Yellow Bikes Hard to Track

The 53 free yellow bicycles are getting tough to find, reports Jake Mooney in today’s Daily Progress. The free-useage bicycles, which were released to the public just 10 days ago, are difficult to find along the West Main Street corridor. It’s unclear whether this indicates the theft of the bicycles, that they’ve been left at places other than the bus stops, or that they’re simply in use. Says Stephen Bach, who runs the program, “we aren’t making any promises here. These are bikes that are going to be available by chance.”

40 Responses to “Yellow Bikes Hard to Track”


  • There’s been one near Martha Jefferson Hospital that’s been there for about 2 days. (It’s at the bus stop on Locust Avenue.)

  • Story is here.

  • Nice to say Dave Matthooze is getting his money’s worth. Also unsurprising that everyone is nonchalant about this. “Hey, the bikes are stolen, so what?” So what, indeed. Classic.

  • Of course, this program has been a disaster. Where on earth has a similar plan ever succeeded?

    Don’t get me wrong: I travel by bike (my own!) every day, and will do everything I can to help the community become more bicycle-friendly.

    But putting free bikes onto the street to be pilfered, damaged, and lost doesn’t help — indeed, it is just a publicity stunt bound to backfire.

  • my girlfriends spent an hour fixing the chain on one of those things,*and* made a new “available/in use” sign for it to.

    not everbody’s as apathetic about it.

    though it was naive to think that this program would work.

  • Where on earth has a similar plan ever succeeded?

    It is a successful program in Portland here in the US and many cities throughout Europe.

  • Yellow Bike Action Centre in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

     

    It all began in 1999 with a $15,000 grant from Eco Action 2000. Since then we’ve been flying by the seat of our pants. The first year 60 bikes were released. They were locked with a common key ($6 each) and a length of chain. Anyone could buy a key for 5 bucks and unlock any yellow bike they ran into. Common complaints were :

    * never being able to find a bike

    * someone else picking up the bike when they went into a store or a friends house

    * bikes were in bad condition (no one reported brakes or minor problems, so they got worse and worse until they were virtually unridable) 

    * bikes were not suited to rider (too tall, too short, not everyone likes the curved road bike handlebars)

    * at the end of the year we had 3 bikes returned. most of the bikes were tossed off rooftops, into the lake, crushed in alleyways… no good.

    YEAR 2: we implemented a sign out system – small library cards with the name and number of the bike “#21- Red Rover”, the riders name and number, and a box to fill in when they sign the waiver and leave a $10 deposit. the 10 bucks covers the unique lock, chain, and paint. We use both spray paint (not as environmentally friendly) and rust-proof outdoor paint. different volunteers have different preferences. This year we’ve put out 40 bikes from April-October, and at least 30 of those are in perfect working order and being used daily.

  • It is a successful program in Portland here in the US and many cities throughout Europe.

    I suppose it depends how you describe “success”. If you mean generating publicity about bicycles in a given city — yes, but not all of the press is good (e.g., theft/vandalism is bad PR). If you mean that these programs get people to leave behind their car and use a bike instead — no, nowhere has this happened. If you mean that these programs encourage local governments to invest more in transportation infrastructure for bikes — no, nowhere has this happened (such programs put small numbers of “free” bikes onto the road in places where cycling is already both popular and supported with appropriate infrastructure).

    Of course, this program has been a disaster. Where on earth has a similar plan ever succeeded?

    I guess I should have been more specific about my “similar plan” phrase. Where on earth has a program like C’ville’s — of putting free bikes, with no deposit, no locks, no loaner’s passes — ever succeeded?

  • “You can’t steal something that’s free.”

    Moron.

    The trees on the mall are free to anyone who wants to enjoy their shade. If I dig one up and transplant it to my house, I’ve just stolen it. Taking public property from the public is theft just as much as taking private property from its owner.

    This program is highly useful in one way: to show what naive idiots the planners and leaders of the People’s Republic of Charlottesille are.

    – Bruce

  • “It is a successful program in Portland here in the US and many cities throughout Europe.”

    Really? According to this article from the Observer, Portland’s program hasn’t been successful in any normal sense of the word. One thing both Charlottesville and Portland’s bike programs have in common is that their supporters both offer the same weak response to evidence that bikes are getting stolen: “How can you steak a free bike?”


    April Schweitzer
    Observer Staff Writer

    Does the idea of a fleet of free bikes, available for anyone who wants to
    ride them, sound too good to be true? In some cities, it has been.
    Communities diverse as Portland, Oregon and Sagahadoc County, Maine have
    found that bikes don’t last too long once they’re put out on the streets.
    They quickly disappear, though Daniel Bohn, director of the Community
    Cycling Center in Portland, said he has seen quite a few of the city’s
    former yellow bikes pass by covered with house paint or shoe polish by their
    new owners.

    Over the years, we’ve released close to 1000 bikes that were all donated,”
    Bohn said. “For the most part they are not seen three or four months after
    they’re released. The last time we released any here was the end of last
    summer and I saw one just before Christmas.

    It was our intention,” he said, “that people would leave one, for example,
    in front of the library, and then when they came out there would be another.
    To do that in a city this size, you would have to have a whole lot of them
    and spend a whole lot of money keeping it going.”

    But Bohn remains optimistic about the program. “How can you steal a free
    bike?” he asked. “If someone keeps a bike let them. That’s the whole
    point–to get them riding bikes”

    “Sure there have been cases when kids get hurt jumping the bikes, or some
    bikes have been thrown in the river,” he said, “but it doesn’t happen any
    more than any other kinds of vandalism.”

    Bohn suggested that the program in Charlottesville would be a success “if
    they combine it with after-school programs, incentives for business
    employees to ride bikes, and make it a nonprofit so that people get a tax
    break for donating. The reason why it works for us is because we’ve got all
    of those programs splitting overhead.”

    Jan Ward, director of alternative transportation in Boulder, CO said her
    community’s free bike program has suffered losses from vandalism and theft,
    but she still considers it to be a success story.

    “We’re very proud of this program,” she said. “We have the highest rate of
    return of any similar program in the country. We get 75 to 85 percent of our bikes back each winter.”

    Ward, who describes Boulder as a “very bike friendly city, ” said the key to
    the program’s success is the involvement of high school students.

    “Every question that came up when we went to the students. They were our
    guide. They want to have a cleaner and better world, and they believe that
    one person can make a difference,” she said.

    High School Students are hired to be bike mechanics, and that the
    responsibility makes them “the watchdogs of the program,” Ward said. One of
    her favorite examples is the story of a student in the program who saw some
    other high schoolers kicking and jumping on a bike. He asked them what they
    are doing and explained that the bikes belonged to the community.

    “They felt pretty stupid after that,” she said.

    John Boyle, President of the Charlottesville Albemarle Bicycling
    Association, said “there’s been a lot of focus on the theft of the bicycles, but
    nobody ever talks about the joy of bicycling or the affect that bicycling
    can have on the community.”

    “When there’s enough bikes in the community.” he said,
    “you’ll really see a shift in how people think about bicycling and that’s
    what we hope to achieve.”

  • Good points. An observation: if the library received 75-85% of their books back each year, there’d be an investigation.

  • HA HA HA!!!! Thank you sooo much for saying that Bruce. You are my HERO!! You have put together the words that I have been trying to say since they launced this program!! Great job!

  • “steak a free bike” should say “steal a free bike.” Duh.

  • This is priceless. Really. “Hey, you kids, what are you doing? Those bikes belong to the commuuuuunity!” Haw haw.

  • If the five thousand bucks ($4,500 from the Dave Matthews Band and $500 from the City) that went into this program have already been squandered, I wonder what ideas others here have as to how this money could have been better spent — towards the same goals of this program.

    Any ideas?

  • Is there a growing pessimism pervading us? I refuse to buy into the idea that the free bike program is a waste. It is an innovative, creative approach to getting more people to 1) ride bicyclists 2) view bicycles as a form of transportation. I don’t think the funding for the program was “squandered.” True, the idea of communal property is not well-understood or respected in our country but that does not mean that we can’t try to build that understanding. Maybe many of our expectations were unreasonable to begin with. It is a few core volunteers that are trying to keep this program running, that is no easy task and they deserve kudos for trying. I am tired of the nonbelievers, the people who easily judge and criticize programs if they do not meet certain standards of success. Sure, maybe our community wasn’t ready for free bikes, but they are here and it would be nice if people would think about ways that the program can survive instead of demeaning it. For instance, if there was a youth earn-a-bike program here (afterschool youth learn bike maintenance and put in hours to earn a bicycle) they could be repairing and collecting yellow bikes. There are ways that this program can be successful but it does not serve us to join others who quickly dismiss this program because the concept is too “foreign”. I would hope that we could start a dialogue about how this program could be modified, expanded, changed to fit the needs (and capacity) of our community.

  • word.

    and for what its worth, ive been repairing most of the bikes ive come across. someone actually, suprisingly, took one out of my yard yesterday while it still had to be repaired. i dont know if that was a good or bad sign…

  • There is a youth earn-a-bike program here. It’s very small and has been overshadowed by the yellow-bike publicity blitz, but it’s run by more or less the same people.

  • im happy to do small repairs on any bikes you find–things like broken chains, or mussed-up brakes, and so on… leave them at a bus stop on avon street, and ill likely find it, fix it, and return it.

    i think this is one of the greatest things cville has ever done, and to see the efforts of those involved go to waste would make me sad and pouty and teary-eyed.

  • Other communities have set up programs exactly like Charlottesville’s and they had to be modified to deal with theft and vandalism. Read the posts describing the experiences of Kingston, Ontario and Portland. The volunteers chose to ignore these experiences and set up a program that can only fail unless it’s dramatically modified. They have now fostered pessimisim and have made the job of selling the public a working version of a free bike program much more difficult. Do you think that’s okay because they had good intentions?

  • It is an innovative, creative approach to getting more people to 1) ride bicyclists 2) view bicycles as a form of transportation.

    But could the five grand have been spent in some other way to pursue these same goals?

    True, the idea of communal property is not well-understood or respected in our country but that does not mean that we can’t try to build that understanding.

    Puh-leeze. We have all sorts of community property in the US. Have you noticed those fancy Jeffersonian buildings which we call the University? We, the Commonwealth, own that. The Federal Courthouse? All US citizens own a piece of that, too. The Jefferson School, the City parks and so on . . . And do you honestly think that turning a few dozen bikes out onto the street where they are all stolen or vandalized within two weeks “builds the understanding” of community property?

    I am tired of the nonbelievers, the people who easily judge and criticize programs if they do not meet certain standards of success.

    What “standard of success” has this program met?! A bit of media play — but, now, not all of it good.

    Sure, maybe our community wasn’t ready for free bikes, but they are here

    That’s the point: the bikes aren’t here. They’re gone! And if the community wasn’t ready for free bikes, why did we (with our dollars) put them on the street? Perhaps a larger share of the five grand should have been spent on “educating” us before the wheels hit the streets.

    and it would be nice if people would think about ways that the program can survive instead of demeaning it.

    I’m just calling it as I see it: a (very quickly realized) failure. And I don’t want to see City Council now “throwing good money after bad” to keep a doomed project going. I hope they use our money to promote cycling — but in a different, and more productive way. Got any ideas?

  • There is a youth earn-a-bike program here. It’s very small and has been overshadowed by the yellow-bike publicity blit

    I wish the five thousand bucks would have been spent on this program, rather than the steal- and damage-a-bike program.

  • Buy locks with a common key and require registration in order to obtain a key. Also, try to get hotels in the city to allow racks and provide them with keys so that tourists can easily access the bikes.

    Kevin Cox

  • Other communities have set up programs exactly like Charlottesville’s and they had to be modified to deal with theft and vandalism. Read the posts describing the experiences of Kingston, Ontario and Portland.

    I’m familiar with Amsterdam’s witfiets (“white bike”) program, which has been a resounding failure TWICE (first launch, then re-launch) no less.

    On the other hand, there are certainly a good number of “yellow bikes” to be seen on Amsterdam streets, but these are privately-owned by tour companies which use them to take paying tourists on multi-hour tours (through all of A’dam most touristy and seediest places, alas).

  • To just give free bike to any city resident who wanted one. A need would have been filled and with some pride in ownership come a new wave of cyclist. Free bike in a college town divided by town and gown seems a noble but flawed program.

  • would it not have bee easier to just give free bike to any city resident who wanted one

    You mean like this?

  • Locks, keys, racks, administration . . . wouldn’t that just eat into the amount of money available for buying/rehabing bikes?

  • The cost of locks, keys, registration is a necessary expense. The program doesn’t have them now and so there are virtually no bikes available.

    KC

  • Well, we could have put it towards the 2002 Christimas tree or maybe the FREE SPEECH monument!!!

  • OK, sure the cost of locks, keys, etc. is an “investment”, but if in the end there are only a few dozen yellow bikes on the street, what has been gained? That is: are these expenses a good enough investement to justify additional (recurring?) City investment?

    Because we all know that is the next step in this program’s history.

  • Try again:

    . . . how this money could have been better spent — towards the same goals of this program.

  • I just walked down the Mall and saw 5 yellow bikes, 4 of them actively in use.

    I suspect that the reason that you don’t see the bikes in the bike racks is not because they’ve been stolen, but because people are using them.

  • Sure, people are using them. People who have stolen them.

  • Certain people deserve to be discriminated against when it comes to using the bikes. Certain folks like thieves and vandals. The idea is to prevent the bikes from being stolen not to prevent legitimate use by anybody. Anybody who would like to use one of the bikes would simply register with the program and then receive a key. Registration should be simple and open to all. This would reduce much of the casual theft and vandalism but would not deter all thieves.

  • I had found a yellow bike sitting with the trash on my street last nite, and assumed that it was just being tossed by whoever had used it last, but to my surprise, it was gone this morning. The trash, however, had not been picked up, and was still there. I think this is a good sign.

  • The idea of locks and keys suggest that you want to prevent certain folks from using these bikes. How do you determine who is ‘not’ supposed to use this community resource? If the community wants to continue this program why not just plow more bikes into it? Some folks steal street signs, but we continue to use them.

    I’m not a great bike fan, but if this program does help get more folks using them (one way or another) then perhaps its worth continuing.

  • its all a matter of timing, i think.

    this evening i took an alternative route home from work [going down the street one over from garrett] and, to my delight, found a bike to ride the rest of the way home.

    its also a matter of what the weather is like, i think. i had one sitting on the sidewalk in front of my house all through a sunny day, but the next day when it was raining, the bike was immediately picked up. it was *also* a sunday, the one day that the city buses dont run. i dont have a car, so i understand how usefull the bikes could be on a day like that.

  • its all a matter of timing, i think.

    this evening i took an alternative route home from work [going down the street one over from garrett] and, to my delight, found a bike to ride the rest of the way home.

    If you owned a bike, it wouldn’t be a matter of timing. You would ALWAYS have a bike available.

  • yes, i see your point, but *realistically* the city would not pay that much money to give people their own bikes…perhaps a privately funded group should consider it, though?

  • Buy a bike, with your own money — if necessary! Jeez . . . a used bike can be had for, what, 50 bucks? Less?

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