Bye Bye Bikeshare, See You Next Spring
In snowy cities, winter bikers winter in warehouses to avoid damage and low usage. Photo used with permission of *DRAMA QUEEN*.

In snowy cities, bikes winter in warehouses to avoid damage and low usage. Photo used with permission of *DRAMA QUEEN*.

UPDATE, 12/15/10:

Capital Bikeshare in Washington D.C. has announced the Winter Weather Warrior contest. To the Capital Bikeshare annual or monthly member with the most trips taken from January 1- February 28 goes a three-year extension of his/her membership, two annual memberships for friends, a $100 Hudson Trail gift card and a $25 Starbucks gift card.

According to the contest rules, “any trip on a bad weather day counts as double.” Yet the system’s winter weather policy, states “in the event of severe winter weather or hazardous road conditions, Capital Bikeshare may temporarily suspend service until conditions improve. Bikes that are in use when service is suspended should be returned to any station at your earliest convenience.”

The most diehard will have to get to a bike station before Capital Bikeshare flips the switch.

With a simple tweet of “À l’année prochaine!“, BIXI, Montreal’s bikesharing system, has gone into hibernation for the harsh Canadian winter.

Canada’s first and North America’s largest public bike program is not the only system that is shutting up shop for the winter months. Bike systems in Denver, the Twin Cities, Nashville, and Washington state are shutting down until springtime. Bike maintenance, rider safety concerns, and expected low winter ridership are amongst the reasons systems will be shut over the next few months.

Upkeep and Maintenance

For bike share systems, the cost of an individual bike is expensive. (For D.C.’s system, Capital Bikeshare, bike replacements run a cost of $1,000.) Often the bike manufacturer warranty is voided if equipment is damaged as a result of exposure to salt used to de-ice roads in winter. “Having our equipment exposed to salt would damage our bikes and bike station equipment and violate our equipment warranties with our vendor,” says Mitch Vars of Nice Ride Minnesota, a bike share system in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where winters are long and cold.

Safety and Hazards

In cities where heavy snow and ice are commonly found on roads, rider safety is a real concern. Ice and extreme low temperatures pose potential hazards for cyclists. Duration of daylight is an additional factor that affects bicycle riders. As days shorten, safety risks grow when cyclists take to slick streets under the cover of darkness. Coupled with snow on the ground, “the dangers of riding increase dramatically because of conditions and the lack of places to ride,” says Jamie Bentley of Washington State University’s Green Bikes program.

Usage and Ridership

“Of course [ridership] will dwindle,” says Chris Holben, a bicycle program specialist with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) in Washington D.C. The District’s Capital Bikeshare system will not be closing over the winter, but is in the process of creating guidelines for possible snow days when the system must be shut down; these will be released to users next week. “Usage is currently around 1000 trips per day, down from 1700-1800 a few months ago,” Holben adds. Bikeshare usage is “highly weather dependent,” says Vars of Nice Ride Minnesota, pointing to cold weather and shorter days. However, a hard winter climate seems not to be a barrier to the viability of bikesharing in cities; as a testament, several cities in North America and Europe continue to install and expand the availability of shared bikes in spite of the cold conditions.

Shutting Down a System

Bike stations around Denver will be a bit bare over the winter months. The system has shut down until March 2011. Photo by mclcbooks.

Bike stations around Denver will be a bit bare over the winter months. The system has shut down until March 2011. Photo by mclcbooks.

In D.C. closing the system for a bad weather day is just a “flip of the switch,” with standard practice in heavy snow conditions being to remove bikes in the stations that would be affected by snow banks on the sidewalks created by passing snow plows, and leave those bikes that are unaffected locked in the stations. In other cities that go into a state of hibernation, the whole system must be taken down. In BIXI systems, like those in Montreal and the Twin Cities, bikes are collected, stations dismantled, and everything is stored in warehouses only to re-emerge onto city streets in springtime. In Denver’s pilot B-Cycle system, the bikes are collected and stored in a warehouse, while the system’s fixed stations remain cemented in the ground with the kiosks’ screens and batteries removed for storage and bike docks wrapped in plastic. According to Tyler Reeder of Denver Bike Sharing, the system in the future could be open year-round for use, but as a “precautionary” move, it is shutting down “to review and [make] operational adjustments” before such a change occurs.

Users of systems that close up shop for the winter months may feel a bit deceived in purchasing a one year membership and not getting year-round access, but despite riders’ disappointment, “most people understand our reasoning for doing so,” comments Reeder.

On the other side of the world, cities in India are preparing to install bikesharing systems. Are those cities taking into consideration monsoon season and the contingency plans that will accompany such inclement weather?

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