Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Bikes & Bikeshare -- Tools of Protest

Here on World Bicycle Day, it's interesting to recognize how the humble bicycle is used as a tool for protest. Protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement that are combating acts of police and vigilante violence are rocking my city of Washington, D.C. and many more around the world.


The bicycle provides a healthy and safe mode of transport to reach the protest, especially in this time of COVID-19 when transit usage is undesirable.


The bicycle allows protestors easy access to the protest without the need to find motor vehicle parking and the nimbleness to walk through the gathered. And yes, the bicycle also provides a quick way to exit should things devolve and become violent, as has happened here this week due to the poor leadership of a heartless, brainless, and soulless dictator who has another 153 days in office.


It is good seeing the D.C. region's Capital Bikeshare being used by many protestors to proudly express their right of free speech.


Present times also remind me of past uses of the bicycle for protest, such as the women's liberation movement in the U.S. and the Provo movement in The Netherlands, which gave rise to bikeshare.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Goodbye Russell Meddin, Godfather of Bikeshare



This past week we lost Russell Meddin, who many consider to be the godfather of bikeshare. Russell was my co-author on this blog as well as the curator of The Bike-sharing World Map. Russell was well-known in the bikeshare world having been part of this nascent industry since at least 2008. If you’ve ever attended a bikeshare conference on most any continent, you’ve likely heard Russell speak.

I had the pleasure of meeting Russell at the Bike Share Philadelphia Public Forum in January 2008. He was one of the event’s organizers and their goal was to bring bikeshare to Philadelphia, his adopted hometown. The event was probably the first bikeshare-related in the U.S. From it, he sowed the seeds of what would become the Indego bikeshare system in Philadelphia. After the Forum, a couple folks including Russell and I went out to talk. He was the oldest in the group, but the most young-at-heart.

Russell was a one-of-a-kind with his quick wit, outspokenness, quirkiness, and boisterous laugh. If ever needing to locate him at the many North American Bikeshare Association conferences that we attended, I knew Russell was nearby when I’d hear his booming laughter coming from afar. Then I’d know in which direction to walk through the thongs of conference attendees to find him. Also, Russell didn’t need to be called on at conferences. He’d speak up, voice booming from the back of the room, to share his opinion on the topic. And he had plenty of opinions to share!

I remember Russell would wear his reading glasses with the magnifying factor sticker still attached. I always thought this was interesting, and one day asked him why he didn’t simply remove the sticker. “I keep the sticker on to be memorable,” he said. “Memorable is good.”

Over the years I got to know his wife and daughter during my visits to their home, just off of a trail. The entire family, including their son, loves to travel and has spent a good deal of time in Europe and Asia. During their travels, Russell would visit the local bikeshare system in every city to meet staff and talk about the service.

Anybody who has used The Bike-sharing World Map has him to thank. As more cities around the world were waking up to bikeshare, updating The Map become a huge job. He took it over from me in 2009 and spent hours each day, usually over his morning coffee, reading about what was going on around the globe and talking to colleagues to keep The Map updated. Talk about a herculean effort! He did this to index the state of the industry and help spread best practices.

Russell was a friend, colleague, and one of the most passionate, and memorable, people I’ve ever met. I’ll miss our regular calls and visits where we’d catch up personally and share bikeshare news.

My condolences go to his family and to those that knew him. He’s sorely missed.

Goodbye, Russell.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

COVID-19’s Impact on Urban Transport




COVID-19’s impact on urban areas will be far-reaching as nearly every mode of transport is being affected, so municipalities need to begin planning how they will prepare for these changes to guide society once we remove the virus's choke hold. After the pandemic, traffic congestion caused by single occupant vehicles could drastically increase due to a wider preference for greater personal space. This could result in urban areas becoming even more difficult to get around and lower air quality than pre-COVID-19 years.

Mass transit is taking a big hit as reported by Transit as ridership declines with many needing to telework or loss of employment. This decline likely will continue after the pandemic as the public grapples with its post-traumatic stress of physical distancing from even friends and neighbors and not wanting to be in the close confines of a train or bus with strangers. Many former mass transit riders will turn to single occupant motor vehicles such that cities could see a huge increase in motor vehicle traffic and congestion. The use of carpooling, slugging, ride-hailing, and taxis also could decrease from pre-COVID-19 times also as people remain skittish about sharing space with even a few others.

Private bikes, bikeshare, and scootershare have the potential to replace trips from all modes without negatively impacting urban areas with greater traffic congestion. Bikes and e-scooters have physical distancing as a built-in feature that wasn’t important until the present era. 

Urban areas will see a boom in both modes once COVID-19’s infection curve has flattened and life begins to return to normal, albeit a new normal. As cycling and scootering increase, those new to these modes will have greater need for safer streets, protected bike lanes -- space that is physically separated for people who bike and scoot from people who drive -- is greatly needed. 

City and county leaders must counteract the potential for heavier motor vehicle traffic congestion than pre-COVID-19 times by providing protected bike infrastructure to those that do or will cycle and scoot to get around. This infrastructure need not be expensive or take years of planning. As reported in SmartCitiesWorld, Bogotá, Colombia recently opened 47 miles of temporary bike lanes during the pandemic. Bogotá’s mayor, Claudia López, said the bicycle “represents one of the most hygienic alternatives for the prevention of the virus." 

Use of rubber curbing, flexible posts, street markings, and/or new signage can be enough to create protected bike infrastructure on existing streets. Municipal leaders need to think big and provide this critical infrastructure on arterial streets where it's most likely to be useful and used. This infrastructure would be well-used during the pandemic as the public needs safe and healthy modes in which to travel and exercise in a way that is socially responsible and permissible by many localities’ stay-at-home orders.

The pandemic has the potential to reshape how we get around, just like other historic events have in our nation’s past. Visionary leaders should seize this opportunity to plan for how society will get around after the pandemic by creating more public infrastructure that better encourages biking and scooting. 

photo credit: Move DC

Monday, October 14, 2019

Battery Management of E-bikeshare and E-scootershare


Recently, I attended an excellent presentation about battery management at the North American Bikeshare Association (NABSA) conference. With more electric bikeshare and scootershare vehicles hitting the streets around the world, this topic is of increasing importance. As an e-bike owner, I personally have seen how it has changed how I get around in the hilly Washington, D.C. region as I bike a lot more now than before I bought the e-bike. While these e-bikeshare and e-scootershare vehicles can be great and increase getting around town without needing drive or be driven; unless their rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are managed well during their useful life and recycled properly into steel, stainless steel, and new batteries; e-bikeshare and e-scootershare can cause more harm than good to our customers, staff, and the environment. As MetroBike manages e-bikeshare and e-scootershare systems for local governments, I took note.

E-bikeshare & e-scootershare parking corral
The reason lithium-ion batteries are so popular and omnipresent is because they can hold a lot of energy in a small package, called “energy density”. According to Battery University “The energy density of lithium-ion is typically twice that of the standard nickel-cadmium. … Most of today's mobile phones run on a single [lithium-ion] cell. A nickel-based pack would require three 1.2-volt cells.”
Lithium-ion batter (credit: B&H)
However, a major problem with lithium-ion batteries are that they, “have a tendency to overheat, and can be damaged at high voltages. In some cases this can lead to thermal runaway and combustion,” says the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute. Not being familiar with the term “thermal runaway”, I had to look it up. It’s defined by Lithium-Ion Battery Chemistries as, “when a cell has reached the temperature at which the temperature will continue to increase on its own and it becomes self-sustaining as it creates oxygen which feeds the fire (literally).”

Electronic bikeshare and scootershare vehicles already have been reported to have had multiple fires on the street and in warehouses in the U.S., such as the reported instances of e-bikeshare in Bicycling Magazine and e-scootershare in The Washington Post. I haven’t read any reports yet of fires happening while someone is on a vehicle and hope it never happens.

Capital Bikeshare Plus (credit BeyonDC)
The NABSA presentation that I mentioned above was given by Todd Ellis of Call2Recycle. He suggested e-bikeshare and e-scootershare operators and municipal system owners both have roles in battery management. Mr. Ellis stated:

Operators should:
-accept that this is an issue;
-size up the issue;
-select a storage area in their warehouse;
-develop standard operator procedures for battery management, including handling used, damaged, and defective batteries;
-train employees on handling; and
-plan for the worst.

How’s that for sobering?

In addition, municipalities should:
-have operators provide their battery management plan as a micro-mobility application requirement,
-require the operator provide their battery recycling partner contract, and
-include the cost of recycling batteries in abandoned vehicle fines.

This just scratches the surface.

E-bikeshare and e-scootershare vehicles are here to stay. Bikeshare has proven for over a decade that it’s successful at getting people around town in a healthy, fun, and environmentally friendly way. E-bikeshare bikes are generating roughly three times more trips than standard pedal bikeshare bikes because the electric version makes it easier to get around without exerting as much effort. E-scootershare didn’t have a non-electric shared version, so there’s no direct comparison. With the immense uptake of e-scootershare around the world, one can see that people like to get around without effort, and the easier, the better. E-scootershare requires even less exertion than e-bikeshare as pedaling is not involved.

E-bikeshare and e-scootershare will continue to evolve. With the popularity of these vehicles, likely there will be many more generations of electric vehicles and they’ll all need batteries. So the need for safe and environmentally friendly battery management will continue to grow.