[Updated: 7/24, 7:34am]
Photo: Ethan Jewett
By now, everyone’s heard of the “Velib” bike-sharing program launched by Paris earlier this month.
That program — whose name so poetically is formed from the French words for “bike” and “liberty” — placed 10,600 bikes at 750 stations for use by Parisians and tourists alike who want a cheap (first half-hour is free, day pass is $1.36), healthy, fun and earth-friendly way to see the city.
But there’s a buzz about bike-sharing that goes way beyond Paris. Cities all over Europe already have successful systems in place and even a few American cities have jumped on the bike-sharing bandwagon (New York City being the latest).
Here in Portland, talk about a bike-sharing system has been making the rounds since early this year. Last week, these informal discussions took a significant step forward when the official request for proposals (RFP) was released by Commissioner Sam Adams’ office.
The RFP description says Portland wants to,
“Evaluate the possibility of hiring a Contractor to operate a public bicycle rental service…The City is seeking proposals from firms, teams or contractors interested in the delivery and operation of a bicycle fleet for rent to the general public and stationed in the public right of way to further promote the City’s use of a multi-modal public transportation system with a focus on the City’s core area.”
Adams’ Senior Policy Director for Transportation issues Roland Chlaplowski (photo, right) says all the applications to manage the service must be in by mid-September. At that time, he’ll form an evaluation committee to help select a contractor (if you’re interested in being on that committee email email@example.com).
In a conversation today, I expressed concern to Chlaplowski that access to a bike wasn’t the reason people chose to not ride downtown and I questioned whether bike-sharing would succeed in Portland.
Would easy access to a bike make up for the fact that many Portlanders simply don’t feel safe on our downtown bike lanes and other routes?
Chlaplowski agreed that a safe bike network is key, but he pointed out that current efforts to improve bike safety downtown would make bikes a more viable option and would eventually increase the number of potential riders.
One of those efforts is the city’s focus on planning for low-traffic bike boulevards (like the one slated for NW Flanders and another yet-to-be determined north/south route).
He also pointed out that if/when TriMet ever discontinues their “fareless square” service, than that would increase potential for use of a bike-sharing system.
Chlapowski — who said he’d use the system on days when he leaves his bike at home — thinks it’s worth the investment because it would be a perfect way to encourage newbies to try biking with little to no risk,
“It allows someone who might not be a regular biker to do it a little… it can prime the pump in getting non-riders to give biking a try. People will realize that a bike is the most efficient way to make their trip… it will give folks that option to do it risk-free and cheap.”
Portland’s RFP asks for a mix of potential stations that would emphasize both work/commute/shopping trips with recreational use. The list of potential station locations includes: colleges, Waterfront Park, transit stations, and Pioneer Courthouse Square.
As for funding, Chlapowski says that would depend on which business model is preferred by the chosen contractor. He says in Lyon, France (a model Sam Adams is very familiar with), the public subsidy is small due to advertising revenue (on the bikes) and user fees.
Any gap in costs between the revenue generated from the system and what it takes to operate would be covered by PDOT. Chlapowski expects that gap to be small, but added that PDOT would “find the funds” when the time comes.
Will bike-sharing work in Portland?
Chlapowski is the first one to admit it’s by no means a sure thing. But like I’ve mentioned many times in recent weeks, if we truly want to become what city bike coordinator Roger Geller refers to as a “world class bike city in an American context” we’ve got to be willing to take some bold steps.
It’s worth pointing out that the Oregonian Editorial Board gave a huge thumbs-up to bike-sharing in their Sunday edition (7/22). I’d link to it but it’s not online.