Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Free bicycles in Putney

The town of Putney, Vermont has two features which make it a frequent stop for our family. First, it is almost exactly halfway between Middletown and our two most frequent vacation destinations (a lake in upstate New York, and a farm in Vermont).  Second, it has a wonderful Food Coop with great coffee and treats, just a mile or so from the interstate but an entire culture apart. In Putney last year we came across a great idea that might translate to Middletown.  

Putney's creative partial solution to issues of parking, traffic, and the environment is called the Putney Green Bicycle Project.  They have developed a city-run program that provides at least a dozen bicycles free for anybody to use.  Bicycle racks are set up at the Coop, at the City Library, and at several other locations around town. The bicycles are all bright green, they are left unlocked, they come with a helmet, and they have a rack for groceries, books, or purses.  

The policy is that all bicycles have to be ridden safely, and must be returned to one of the racks. I asked at the Coop if there were any problems with the bicycle program, and the manager looked at me as if I had asked if there were any problems with the trees, she couldn't really imagine what I might mean by problems. When I pressed, she said that very rarely somebody found a bicycle left by the side of the road instead of in a rack. She also told me that the bicycles were used very frequently, always with a helmet, and they were a big hit, especially with local teenagers in the summer. 

It seems to me that something like the Putney Green Bicycle project could work in downtown Middletown.  Imagine as a start if there were several racks along Main Street, from O'Rourke's in the north to Destinta Theaters in the south, and another rack at Russell Library.  A pilot project would cost far less than any parking or trolley study, and could have an immediate impact on traffic, parking, and the vitality of Middletown.  

1 comment:

cathyjoe said...

Great idea but in practice it has some challenges. I lived in Charlottesville, VA where this was tried and it only lasted a year -- as one of the founders said a third of the bikes broke, a third were 'taken' for private use and a third were vandalized. A spin off of the program was a community bike warehouse where volunteers restored bikes for individuals free of charge which seemed to work a little better. Here is a short explanation on how it evolved: