Bike-sharing’s popularity has exploded in the past couple of years, and this is no better seen than in Seattle. No matter where you are in the city, whether it’s up in Wallingford, down in the Rainier Valley or here at Seattle University, you are bound to see these bikes in abundance. Specifically, Lime Bikes: the green and yellow bikes have dotted Seattle Roads since dockless bike-sharing started in 2017 and have practically become synonymous with the bike-sharing phenomenon itself.
Lime bikes had a monopoly over Seattle bike-sharing when it’s two competing companies, oFo and SPIN, left the city on September 2018 because of new permit requirements. This monopoly didn’t last long, though, as Uber’s bike-sharing company, JUMP, rolled its tires out on Seattle in November of 2018—add- ing it’s red and black coloration to the Seattle cityscape.
For the most part, I am an avid fan of Bike-sharing—it’s convenient, cheap, and allows me to get to places much quicker while getting a little bit of exercise in the process! And with the added benefit of an electric motor, they are extremely fun! Nothing beats pedaling down Seattle hills, going at breakneck speeds that would scare even the most reckless daredevils. With all their benefits though, there are still concerns about Bike-sharing and what it may entail—specifically gentrification.
Gentrification is an issue that has hit Seattle hard in the last couple of years. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia estimated that Seattle is the third most gentrifying U.S city, and to many, bike-sharing has become a symbol of that fact. In cities such as San Francisco and Portland (other gentrifying cities), many bike-shares have been vandalized, mutilated and slashed because of this frustration.
Many see the expansion of bike-share and bike lanes as pathways for wealthy hipsters and techies to come into neighborhoods and displace the original residents—and this concern isn’t unwarranted. Bike lanes are usually introduced into areas that are gentrifying because developers and landlords push for them so property values increase. This means more Bike- shares in these gentrifying communities, reinforcing its negative connotation with gentrification.
However, regardless of bike-sharing’s negative connotation, it might be the case that they actually help combat gentrification! Bike-shares are usually only permitted if they’re available across the whole city, meaning they are available to everyone in the city proper—no matter the place or the time.
Part of the reason that gentrification happens is the inability of the historical, working-class residents to pay for the increasing rent—forcing them out of their neighborhoods. Consider that there is a resident in a gentrifying neighborhood in a city without bike-sharing; they don’t have a car and rely on public transportation to get to work, and once they get off at their stop, they depend on walking to get to their workplace. Now this resident’s rent is increasing and they need to find a better paying job.
However, they aren’t able to access many potential jobs because it would require an absurd walking commute; because of this, they are unable to find a better paying job and are forced to move. However, now consider that bike-sharing is prevalent in this city like it is in Seattle. This resident now has access to many more jobs as they can now take a bike-share from their transit stop to work. When rents rise, this person can find a new, better paying job and is able to stay in the neighborhood—effectively fighting Gentrification!
Overall, I think bike-sharing has a lot to offer with no real downsides. They are convenient, cheap, fun, and they allow for greater economic mobility within cities that may, in fact, fight gentrification—despite its correlation with gentrification itself.
— Ben Carlson, Seattle University Sophomore