Massachusetts Area Planning Council recently completed a report that looks at ridership of Lime bikes since they came into the market in 2018. There is a lot here and I’m not going to unpack all of it. I suggest reading it not only for the facts, but for how they use data-driven maps as part of the storytelling. It’s very interesting.

But a couple of interesting takeaways when it comes to Newton:

  • Most rides stay in the city — 85% of riders start and end their ride within Newton. This isn’t true of every city on the list. 
  • Riders aren’t necessarily connecting to transit — While advocates hope that bikes can be a last-mile connection to transit, that’s now how they’re being used most often. These are mostly end-to-end trips that are, on average, 1.3 miles and lasting about 16 minutes. That distance happens to align with the same distance for most car trips. The suggestion here is that people will use bikes as a car replacement when possible. 
  • Most Lime users don’t have a bike — a recent survey of users found that 53% don’t have their own bike or hadn’t ridden one in a while. 
  • People ride on Washington and Needham — One map shows clearly the streets with the highest concentration of riders. Washington Street and Needham Street top the list, along with Walnut Street. In fact, Needham St. had significantly more riders than the Greenway. I would surmise that’s because you can actually get to retail on Needham Street, plus, that’s where the bikes are often lined up.
  • Rides end in residential neighborhoods — This is no small issue, especially when you consider that the city is planning a move away from Lime and toward the docked BlueBikes. Lime saw a decline in usage when they moved from lower-priced pedal-only bikes to higher-cost electric assist. I have to imagine we’ll see a similar reduction in ridership when you add in the complication of walking to and from the limited number of docks.

Fixing “high stress” bike routes

The thing that struck me the most was a map almost at the end of the report that shows where people ride, overlayed with high-stress routes. Washington Street, with its multiple lanes of car traffic and lack of bike lanes, qualifies as a high-stress street. I was surprised to see that the Newtonville to Newton Corner route had more riders than W. Newton to Newtonville. I wonder if that’s because of Whole Foods or some other draw.

Regardless, the map draws clear, bold, data-driven lines to tell the city “Build bike lanes here! It’s where people are riding!” It happens that at least Needham Street will soon have those accommodations.