The city of Miami Beach and Broward County both launched bike shares in 2011 but the two programs have seen vastly different success rates.
Bike shares have been popping up across the country over the past few years with one of the most recent additions launching in New York City earlier this summer. Despite its reputation for not being bike-friendly, South Florida was an early adopter of the bike share-- an idea, like many things in our region, born in another country.
“It really started in Europe” says Decobike co-founder Bonifacio Diaz, who has seen firsthand the popularity of bike shares in cities like Paris and Barcelona. “And the City of Miami Beach wanted to bring this alternative mode of transportation to the beach.”
Bike shares allow people to check out a bike with their credit card from stations, or kiosks, placed in public areas. Trips are generally short, and they’re promoted as much as a form of transportation as recreation.
And it’s proven to be popular in Miami Beach, where people have checked out bikes well over 2 million times. Decobike plans to ride its success into mainland Miami where it will open 60 new stations in December.
A Tale Of Two Bike Shares
Just to the North, Broward County’s bike share hasn’t seen the same success. Broward B-Cycle launched about eight months after Decobike. But despite similarities between the areas --the two programs inhabit flat terrain, tropical climate and lots of tourists-- Broward’s bike share has seen significantly fewer rides with about 40,000 trips logged.
One reason for the difference is parking, but not in the way you might think. Miami Beach’s lack of parking actually bolsters it bike share program and was one of the main reasons the city wanted a bike share in the first place.
Miami Beach is a seven square-mile island that its parking director, Saul Frances, says was built without a lot of parking in mind because it was a seasonal community. Now that more people live there year round, parking has become scarce.
“For residents that may live in one of our residential zones, they may not want to move their car on the weekend and take the chance of losing that space to run an errand and then have to hunt down another parking space,” says Frances. So, he says, finding a way for people to get around the beach without using their car became “a quality of life issue.”
Beach residents have embraced Decobike. 70 percent of those 2 million rides have been made by people who hold annual memberships, presumably, mostly locals. And because of the pay structure, the 30 percent of non-membership users make up 70 percent of the program’s revenue.
Both Frances and Diaz say that at this point, residents and business are happy to swap a parking spot or two for a Decobike station.
Parking, Parking Everywhere
The flip side to that is Broward, where parking, comparatively speaking, is aplenty.
“So for a city to give up the revenue of a parking space just simply to promote bicycling is a challenge,” says Kathryn Moore, who heads up Broward B-Cycle. “We are not in any parking spaces in Broward County.” That means the bike stations are not always visible or easily accessible.
Another issue facing Broward B-Cycle is density. Bike share experts say for a program to be successful, there has to be a certain density of kiosks where people can rent bikes. Moore says because Broward B-Cycle is spread across the county instead of being concentrated in just one city, the stations aren’t always close enough to one another.
“So, inevitably, it might be 3, 4, 10 blocks,” says Moore. “And when you get to that kind of distance sometimes walking or driving or not going becomes more attractive.”
B-Cycle serves six cites from Hallandale Beach to Pompano Beach, and, according to Moore, it’s the only county-wide bike share in the U.S. That’s because the money to build Broward’s program came from the state with some strings attached: the funds were awarded to the county so the bikes couldn’t just be placed in one city.
Moore says being the first county-wide bike sharing program comes with its own set of difficulties. But, she’s no stranger to that kind of challenge. Moore was tasked with making the City of Miami more bike friendly by former Mayor Manny Diaz after Bicycling Magazine ranked it one of the worst cities to ride in. Thanks to the efforts of Moore and others, Miami was taken off the worst cities list and even made it onto the list of top cities for cycling.
Moore is optimistic Broward’s bike share will take off, in time, as Broward B-Cycle continues to populate the county with stations and people try out the program.
For his part, Decobike's Diaz doesn’t think his program will run into the same issues as Broward as it spreads 60 stations out over about five Miami neighborhoods from as far south as Coconut Grove to the area around Northeast 52nd and Bisycane.
Diaz believes the program will be popular with both tourists coming off the cruise ships and residents piled into high rise condos. He says he’s already hearing from people asking if they can become members before the program even rolls out.
“That’s going to be phase one,” says Diaz. “And if we see a lot of interest and people requesting more stations, we can continue.”