Current Comment

Bicycles for the Many

It has taken the United States more than 40 years to begin to catch up with Europe’s bicycle sharing programs. What started in Amsterdam in the 1960s and was later copied in Paris, Copenhagen, Barcelona and other European cities took root in Portland, Ore., in the 1990s. Since 2008, though, major programs have been initiated in Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Chicago and Denver. This year Miami started a bike share for tourists, and later this year San Francisco and Boston will start pilot programs. New York City plans to make available 10,000 public bicycles in 2012. China, Mexico, Canada and Australia also have bike sharing. While these programs differ in target audience, size, sponsorship and method of payment, they allow users to take a bicycle from one “station,” sometimes several racks of bikes parked off a main street, and leave it at another.

To succeed a bike share program must work with a city not only to mark bike lanes, map sensible routes and install bike traffic lights, but also to ensure that pedestrians, bikers and drivers negotiate them safely, lest accidents ensue and public support wane. Stations must be conveniently positioned with bicycles available when needed, and bicycles need protection from theft and vandalism. Still, the potential benefits are enormous: better health for those who exercise regularly, which means less spending on health care; fewer cars used for short commutes, which conserves energy and lessens air pollution. Over time bike sharing could create an urban culture of do-it-yourself transportation, drawing more people outside where they can see and be with each other, building community and enhancing the quality of life.


Et Tu, Superman?

“‘Truth, justice and the American way’—it’s not enough anymore.” So says the Man of Steel in the current issue of the venerable Action Comics’s series. Has it come to this: Superman renouncing his U.S. citizenship? Apparently the hero who is faster than a speeding bullet, dismayed that an attempt to support demonstrators in Iran was misconstrued as an act of U.S. aggression, has decided that this is the best course of action. Unlike celebrities who are forever threatening to take up residence elsewhere when federal policy or personalities shift in a manner not to their liking, Superman appears to be a man of his word. “The world’s too small, too connected,” he says. Superman needs to be free to defend the universal common good, unconstrained by U.S. parochial interests.

Superman’s embrace of internationalism has been deplored as a betrayal by some commentators. What’s next, a U.N. seat for Krypton? This is another sign, they say, of an encroaching political correctness that is eroding American exceptionalism and reducing the United States to just another mere nation under Superman’s benevolent gaze. It is hard to understand their complaint. It is not as if Superman’s U.S. citizenship has not been dubious since the beginning. Rumor has it that he did not even enter the United States legally. Has anyone ever seen his long-form birth certificate? And what kind of name is Kal-El, anyway? So bon voyage, Superman; enjoy your fortress of stateless solitude. Let the free market catch the next falling busload of schoolchildren.

Peace Corps Problems

After leaving the Peace Corps in South Africa in 2009, Casey Frazee returned to the United States a changed woman, but not in the way one might think. After being sexually assaulted during her time as a volunteer, she went home with a desire to help other volunteers who have met a similar fate and to force the Peace Corps to recognize and adequately respond to cases like hers.

Between 2000 and 2009 more than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers reported having been the victim of a sexual assault, a low estimate considering the fact that, according to a 2010 Peace Corps survey, close to 40 percent of those raped and 50 percent of those sexually assaulted did not report their attacks.

Now Ms. Frazee and other former volunteers who were victimized are speaking up, saying the Peace Corps staff took a “blame the victim” mentality and that the organization failed to educate volunteers about how to properly report an attack or seek counseling. Some were even encouraged to lie about what had happened to them.

The Peace Corps has committed to re-examining its policies on the matter, with the help of a newly hired victims’ advocate, but Ms. Frazee’s advocacy group is pushing for more Congressional oversight of the corps.

The good work of the Peace Corps should not be overshadowed by this news, but the need for reform cannot be ignored. Volunteers are often placed alone in remote villages. It is crucial that the Peace Corps maintain strong ties to these volunteers and provide a support network. The organization must look not only at its policy regarding sexual assault but at larger structural challenges to examine whether it is properly positioned to fulfill its mandate and to keep volunteers safe.

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Paul Levett
7 years 8 months ago
Re: Bike sharing
May 20 is National ride your bike to work day. Washington DC's Capital Bikeshare system is 9 months old and heavily used by commuters.  There are few racks near the National Mall, as the system does not have agreement with the Park Service.  During the morning rush hour bikes rapidly disappear from the up-hill outer stations where people live, leading rapidly to a critical shortage of available empty racks down-hill in the inner city core where people work.  Redistribution of the bikes is done by vans driving on city streets, so the system does still contribute to air pollution.  Each van, gas & maintenance, plus driver salary, is a significant expense, so there are just 3 vans redistributing bicycles for the entire system, far too few for the task of redistributing bikes efficiently.  Riders frustrated at the non-availability of bikes/empty rack space, may move on to use their own bicycles to commute into work, potentially a beneficial unintended consequence of the shortcomings of the system, but partly the point of the system was that you did not need to have access to secure bike parking and chronic theft is a deterrent.  The system has potential and I hope that lessons learned in other cities can be shared.
Christopher Mulcahy
7 years 8 months ago

As an expert bicyclist, democratic capitalist, and one who has had two quality bikes stolen in Washington DC despite hardened lock systems, I feel qualified to comment.  Socialism doesn’t work, in bikes or anything else.  Personal ownership is the key to proper maintenance and therefore safe operation of manufactured products of all types, including bikes.  It takes 10000 engineers to reverse the destruction of a single fool.  Dropping bikes, riding them off curbs, ignoring tire pressure, etc. is a recipe for another of a long line of socialist experiments that end in the taxpayer taking it financially in the end.   Good quality second-hand bikes can be purchased very reasonably from private parties on craigslist and other sites.  Best is to own your own bike, guard it, maintain it, don’t loan it, use it a lot.

Kang Dole
7 years 8 months ago
In Montreal, we have Bixi bikes, and they're expanding pretty rapidly-it works kind of like Zipcar in the states. It seems pretty successful, and that success may be due in part to the fact that Bixi is an established company with lots of experience in bike sharing. When Toronto tried initiating their own program 10 years ago, it folded fast.
David Smith
7 years 7 months ago
Bike sharing seems a nice idea that might work well in Zurich or Portland but, as Chris notes in comment #2, will probably work poorly in DC or NYC.  Lack of a sense of community, I suppose.  And it's certainly unlikely to be of any use in most US urban centers, in which people live far apart, not conveniently packed together in sardine tins.  Also, where there are bike lanes in cities I've seen, they're shared by cars.


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