On a Roll: Bike Share Programs Expand Across the Country

On a Roll: Bike Share Programs Expand Across the Country

Bike sharing is on a roll in cities from Helena to Houston. Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) is involved in supporting more than 10,000 bicycles and nearly 1,200 bike stations across the country.

What makes these programs so popular? Bike share programs offer residents, commuters and visitors an environmentally friendly and low-cost transportation choice ideal for short trips. This can lead to fewer cars on the road, less pollution and congestion, more personal mobility, and better health and wellness.

BCBS Plans in Illinois, Montana, Texas and Oklahoma support bike share programs. Bike share programs are not only an investment in our community, but a way to help provide convenient and affordable transportation. For a company committed to supporting the health and wellness of its members, aligning with a program that can lead to a healthier lifestyle is a natural fit.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana (BCBSMT) recently found a unique way to add to a bike share program by purchasing 11 mountain bikes for the Carroll Adventure and Mountaineering Program (CAMP). Those bikes, purchased locally from Great Divide Cyclery and Big Sky Cycling and Fitness, are ready to hit the trails, complete with helmets and repair kits.

"We're always committed to investing in the communities we serve, and this is a unique way to do that, all while supporting Carroll College and the local economy," said Jesse Zentz, BCBSMT spokesperson. "We hope this helps Carroll students take advantage of the amazing mountain biking opportunities Helena has to offer. It's a great way to have fun and shed some calories."

Getting Around Town
But getting people on a bike is the first step, whether it’s the morning commute or a visitor’s tour. Most bike share programs offer bikes parked at docking stations throughout a city or area. Some count on kiosks or mobile apps for payment.

Bikes can be rented and returned to any station in the system, making them easy and convenient to use. For many, the first exposure to a bike share is as a tourist. Riding a bike offers street-level view and interactions that can’t be found in a bus or a car.

Charles, an attorney from Texas, and his family used Divvy while vacationing in Chicago. “It gave my family a cheap and healthy way to get to and from dinner and local events,” he said. Charles said he thought the process was simple and that the cost was great. “We would use a bike share in any vacation locale,” he said.

In fact, bike shares tend to be most popular with visitors and area resident “rails to trails” riders, who commute on public transportation and then ride a bike for the last leg of their trip.

Lee Jones, who works with B-Cycle to help establish city bike share programs around the country, says most city bike shares are used for distances around a mile, or at most 2 to 2.5 miles. A bike share offers a new way to access parts of the city, areas that are often a long walk but too short for a car ride.

Jones says these bike share programs need the help of a corporate partner, especially those just starting out in smaller cities. “Sponsors like Blue Cross and Blue Shield are an essential part of the success of a city’s bike share program, especially when it comes to offering operational support,” Jones said. “The bottom line is that without Blue Cross and Blue Shield sponsorship, these systems would not be financially stable on their own.” 

Bike Shares Are Good for the Environment
As bike programs continue to spread from large cities to smaller towns, many cities cite environmental perks as a benefit to adopting a bike share program. Just how green is it to ride a bike share bicycle? The first 400 miles a bike is ridden covers its initial carbon footprint. And the continued use of a bicycle leaves no carbon footprint.

But what about bikes replacing cars? How much cleaner is the air with fewer cars on the road? The Worldwatch Institute says that a 4-mile bike ride, five days a week, avoids 2,000 miles of driving and about 2,000 pounds of CO2 emissions, each year. One mid-Atlantic program found that their bike riders replaced a total of 5 million driving miles in a year.

And They’re Good for You, Too
Bike riding is also a fun way to get more exercise, which leads to healthier communities.

For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular moderate intensity exercise, like biking, combined with a healthy diet may cut the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes by 40 to 60 percent.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines say physical activity also helps:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce stress
  • Get better sleep
  • Feel better overall

Physical activity can also help prevent heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, osteoporosis (thinning bones) and mental health problems such as depression.

In fact, researchers found that people who switched from using a car to an active commute, like cycling, had an average weight loss of about 2.2 pounds.

The longer the commute, the greater the weight loss, the study found. People with physically active commutes of more than 10 minutes lost an average of 4.4 pounds. And those with physically active commutes of more than 30 minutes had an average weight loss of about 15.4 pounds over a two-year period.

With cleaner air, less crowded streets, inexpensive commutes, and healthier residents and visitors, looks like bike sharing programs are here to stay.