People chatting at a demo bike share station in New York City / Photo: Planetgordon.com via Flickr

With yesterday’s big announcement from the NYC DOT, bike shares are in the news again. Here in New York, we’re getting excited about the possibilities on the horizon as hundreds of bike share stations start popping up all over town. These stations don’t just improve mobility and transportation options–they’re also wonderful tools for activating public spaces. In fact, bike share stations are ideal for engendering what we call Triangulation, which Holly Whyte explained as “the process by which some external stimulus provides a linkage between people and prompts strangers to talk to other strangers as if they knew each other.”

Here are three reasons that bike share stations are ideal triangulators:

  1. They’re natural conversation-starters: You can’t participate in bike share without visiting a bike share station. Stations bring people together around a common interest, giving them an opportunity and a reason to communicate with people they might not otherwise meet. Being that they serve as nodes in a transportation system, these stations also have a moderate sense of urgency to them: everyone there is trying to get somewhere else. This lowers the barrier-to-entry for casual social interaction for people on the shyer end of the spectrum, since it’s easy to smile and say “Nice helmet!” or “It’s a great day for a ride!” to someone as you both hop on bikes. Since instances of social interaction lead to a desire for greater contact, bike share stations make for happier, more social public spaces overall.
  2. They attract a stream of diverse users at all times of day & night: A truly great place facilitates a mix of uses over time; if there’s nothing to keep a space active at night, it can create uncomfortable or even unsafe conditions for passersby, and detract from the entire community. Bike share stations ensure a steady flow of people through a space even after dark, keeping “eyes on the street” and making other constructive after-hours uses more likely. This extends the usefulness of a place as a social hub for the surrounding community.
  3. They act as casual landmarks that concentrate activity: Bike share stations, with their colorful bikes and signage, help to make a place more comfortable and navigable for people who might not be familiar with a neighborhood. Think of the relief you felt the last time you were walking around, lost, and stumbled onto a subway or bus station; transit nodes help to re-orient us when we get turned around, chipping away at the sense of alienation that sometimes accompanies visiting a new place. The visual impact of these stations is also great for surrounding businesses and attractions, as the identifying signage and maps often highlight nearby points of interest.