so much as talk to me only made it worse. To this day, I haven’t really pinned down the reason why they treated me like that, but I figure it had something to do with my looks and my bike.
As anyone who mosies on over to my Facebook page knows, I look like my socioeconomic status. I am visibly rough-looking, and as a low-income masculine dude, often am a bit rough-smelling, too. A bit, not a lot, but a bit.
My bike at the time was a Wal-Mart special—a Huffy Savannah. All the bikes I saw the other people on, however, were either fancy $500+ bikes, or the “artsy” kind of bikes. I learned quick, fast, and in a hurry, that bikes such as mine are looked down upon in the local cycling “community”.
Going further, I noticed that, both times, the same sub-cliques would stick with each other, a problem that permeates pretty much every “common-interest” club on Earth. When it comes to things like Critical Mass, if you’re a newcomer, and none of the sub-cliques take a liking to you, you will be ostracized, pure and simple as silk on a summer evening.
Despite the fact that I loved cycling, had my own bike, and the whole nine yards, I felt very unwelcome in the local cycling “community”, all because of the fact that I didn’t locate one—not a ONE—person who’d even give me the time of day in it. Hell, I may could revive my interest in cycling, but someone’s gotta be a real man/woman and actually give me the time of day, because I am sick of being alone in hobbies and interests.
Anyway, I digress. I’m sure as summer showers that I’m not the only person that the Fort Worth cycling “community” has treated like pure and simple crap. There are probably others who have tried to get involved, but have failed because of the same reasons I did—non-acceptance by the existing members, and having attributes that the group frowns upon, such as being poor.
Attitudes like this will keep cycling from reaching its full potential here in the city of Fort Worth. You can’t claim to be a promoter of a hobby/form of transportation, saying that you want to spread the interest, yet operate your community like a walled clique. Period. It turns people off when they try to get involved and feel ostracized, like I did.
And to be quite frank, it’s not just cycling communities that have this issue. Any community revolving around a form of transport—whether it be cycling, mopeds, scooters, lowriders, whatever—tends to operate like a walled clique, not letting the form of transport they love so dearly spread to the potential that it can become.
Cyclists of Fort Worth (and I’m talking to you moped and scooter riding people, too!), let’s not make this mistake here. We can make cycling big here in the city, but you gotta drop the cliquishness in the process, and learn to accept all newcomers.
Yes, even people like me.