Columbus, OH USA

Pedal Pusher
February 2010
by Greg Knepp

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Share That Bike!

As far as I can tell, it all started decades ago in Copenhagen – bicycles parked at various junctures about town which were available to anyone who wished to take a spin. Of course, the bikes would need to be returned, and they typically were. Among the bike-friendly, homogenous townsfolk of Copenhagen, the “White Bike” program, as it was dubbed, was a hit. Other European communities followed suit. American cyclists (babes-in-the-woods idealists all) set about establishing organized bike sharing programs as well. But in the automotive din and snarl of the American city, communal bike sharing didn’t work quite so well, at least in the beginning.

New York City’s “Yellow Bike” project was a flop. The donated bikes – usually refurbished clunkers painted international yellow (yes, there was such a color) – were pilfered almost as soon as they hit the streets. In the mid-’90s a better known Yellow Bike project in Portland, Ore., received lots of great press and seemed to do well for a time, but eventually it too succumbed to the same thievery that had doomed New York’s effort. The essential problem is that Americans (even the ultra-progressives of Portland) simply don’t know how to live in cities – don’t understand the concept of communally owned property. In the ol’ US of A either one owns something or one doesn’t: It’s that simple! Property that isn’t under lock and key is free for the taking. It’s amazing how pervasive this assumption is – even among the more educated and liberal elements of our society.

Of course, the collective American psyche does make room for a fuzzy idea of “public property,” which invariably calls up images of gray neoclassical government buildings, security guards, schools, etc. But communally shared property, as such, remains a foreign concept. I’m reminded of a scene in the 1969 cinematic masterpiece Midnight Cowboy: Goofy sidekick Ratso Rizzo is confronted about stealing food from a party buffet. A guest admonishes him, “Well, You know, it’s free. You don’t have to steal it.” Ratso’s reply: “Well if it’s free, then I ain’t stealin’.”

Rental bikes are long-standing fixtures at ocean boardwalks, amusement parks and tourist towns, and they are great. In fact, I adhere to the philosophy that renting – of no matter what – is usually preferable to owning. Ownership is a rather abstract ideation, the maintenance of which depends on all manner of cultural, legal and social conventions, not to mention a plethora of downright silly institutions. Renting is good – but it’s not quite sharing. The problem is, how to run a bike share without getting ripped off.

EveryoneBikes is a Short North bike share program that employs a simple solution to the theft risk: Riders are required to leave driver’s license information and a credit card with their EveryoneBikes concessionaire before setting out for a spin. The bicycle is securitized and the rider gets up to four hours of free pedaling.

Josh Quinn is the proprietor of Tigertree, a hip clothing store at 771 N. High St., and one of the founders of EveryoneBikes. I spoke with him about the program. He and several Short North business owners started EveryoneBikes in August 2009. The object was to allow a method for tourists to move about the area without the bother of having to be ever concerned with competing for precious parking space. Quinn words, “One of the key reasons we started the program was to combat the perceived parking problems in the Short North. We want people to feel comfortable parking anywhere in the district.”

Parking the car once, then cycling from location to location within the neighborhood seems to make sense. There are more than a dozen EveryoneBikes concessions strewn along High Street from Goodale Boulevard to Fifth Avenue, so wherever one parks, a handy bicycle is sure to be nearby. The formula works well enough. Of the bicycles that are borrowed, about 60 percent go to non-residents of the area. The others are used by area residents for errands or short recreational spins. The concessionaires benefit by promoting sane urban transportation, reducing the parking problem for potential customers, and having increased foot traffic in their stores: In order to borrow a bike from Josh Quinn, you must first enter his store!

The bikes are Kona AfricaBikes. Kona is a domestic company but uses parts from around the world (as do most bike manufacturers). The AfricaBike is sturdy and utilitarian, coming in single-speed and three-speed models, with an integrated rear rack and a front basket – perfect for light shopping along the strip. It has an old-world look that seems appropriate to the Short North. The Paradise Garage (941 N. High St.) sells the bicycles to the concessionaires at a reduced cost. Incidentally, the Paradise Garage has diversified its product offering and increased its component inventory since I first reviewed it in May of 2008. It was a good bike shop then; it’s a great one now!

Josh figures that EveryoneBikes has been a success and is ready to be expanded to other areas of the city, notably German Village and Olde Towne East. Me, I just like having more bicycles on the street. Everyone benefits when a bicycle replaces a car, even if only for a brief hop about the Short North!

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Short North Stops: Bodega • Coexist •Endocrinology Associates • Jinny • Ladybird • Milk Bar • Paradise Garage • Salons at High and Hubbard • Sandbox •Segway • Tigertree • Undone • Vino 100 • What The Rock?! • z pizza

Greg Knepp is a Short North cyclist

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