Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Bike share and sustainable bike share systems: sometimes other programs can have more effect for less cost

Georgia’s Own Credit Union has become the first presenting sponsor of the city of Atlanta’s bike share program, Relay. Photo: City of Atlanta.

There was an article ("Atlanta partners with Georgia's Own to expand bike share program," Atlanta Journal-Constitution) about the Atlanta bike share system expanding slightly in response to their lining up a sponsor, the Georgia's Own Credit Union, which was communicated on Twitter.

My counter was having the bikes used somewhat less than once/day is nothing to write home about.

(See the past blog entry "The problem when you define every outcome as a succoess, you don't learn, and therefore failure is more likely: bike share in Seattle and Los Angeles as examples," as well as this article from the Seattle Times, "‘It’s not lipstick on a pig’: City shows off new electric bikes," about how they are replacing their "failed" bike share system with a much more expensive but bigger e-bike based system.)

The response back was well, at least they're adding bikes, while systems in Columbus and Cleveland don't have any money to add bikes at all.

I think people are asking the wrong question.  The question isn't "how can we launch a bike share system?" or "where can we get more money to expand?"

The right question is "what is the best way to get more people regularly riding a bicycle for transportation?"  For a lot of communities, "traditional bike share" isn't the right answer -- although it's hard to fight the belief in bike share because people see bike share in another community and want to port it to their community.

I think there are (at least) four answers to the question "what is the best way to get more people regularly riding a bicycle for transportation?" and it costs a lot less money than traditional bike share:

1.  Have a program that is either free or very low cost where people can borrow a bike, helmet, and lock for a few weeks to try it out, like the various programs in the UK, called "Cycle to Loan schemes" such as in Hounslow borough in London.  The London Cyclist Campaign is a lead organizer of such programs, Urban Cycle Loan, which were written about in CityLab, "How Cycling Is Becoming More Equitable in London."

This way people don't have to spend hundreds of dollars to try out biking without being sure they will stick with it.

2.  Have a program that loans people money to buy bikes.  At first I thought only the Virginia Credit Union did this, which they launched in association with Richmond's hosting the UCI World Championship bicycle race in 2015, but it turns out that if you do a Google search, you find many other credit unions have similar programs.  (Note that in the UK, they have a payroll deduction program that funds bike purchases also.  And it doesn't seem that the Georgia's Own Credit Union has such a program.)

This reduces barriers to entry in terms of the potentially high cost to purchase a bike.  This type of program is best paired with a "Cycle to Loan" program so that people can move seamlessly from one to the other.

3.  Separately, institutions -- office buildings ("Property Funds See the Value in Being Green," New York Times), large employers, hotels ("The Colony hotels' bicycle rental service is part of growing trend," Dallas Morning News, and college campuses ("In Dayton, Giving Out Free Bikes To Keep Cars Off campus," Forbes") -- can make bikes available in simple programs that don't require a lot of technology and therefore are much cheaper to offer.

4.  Have a program that targets under-represented populations, like the Community Cycling Center of Portland's "Create a Commuter" program, which teaches people about biking, and provides them with the "kit"--bike and gear, lights for night and early morning riding, etc.--so that they can take up biking.

This helps broaden access to biking for people who could not otherwise afford to do so. In Portland they started this with funds from the Federal program, Job Access and Reverse Commute Program.

I think for the cities that don't possess the right characteristics for success in bike share--a functioning core with a lot of population, lower car ownership, and short distances between activity centers, residential areas, and employment centers, undergirded by a robust transit system--it's a lot better to focus on and invest in different kinds of access to bike programs that have greater return--measured by use--on much less investment.

SDOT’s Andrew Glass Hastings demonstrates electric bike that possibly could be part of a new Pronto rollout, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016, in Seattle.  ST photo.

Seattle moving to an e-bike based system.  With Seattle it's hard to say. The original system "failed" because they didn't have enough stations and bikes covering a large enough area.

The new system will be larger with a lot more bikes, but it will be e-bike based. It may be more successful because it will cover a bigger area, but e-bikes are even more expensive to buy and maintain within a bike share program than traditional bikes.  (Unsaid is the likelihood that the provider is motivated to fund the system as a way to demonstrate the technology, and it might not make sense to do otherwise.)

Similarly, Baltimore is using the same bike technology (Bewegen) and again, the increased cost to operate such a system decreases the likelihood of success rather than increases it.

In Seattle, the new bikes will be able to be checked out with transit fare cards (there, the Orca card) which is definitely a step forward (Divvy in Chicago and STM/Bixi in Montreal are working to integrate similar technologies into their transit-bike share systems too).

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