12 June 2017

Hafiz Adewuyi

Bicycling in Salt Lake City with GreenBike - Salt Lake City's BCycle chapter

This article is part of my Lagos, Nigeria to Salt Lake City (SLC after this point), Utah, US series. Here's a list of all articles in my Lagos to Salt Lake City series. I promise you'll love every bit of it.

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I woke up to the voice of Michael, my roommate at the Crystal Inn hotel at about 2 am Tuesday. He was communicating with his colleagues in Lagos where it was 9 am at the time; you know getting some work stuff tidied up.

After some ten minutes of trying to go back to sleep, I gave up. My feet hit the ground, I threw on my GAP NYC hoodie and the new pair of sweatpants I bought from the nearby Walmart on Monday evening. Just before stepping out, I informed Michael I was going out to look around.

I spent some thirty minutes exploring the hitherto unexplored parts of the hotel. In this time, I discovered the gym, the sauna, the spa pool and the swimming pool; the hotel's full suite of recreational facility. Once I had had my fill of wandering the classically styled hotel interior, I decided to venture into the yonder. 

The yonder had had me for barely five minutes when I realized things were too cold for comfort. I had covered just about 300 feet along the footpath by the 500-South road in front of the hotel. So hard did the cold hit me that I had to run back all the way to the hotel. I could definitely do with a little more clothing if I was going to explore the area this time of the day.

Dressed up for a cold midnight walk in downtown, Salt Lake City
Dressed up for a cold midnight walk in downtown, Salt Lake City
Back in my room, I threw on my woolen head-warmer, woolen gloves and ditched my flip flops for socks and sneakers. This time I was definitely prepared for the worst the midnight chill had to give. I placed my Bluedio headphones above my head-warmer, turned on the music and hit the road one more time. On my way out, I literally ran into an old lady in the hotel reception who was having a discussion with the reception staff. She turned around to look at me, and once face-to-face with me, she said just one thing: "You look nice"! I was flattered and replied with a wide grin and "thanks".

Discovering GreenBike

Not many other people were on the roads apart from me. Oh, on my walk I noticed a diner which is just right beside Crystal Inn hotel. I could see into the diner and I swear, with the number of people in there, you wouldn't believe it was 3 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. 

I walked more or less aimlessly, making turns based on purely instinctual triggers, regulated by good judgement that I had not taken too many turns to lose my sense of direction. On my walk, I passed by the Marriot Hotel and some place called "Janitor's closet". I could not figure out what kind of business is done at the "Janitor's closet".


Picture from a cold midnight walk in downtown Salt Lake City
Picture from a cold midnight walk in downtown Salt Lake City

After going full circle around the block on the opposite side of the road as Crystal Inn hotel, it was almost time for me to end my walk. At this point, I took the time out to check out a nearby (to the hotel) bike shop which I had noticed on our way back from Walmart the previous evening. Of course, it was closed (4 a.m.). Nonetheless, I went closer and looked in through the glass to see what they had. In my mind, I was definitely going to return to patronize the bike shop later in the day. But fate had another plan.

I was standing at the pedestrian light closest to the bike shop, waiting for the walk signal when I noticed an array of green bicycles, stacked side-by-side on the other side of the road. Immediately, I remembered that yesterday when I'd mentioned my interest in biking to our hosts, Matt (host team member) had mentioned GreenBike. So this was it!

Becoming a GreenBike member

On walk, I crossed over to the other side of the road and walked the few feet to the front of Sheraton Salt Lake City hotel where the bike station stood. The station holds about 20 electronic bike docking stands. Each stand locks one bike in place and is connected to the central computer which has a touch-screen GUI (graphical user interface).

The GreenBike station at Sheraton Salt Lake City
The GreenBike station in-front-of Sheraton Salt Lake City

Through the central computer's GUI, I found that one can:
  • register as a new member of GreenBike
  • checkout a bike as an existing member of GreenBike and
  • checkout a bike as an existing member of BCycle in another city. BCycle is the company behind the bike-sharing technology used in several cities across the world. GreenBike is the Salt Lake City episode of the BCycle network
I started to register as a new member but after selecting the $7 for 24 hours plan, I realized that I needed a credit card to finalize the subscription. I did not have my card on me, so I had to walk the few hundred feet back to my hotel to get it.

Salt Lake City GreenBike central computer
Sheraton Salt Lake City GreenBike station central computer

Fortunately, I decided to check out GreenBike online after getting my debit card from my second floor room (first floor in Nigeria). I used the free cybercafe at the hotel lobby to access the website and discovered a more affordable $15 for 4 days (24 hours a day) plan which was not on the station computer. I quickly paid for the plan. Here, I also found out that the bike must be checked in every thirty minutes to avoid extra charges ($5 per additional hour after thirty minutes from check-in time).

Checking out my first GreenBike

My walk from Crystal Inn Hotel to Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel
My walk from Crystal Inn Hotel to Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel

By the time I set out to check out my first bike, it was dawn already. After covering the short distance between my Crystal Inn hotel and the Sheraton hotel whose front hosts the GreenBike station, I proceeded to check out my bike of choice. The process is easy-as-pie and is outlined thus:
  • Make your pick from the bikes available at the station
  • Make a mental note of the number pasted on the side of the bicycle's dock. You will need to enter this into the station's central computer shortly

Lucky Bike 20 at Sheraton Salt Lake City GreenBike station
Lucky Bike 20 at Sheraton Salt Lake City GreenBike station
  • Proceed to the central computer and select "Check out Bike (as existing member)"
  • Select "Credit card" check-out option. There's the option to check out bike via code sent by SMS to your registration phone number. This didn't work for me; neither did it for Rusty from this post. So, I would just assume that the SMS checkout feature is buggy.
  • Insert your registration "credit card" (my card was a debit card) into the station computer as prompted; head first. The head is the left side of the card; or the side from which you start reading information printed on the front of the card
  • Remove it after a couple of seconds. This was the least intuitive step for me though. Because there's no instruction to remove your card after a few seconds. The screen just remains with the same "insert card" instruction, until you remove the credit card. Coming from an ATM/POS usage background, I didn't think I'd be expected to intuitively take a step without the computer instructing me to. I guess it's probably intuitive for the Americans, since they're used to swiping
  • If your card was read successfully (I got "Card read error" quite a number of times), you'll be asked to select a bike from the available bikes. The available bikes are represented as blue circles with the number written in white within the circle. The empty docking stands have red circles. Select a bike by tapping the previously memorized number on the screen
  • Your choice bike will be released within two seconds of selecting the number. The computer instructs you that your bike is ready and begins a 30-second countdown for you to remove your bike from its dock. To aid you with locating your bike in the array of 20 docks, there would be a flashing white light on top of your docking stand. Walk to the dock and pull your GreenBike out of it
You are now ready to take on your inaugural GreenBike ride.

My first GreenBike ride

Well. It should go unsaid that after checking out my first bike, I went on my first bicycle ride in downtown Salt Lake City. It was short, since I was overly concerned about not missing the 30-minute single checkout limit. The other things I recall from the first ride are as follows:
  • I.... almost got hit by a car due to my inability to interpret one particularly confusing traffic instruction correctly. However, I made sure not to repeat that mistake because later that day, I asked Stan (the chief host) to clarify the instruction to me while beside him in his jeep, en route the Lucky 13 bar and grill

Final thoughts

Even though I wish this was a thing in Lagos, I don't see how it can work due to the following reasons:
  • Badly configured roads with little consideration for non-automobile road users. Examples of consideration for other road users which Lagos sorely lacks are:
    • bike lanes, 
    • pedestrian crossing lights, 
    • biking laws (Salt Lake city has bicycle laws which I took my time to read carefully after my first ride), 
    • ubiquitous footpaths. Riding a bicycle on any Lagos road that is not a dirt road is unfortunately, a death wish.
  • Crazy, unruly and inconsiderate drivers
  • Huge potential for the stations to be constantly plundered by vandals
A summary of my GreenBike powered trips around downtown Salt Lake City
A summary of my GreenBike powered trips around downtown Salt Lake City

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