I am thrilled that Philadelphia is getting a bike share program. And I am terrified the city is going to screw it up.
Let’s face it: This city doesn’t always have a great track record when it comes to implementing forward-thinking projects that benefit the common good. Remember the citywide wifi project? There’s no particular reason that shouldn’t have worked, except that we’re Philly … and sometimes these things just don’t work out.
Philadelphia institutions aren’t doing the greatest job these days. The schools are a near-disaster, and while City Hall isn’t in the same kind of trouble, agencies like L&I seem to veer between making it impossible to get a business started and letting dangerous demolitions occur with minimal supervision. So you can understand why I feel some trepidation about the ultimate success of a bike share program here.
There are three reasons for optimism, though.
• We’re not bad at public-private partnerships: Whatever you think of Comcast, that gleaming tower is a nice addition to our skyline, and it furthermore houses a bunch of Philadelphia-area employees. It doesn’t happen with city tax subsidies for the construction of the building. Down south, the Linc and Citizens Bank Park are both great places to see a game. You can argue whether the city should’ve underwritten any of those projects—and in most cases, I’d probably argue against—but there’s no denying that they turned out swell.
Similarly, Philly Bike Share is going to be spearheaded by the city, funded by a mix of private capital and state and federal grants. And if Philadelphia can find one prime corporate sponsor—the way that every New York bike has “Citibank” emblazoned upon its blue frame—the better shape the program will be in. That company will also be invested in making the thing succeed.
• We’re good at transit alternatives. SEPTA, despite its myriad flaws, is actually one of the better transit systems in the country. We’ve got two car-sharing programs. Fewer Philadelphians than ever are driving. We’re a great place to walk. If any town outside of New York is prepped for a bike-sharing program, it’s Philadelphia.
• We need it to be successful. Of the nation’s 10 biggest cities, we’re the poorest and most obese. The two are probably connected—if you don’t have money, it’s easier to rely on cheap, fattening processed foods—but having bicycles around might help us work on half that equation, at least.
I want the bike share program to succeed. I think it has the potential to dramatically increase the quality of life in Philadelphia. And I sincerely hope it doesn’t become just one more thing we’ve screwed up.