Free Bike Program Begins

The free bicycle program is underway. Yesterday the yellow bike racks were placed at a half-dozen locations along Main Street, from City Hall to Elliewood on the Corner. Anybody is welcome to use any of the bright yellow bicycles on those racks, and return them to any other yellow rack when finished with them. The program received $4,500 in funding from Dave Matthews Band in early September, which enabled it to get off the ground. Thanks to Kevin Cox for the tip. To see the announcement to the CHABA mailing list from Stephen Bach, read on. Update: Turns out that the program hasn’t actually begun — there may be yellow bikes and yellow bike racks scattered about, but they’re chained up for now. Oops.

From: Stephen Bach

Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2001 10:39:54 -0400 (EDT)

To: Charlottesville Area Bicycling Alliance

Subject: chaba: Yellow bikes racks debut!

Hi Folks:

Yesterday the City, in consultation with Mr. Huja and me, installed yellow bike racks in six locations:

In front of the downtown post office in line with the other bike rack there; on Water St. just west of the skating rink; on the northeast side of the bridge on West Main, across from the bus stop; at the bus stop at 11th and West Main; in front of the Red Roof Inn near 13th St. NW; and in front of Starbucks at Eliewood and University.

Then later, Bruce Dembling and I moved four bikes to the rack near the downtown post office in preparation for a meeting with a reporter from the Richmond Times-Dispatch today at 1:00.

The racks look very nice. The bikes in the racks look nice too.


17 thoughts on “Free Bike Program Begins”

  1. What kind of bikes are they? I heard at one point that a lot of them would be bikes recovered by the city, either because they were abandoned or recovered stolen property. Are there any new ones as well? Are they all mountain bike types, or are there road bikes, BMX, pee-wee herman types, etc?

    I’d go look for myself, but I’m too far away.

    By the way, here’s an Observer story from a few months back about how similar programs have fared in other cities:

  2. Cool, Now we’ll be zippin all over the place! Do they come with bells or streamers? Is there someone to move them around so if they all end up at one stop we don’t have to walk all the way down Main St. just to get a bike?

    Infact, you have to wonder if they’ll be around for long. At night you see stacks of plastic chairs kept under lock and key on the mall. If we cant leave plastic chairs outside, how are we going to leave bright yellow bikes outside? Do they have lojack? Anyone familiar with the mall remembers what “those meddling kids” did to anything and everything that wasn’t nailed down. And some things that were nailed down, like the naked baby statue.

    Will there be special hours put on their use? How long can use use it before returning it for someone else to use? Maybe there is a little plaque on the bike rack I can go read.

    So many questions…

  3. At night you see stacks of plastic chairs kept under lock and key on the mall. If we cant leave plastic chairs outside, how are we going to leave bright yellow bikes outside?

    You can’t steal something that’s free. :)

  4. I went to bike down West Main late this afternoon, and headed down to City Hall to pick one up. There were four yellow bikes there, and they were all chained up.

    Oh well. Maybe tomorrow.

  5. Hi Folks !

    The Yellow Bike Program has not yet begun.

    That’s why the yellow bikes are locked to the bike rack.

    We placed the bikes there for some media photos.

    We’ll be removing the bikes today to stop any further confusion.

    Our target debut time is now some time in November, but we can’t make any promises because the work is being done by volunteers, and we don’t have a lot right now.

    If you are a skilled bike mechanic, and would like to volunteer, give me a call.

    Stephen Bach


  6. Ah. The Man has pulled the rug over our eyes once again.

    As an aside…doesn’t it seem like a chilly time of year to introduce free bikes?

  7. Since the snippet on the main page calls the program “underway”, perhaps an amendment is in order to prevent further confusion? (I confess, I was psyched to try out a bike this afternoon… until I read this followup.)

  8. I’ve lived in four cities in my life.

    three of those cities have had free bike programs.

    the first two were forced to end their programs because all the bikes got stolen.

    the third, we have yet to see…

    you can steal something that’s free, and people do. let’s just keep our fingers crossed.

    kudos to the organizers for trying.

  9. I think the way to steal something that is free is by making it unavailable to others (or available for a price, and with no value added). This would be the idea behind “stealing” free bikes, or “stealing” free newspapers because you disagree with the message contained therein.

    I think the idea of free bike programs is a noble one, but I also think there’s a point at which you have to ask “This hasn’t worked in the past; what will we do differently to make it work now?” The answer could simply be that the C’ville population is one that will not steal the bikes. Unlikely, of course. Or that we will have ways of tracking the bikes. Not practical. Or that we know they will get stolen, but we’ll either a) keep pumping money into the program to replace the stolen bikes, or b) eventually allow the program to die as the supply of bikes becomes smaller and smaller. Does anyone know if the city has stated which position they will take?

  10. Not much city money has gone into the program. Originally a request for funding was made but DMB stepped in and generously donated the cash requested. Huja has spent some time on the program and the bikes are being stored at the City Yard. Other than the use of those city resources I don’t know of any “expenditures” made by the city for this undertaking.

    Many of the bikes will be stolen and not necessarily just by Cville residents. A friend from Holland tells me that thieves from other cities were stealing Amsterdams free bikes and taking them back to their cities to sell.

    Theft could be prevented by requiring users to register and issuing them a registration card. The card then could be used to unlock the bike from special racks. I believe that’s how they do it in Singapore. They also put GPS sensors in the bikes so they can locate them when they are not returned. GPS Sensors,card readers and locking bike racks probably wouldn’t cost the city much more than the $20,000 Christmas tree or the maze on Park Street so I expect they’ll do it eventually.

    Kevin Cox

  11. Hey, as long as projects like the Free Bike Program and the First Amendment Monument are paid for by non-city funds, I have few objections. It’s the future maintenance and support costs that concern me — I think there needs be a realistic plan for the future of these programs. If it’s good enought to implement, it’s worth doing right…it’d be a shame to have it die a slow death simply because no one considered the consequences beyond the initial launch.

    The registration idea sounds like a promising start, at least. Maybe we could sell advertising space to local business so they get their names plastered on the bike. :P

  12. GPS units seem like a bit more than we need. I’m sure there are ways of finding stray bikes without it.

    A passive RF system like the ones used to prevent shoplifting would be a quick way for police to check if a bike is stolen or not. And also very inexpensive.

    If you’re gonna put GPS units in the bikes, you might as well put an LCD moving map on the handle bars, so I dont get lost on my way to the corner.

  13. It seems that it would be rather poor judgement to spend more money on recovery hardware (like GPS locators) than would be lost if all the bikes get stolen, had we spent money on the bikes in the first place. Yes, yes, it would certainly deter some thefts, but it’s not difficult to disable such hardware. I could do it in about one second flat with a hammer or rock. Not that I’d want to, of course.

Comments are closed.