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What makes these programs so popular? Bike share programs like Houston BCycle and Divvy in Chicago, offer residents, commuters and visitors environmentally friendly and low-cost transportation ideal for short trips. In turn, more bikes can lead to fewer cars on the road, less pollution and congestion, more personal mobility, and better health and wellness.
As the number of cyclists continues to grow, so do the number of cities with bike share programs. The most successful programs are a collaboration. Strong city government support, dedicated bike companies, infrastructure for bike-specific traffic, and supportive corporate sponsors all work together.
BCBS Plans in Illinois, Montana, Texas and Oklahoma support local bike share programs. Bike share programs are not only an investment in our community, but a way to help provide convenient and affordable transportation. For a company committed to supporting the health and wellness of its members, aligning with a program that can lead to a healthier lifestyle is a natural fit.
In Houston, the bike share program has grown to more than 1,000 bikes across over 128 stations throughout the city. The partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield has been a great way to give more residents access to a fun, healthy way to get around the city.
Getting people on a bike is the first step, whether it’s the morning commute or a visitor’s tour. Most bike share programs offer bikes parked at docking stations throughout a city or area. Some count on kiosks or mobile apps for payment.
Bikes can be rented and returned to any station in the system, making them easy and convenient to use. For many, the first exposure to a bike share is as a tourist. Riding a bike offers a street-level view and interactions that can’t be found in a bus or a car.
Charles, an attorney from Texas, and his family used Divvy while vacationing in Chicago. “It gave my family a cheap and healthy way to get to and from dinner and local events,” he said. Charles thought the process was simple and that the cost was great. “We would use a bike share in any vacation locale,” he added.
In fact, bike shares tend to be most popular with visitors and area resident “rails to trails” riders, who commute on public transportation and then ride a bike for the last leg of their trip.
Lee Jones, who works with BCycle to help establish city bike share programs around the country, says most city bike shares are used for distances around a mile, or at most 2 to 2.5 miles. A bike share offers a new way to access parts of the city, areas that are often a long walk, but too short for a car ride.
Jones says these bike share programs need the help of a corporate partner, especially those just starting out in smaller cities. “Sponsors like Blue Cross and Blue Shield are an essential part of the success of a city’s bike share program, especially when it comes to offering operational support,” Jones said. “The bottom line is that without Blue Cross and Blue Shield sponsorship, these systems would not be financially stable on their own.”
As bike programs continue to spread from large cities to smaller towns, many cities cite environmental perks as a benefit to adopting a bike share program. Just how green is it to ride a bike share bicycle? The first 400 miles a bike is ridden covers its initial carbon footprint. After that, the continued use of a bicycle leaves no carbon footprint.
What about bikes replacing cars? How much cleaner is the air with fewer cars on the road? A study by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy concluded that a 20 percent increase in cycling worldwide could “cut carbon dioxide emissions from urban passenger transport by nearly 11 percent in 2050.
Bike riding is also a fun way to get more exercise, which leads to healthier communities.
For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when regular moderate intensity exercise like biking is combined with a healthy diet, it may cut the risk for type 2 diabetes by 40 to 60 percent.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines say physical activity also helps individuals:
Physical activity can also help prevent heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, osteoporosis (thinning bones) and mental health problems such as depression.
In fact, researchers found that people who switched from using a car to an active commute, like cycling, had an average weight loss of about 2.2 pounds. The longer the commute, the greater the weight loss, the study found. People with physically active commutes of more than 10 minutes lost an average of 4.4 pounds. And those with physically active commutes of more than 30 minutes had an average weight loss of about 15.4 pounds over a two-year period.
With cleaner air, less crowded streets, inexpensive commutes, and healthier residents and visitors, looks like bike sharing programs are here to stay.
Originally published 1/13/2016; Revised 2021
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