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