White Bikes - A Solution for Inner Community Travel??

It seems to me that the secret of creative thinking might just be starting with good problems.

Then, before you can even think about generating ideas, that problem needs to be turned into a challenge.

My current work includes working with a community of approximately 500 full time citizens augmented by seasonal cottagers, who live within a serene and natural resource-rich environment. They care for their community and one another, work hard, speak honestly and directly, and share a distinct and often wacky sense of humour.

As with many small communities, they are dealing with the challenge of transportation.

In this particular case, all residents live within a fairly narrow strip of land that stretches for several miles along a lakefront. Since there is no easily accessible geographic centre, facilitating the social engagement and physical activity that we know is essential for good health is definitely a challenge.
Additionally, the community struggles to ensure their youth will have the education and skills necessary for economic security in their somewhat isolated location.

The good news is that a number of leaders have worked together to apply the creative thinking necessary for generating an exciting solution.
Their solution is a community bicycle program, modeled in part after one developed in the Netherlands known as the “White Bikes” program.
Like all other community bicycle programs, White Bikes, bike sharing, or free bikes are variations of a movement focused on facilitating environmentally friendly transportation.

Community programs appear in all shapes and sizes in cities throughout the world. The central concept is free (or nearly free) access to bicycles for inner-community transport.

In larger communities the goal is to reduce the use of automobiles for short trips inside the city and diminish traffic congestion, noise and air-pollution as well as reduce thefts of privately-own bikes. However in this case, it is essentially about making it easier to go from one part of the community to another.
Since the bikes can be returned to any station in the system - the stations are usually located about a quarter of a mile apart - it facilitates one way rides to work, education or recreation for both residents and visitors.

In many community bicycle programs, each bicycle is painted yellow, white, or another solid colour. This fleet of one-coloured bicyles helps get the word out about the program. Additionally, painting over the brand name, as well as all other parts including pedals, gears, and wheels, deters theft because there is little resale value.

Some have gone so far as to design their own bike with a distinct frame and parts in order to discourage disassembly and resale of stolen parts.

The bicycles are simply released into a given area. In some cases, the bicycles are only designated for use within certain boundaries. Bicycles in this type of program are not intended for use by a single person. Instead, you are expected to leave the bike unlocked in a public area once you reach your destination.
In some cases, just as with grocery buggies, a small cash deposit releases the bike from a locked terminal and can only be retrieved by returning it to another.
This particular community has been collecting bike parts for some time - it helps that they have a resident connected to a large cycling store!  Local youth will be recruited to assemble and paint the bikes and provide ongoing maintenance.

Their incentive will be the important skills they learn along the way, their own set of tools that they get to keep and, once a specific number of hours have been contributed, their very own bike.

While there may be new challenges as the program is implemented, my guess is that the residents of this community will resolve them the same way they resolved this one. They’ll turn the big problem into a short, simple challenge, potentially combine it with others, build on the assets in the community, and generate ideas.

Sounds like a winning formula to me.

Posted on 02-10-08

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