Ooo! A Bike Share (Democracy?) Debate!

My friend, Colin Whooten, responds to my previous post on bike sharing:

It helps that China is essentially a dictatorship, no? It’s brilliantly efficient if the leaders make good decisions. It’s awful otherwise. I’ll choose 3 years to get a bike share program and being able to talk about this openly on a social media site vs. living in fear at even thinking of questioning anything (like if I didn’t like bikes and would rather the government spent money on something else).

Colin brings up a valid point: less democratic governments can generally get things done quickly at the expense of, well, democracy. I agree with everything he says in principle, and would not trade China’s government for ours, but think this particular case is different. This was essentially the city planning council (yes, probably appointed rather than elected) obtaining and allocating funding to quickly implement a thoughtful bike share program that has since improved the quality of life in Guangzhou and gained international recognition:

A bike-sharing program, wide bicycle lanes lined with trees, and a huge bus system that ties in with the city rail network are all part of the recipe for a winning transportation system in Guangzhou, China, according to the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

ITDP, an international nonprofit that works with cities on projects to reduce greenhouse gases and improve the quality of urban life, named Guangzhou the winner of its 2011 Sustainable Transport Award at a ceremony Monday night in Washington, D.C.

Guangzhou clinched the prize, said Jessica Morris, senior program director for ITDP, largely because it surpassed expectations. The bus rapid transit system, which opened in February 2010, “carries an awful lot of people,” as many as 800,000 a day, she said, making it one of the world’s largest. Perhaps more importantly, the new bus system “hooks up seamlessly” with rail as well as “idyllic” bicycle paths and bike-sharing stations, and helps to make the city “more livable.”

The trade-off between a one month and three year roll-out probably isn’t as black and white as I had previously suggested, but I still think we can do better. And there are also many examples of cities in democratic countries, such as Washington D.C.,  London, and Mexico City implementing bike share programs more efficiently than we have.

Colin’s right. We have a superior system to determine whether or not certain programs should exist in the first place. But once a program is agreed upon, I would argue China has the superior implementation system. It’s complicated though, and touches on some more controversial topics than I originally acknowledged.

Other thoughts?

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