Wednesday morning I found that my bike had a flat, which I will get fixed tomorrow, but today is when I realized that the difference between being carfree in Detroit and being carfree say in Boston or NYC or Montreal – you absolutely need a working bike to be carfree in Detroit. There are too many great things outside of comfortable walking range from downtown (or meetings I have to go to), or certain blocks where it is safer to be riding at a decent clip than walking. Walking is the ultimate form of transportation in other cities, and when paired with a transit ride can get you almost anywhere. Since we lack robust, frequent, fast, reliable public transit system, bikes fill in where transit is not providing a reliable service. This is why I think a bike share system will actually do very well in Detroit. The block lengths are long, the intersection density is low, the roads are over capacity, there is often a lack of urban edges and significant dead gaps in the urban landscape between your destinations that can make walking uncomfortable. Simultaneously to the transit system being somewhat ineffective, ZipCars are few and far between on only one college campus. This leaves only the bicycle as the non-car form of transportation that is widely available in mass production.
A bike share system similar to Bixi by PBSC of Montreal has been serving as an excellent “last mile” filler for transit systems around the world, helping folks easily and confidently cover the last mile of their transit trip (from the destination station), adding tremendous value, improving usability of the transit system and influencing decisions on taking transit. In Detroit a bike sharing system is even more critical because of the degraded nature of the urban form near some transit, and because for the foreseeable future, bikes may often be replacing what would be a transit trip in any other large city.
I won’t be able to pull off being carfree in Detroit without a bike, and that will re-start this weekend.