According to a study from the British Medical Journal, a bike sharing program in Barcelona prevents an average of 12 deaths a year. Researchers say the program has improved people's health, reduced pollution by taking some cars off the road, and lowered the chance of accidental injury. And the program is actually pretty popular - as of 2009, 180,000 people, or 11% of the city's population, were using the bikes.
So, how did researchers come up with an average of 12 fewer deaths a year? Well, they examined data from the city of Barcelona and the management company behind Barcelona's bike sharing program, Bicing. Barcelona's Bicing system is similar to the BIXI program that launched in 2009 in Montreal and has spread to Toronto and B.C. But bike sharing has a long history, going back to 1960s Amsterdam.
Bike sharing's most famous forerunner was the White Bicycle Plan, spearheaded by the Dutch counterculture movement Provo and so-called "social inventor" Luud Schimmelpennick. The group proposed placing free white bicycles on the streets for free public use. The government didn't adopt the plan, and police confiscated all the bikes within a day, but the idea was out there.
In 1974, the mayor of La Rochelle, France, Michel Crepeau, introduced Vélos Jaune (Yellow Bikes), which were again free to use and share. The bike share concept didn't really take off in North America until the mid '90s, and didn't arrive in Canada until 2001 with BikeShare, run by the Community Bicycle Network. That program shut down in 2006, but with Bixi spreading across the country, we just might save a few lives on this side of the pond as well.