Decatur Ideas: Nashville Bike Share

I’m not sure my wife intended for this photo to be used for this purpose, but I thought it would be a great way to introduce my latest regular post idea.

Decaturites are always traveling the world, doing good, causing trouble, or “just chillaxin””.  And if they’re anything like me, along the way they are probably bumping into people, places and things that make them say, “Hmm, it’d be cool if Decatur had that!”.  (You may recall my “Portland Revelations” series last year)

So why not ask folks to snap a photo of the awesomeness in question and submit it to DM for discussion?  We’ve done many of these – unofficially – over the years, but I figured a more formalized request might increase the number of entries.  And they’re just ideas, not suggestions, mandates or additions to the Strategic Plan.

So here’s the first, courtesy of my wife: Nashville Green Bikes!  The city’s free bike share program started just last year.  Would such a program be successful in Decatur?

38 thoughts on “Decatur Ideas: Nashville Bike Share”


  1. Didn’t they already try this here — it was the Yellow Bike program? I know I donated an old bike to that program years ago. I seem to recall that all the bikes were stolen in almost no time. But please correct me if I am mistaken, this is a vague memory.

    1. No, that’s pretty much right, DEM. It was a shame, too, because the effort embodied so many of the things that make Decatur great — it was bottom up rather than top down; it had the support of the city; it was a novel way to integrate more choices into daily life.

      Unfortunately, what started as a bike sharing program quickly became a free-bike distribution program for the economically disadvantaged (no shortage of them seemed to find permanent homes in Allen Wilson). That may be a worthy goal in and of itself, but it’s a far cry from the program those folks set out to create.

      1. Do you know for sure that a lot of the yellow bikes were found inappropriately in Allen Wilson Terrace? Do you think they were stolen for permanent personal use? Or taken legitimately for a ride by children who then never got around to returning them as they should? (Kind of like the YMCA towels that go home by mistake.) That makes a difference in terms of designing a new program to avoid the gradual disappearance of the bike supply. Parent education among the stable Allen Wilson community might help. In general, I have found Allen Wilson community good neighbors and friends.

        1. I can’t offer numbers. Just what I observed personally. And it’s not a slight or statement on the residents there. Pretty much all the “procured” bikes I saw were in the possession of kids. I know that, as a kid, if someone had said, “Hey, these bikes are free to take!” I’d have probably grabbed one myself.

          As I said, providing bikes to the underprivileged may be a worthy goal. It just wasn’t the goal of the YB program when it started.

          1. I agree that the goal of Yellow Bikes wasn’t to provide bikes to kids. That’s why I think it’s important to know where the bikes went. If adults were taking them, it’s a harder fix than if it was children who then left them out where they were retrievable. An intensive education program among parents and as part of Walk and Roll programs at CSD schools, plus an occasional bike roundup might help protect the bike supply. I think it’s analagous to YMCA towels ending up by mistake in people’s laundry. Some folks will fastidiously return them and others need a reminder before they notice they even have them. Similarly, green recycling bins have been known to migrate themselves around our street, mostly downhill due to the rain. But a few listserv pleas and using permanent markers to write one’s street number on the bin usually works. So, after an education campaign, maybe a child with a bright yellow bike in hand would hear from their mother “Where’d you get that bike? Take that right back to the Square after dinner!” or their friend might say “Mrs. McGillacuddy says that we are supposed to return those bikes to protect the earth and I’m telling on you.”

            I loved the concept of Yellow Bikes and was sad to see it go, although I have to confess that I never found a personal use for it. However, I HAVE used the Pedicab service from time to time.

      2. Scott:
        I think your statement implying that public housing children stole the bikes, without any documentation, borders on racism and is not nice .

    2. Yep. But I assumed that technology advancements since then might give a program like this another chance, if the only problem was bikes being stolen. With the Nashville program, you have to sign up with a drivers license and a “current bill”.

      I guess my question is: if the stolen bike issue was resolved, would the program work?

      1. If it can work in Nashville there is no reason it can’t work here. On balance, I think Decatur is actually friendlier to bikes than most parts of Nashville (I went to school there for 3 years and did a lot of cycling in various parts of town).

  2. Any lessons learned? I do know there are similar programs in some European cities, like Amsterdam and Paris that I have seen and they seem to work. Here in Decatur i have heard the bikes were stolen.

    1. Decatur’s were pretty gaudy, but that was the extent of it.

      If you tried to use driver’s licenses and signouts, how would you handle those without a driver’s license?

  3. Ken Rosskopf was instrumental in the Yellow Bike program and is still very involved in the Decatur bike scene. If there’s any interest in bringing that program back, contact Ken, [email protected]. He’s a tremendous resource.

  4. Nice idea, but I’m just not sure why someone would want to share a bike, rather than not just have their own bike? A basic bike is really not all that expensive. That is possibly why these sorts of programs have failed in most US cities that have tried them. That being said, if someone wants to give it a shot, more power to them!

    1. Just guessing here, but the appeal of bike sharing may include such things as:

      Not wanting to store a bike.

      Not having any place to store a bike.

      Not wanting to have one’s own bike potentially stolen.

      Not wanting to be responsible for their own maintennance.

      Not having enough money at any one time to purchase a bike, helmet and lock.

      Keychain already too full and there’s no room to add a bike lock key.

      Inability to remember combinations.

    2. I agree with you. The impetus for bike-sharing in Paris is most likely lack of space to store a bike, right? Most Decaturites have the space to store a bike of their own. I’m not sure why a Nashvillian would need a bike share though honestly. Mostly a tourist thing?

      I’d love a bike share that I could ride up to the MARTA station, forget about, and then take the train into the city. But that’s just one use possibility.

  5. Hey DM,

    How would you define success? Has our municipal wi-fi been successful? By some measures it has…

    The problem is that cities are quick to jump on bandwagons but reluctant to seriously audit the effectiveness of these types of schemes in later years.

    1. I’m not sure the city itself would deem Decatur wi-fi successful. I think there is a plan in place to revamp it, if I’m not mistaken.

      But it’s a good question. I guess I don’t have a strict definition of “success”, but if I had to attempt to define it, I’d say that it would need become a viable and readily available transportation alternative for all city residents.

  6. My wife and I used to joke about this… when the program was active, you would see signs around town that indicated you could get a Decatur Yellow Bike here, but there was never a bike parked at them. Then every year, we would see people riding the Yellow Bikes in any Decatur parade, like they were taunting us! Those municipal fleets like they have in Paris (and apparently, Nashville) seem like they would be a big hit.

  7. you would want to share one if your own bike was say indisposed

    or you had relatives in and needed temporary extras

    or you just don;t want to maintain a bike yourself

    or maybe they are in nice convenient locations like the marta station so you can just hop on and go home if you don;t want to walk that day or drive

    wle

  8. The bike program in Paris is open to residents only, who put down a credit card as a form of deposit. If I recall correctly, rentals are free or close to it for the first hour. The program appears to be a success in terms of use –bikes are everywhere in the central part of the city — but I don’t know how much theft and vandalism takes place.

  9. Just a note about the Decatur Yellow Bikes program — what might have started as a public bike sharing program became more of a bike “adoption” program. See the FAQ on the website. They fixed up donated bikes and lent them out on an indefinite basis, usually for a $25 deposit. Some were distributed for free. They encouraged people to learn to maintain their bikes. And you could bring an adopted bike back if you needed a repair — that the volunteers helped you with. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that any of those bikes were “stolen”.

    1. Well, I stand corrected then. So some of those yellow bikes seen in parades and at Allen Wilson Terrace may have been properly adopted bikes. Just goes to show that you shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

  10. I just walked by and noticed that Decatur Bike on Ponce has a sign on the window that says “We rent Bikes.”. It’s nice that our hometown bike store provides this service. I wonder if they could be involved with this somehow given their central location downtown.

  11. I am familiar with the rental bike programs in both Paris and Denver. They are very similar. The philosophy is to join by paying a monthly fee. For this fee you get free unlimited use of the system but only up to 30 minutes at a time. The vast majority of users appear to be people commuting to/from work, especially in Paris. Many users also ride the METRO (Paris) or RTD (Denver) and pick up or drop off the bike at a bike location close to a train station. In Paris the bike locations are ubiquitous, many more locations than Denver. In Paris it appears for many this is their primary form of non-METRO transportation. In Denver it appears that people also use the bikes for shorter destination trips like train to Zoo, or to Botanic Gardens, or to Cherry Creek Mall, etc.

    I’m not sure a similar system would be feasible in such a small market as the 4 square miles of Decatur. Also the greater Atlanta area is not nearly as bike friendly as either Paris or Denver.

  12. DC also has similar program- saw tons of bright red bulky bikes lined up outside MetroCenter station on my last visit a few weeks ago. Same idea of using credit card for deposit. Their bikes had a non-market shape and were definitely bright red/easily distinguishable. Not sure how popular they are yet, they all looked pretty new.

    For Decatur program, this might be more of a way to get the car-less from Midtown and Buckhead here via MARTA. Also, where do folks think best rack locations would be, in order to generate natural flow of bikes from rack to rack? Decatur MARTA to, plus…

  13. We could use all the bikes the kids ride to school during school hours as long as you returned them by 2:30. Solves two problems: lack of bike racks and only adults would be using them. (just being silly)

  14. We could use all the bikes the kids ride to school during school hours as long as you returned them by 2:30. Solves two problems: lack of bike racks and only adults would be using them. (just being silly)

  15. I think this is a wonderful idea. Is anyone here willing to serve on the planning committee, find/repair bikes and help with security?

  16. I’m with some of the practically minded people. Before even thinking of doing a bike program again, i’d like to know what the problems were with the previous one. Decatur is not Paris and it doesn’t take much time to realize that bikes are stolen every day in our little bubble of decatur.

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