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Portland Streetcar Inc. urges USDOT to fund bike-sharing system

Posted by on June 1st, 2011 at 3:34 pm

City of Portland bike sharing demonstration-22

Support from Portland Streetcar Inc. will
raise the local political profile of
(Photo © J. Maus)

Tonight in downtown Portland, the Portland Bureau of Transportation will ask for feedback on their draft list of projects in the running for a key pot of federal funding. Portland is in line to receive $6.6 million in “regional flexible funds” and one of the five candidate projects is the Central City Bike Sharing Program.

Today, we learned that the Chair of Portland Streetcar Inc., Michael Powell (owner of Powell’s Books), has sent a letter (full text below) addressed to US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, urging him to support Portland’s bike-sharing system proposal with a $2 million funding boost.

With those start-up funds (total project cost is $4 million including user fees and private sponsors), PBOT could move forward with a 740 bike, 74 kiosk system that would provide free/low-cost bicycles throughout the Central City (on both sides of the river).

Back in April we reported that there is some serious momentum for this bike-sharing plan and much of the push was coming from the powerful people behind Portland’s nationally acclaimed streetcar network.

This letter from Powell takes that support to the next level. It also confirms that private companies have already committed to sponsoring the project and makes a strong case for why Portland needs a world-class bike-share system. Read the full text of his letter below (emphasis mine):

Dear Secretary LaHood:

We are writing to show our support for the Portland Bikeshare grant proposal under the Transportation Community and System Preservation program.

A safe and efficient transportation system is a system of options. Portland has made significant bicycle transportation investments that allow for up to 8% of our trips to be taken by bicycle, reducing our emissions, preserving capacity for goods and services, and reducing transportation costs for many Portland residents.

Bikesharing is not a hew concept, but no American city can provide the living laboratory that Portland offers; the large-scale bikeshare program supported by this grant will be the fist bikeshare program to launch in a “Platinum: level bicycle city.”

We see the PORTLAND BIKESHARE project as a key to supporting a healthy community, by encouraging biking and walking; supplementing transit ridership, and advancing Portland’s investment in a Platinum-rated bicycling transportation network. Portland has worked hard to develop a Climate Action Plan and the Bike Plan 2030, both of which recognize the need to reduce single occupancy vehicle trips and increase trips taken by foot and bike.

The PORTLAND BIKESHARE project area includes 50,000 households and 100,000 jobs, which will be served by new transportation options. The PORTLAND BIKESHARE network would include 74 stations and introduce 740 shared bikes; providing a seamless array of transportation choices for moving throughout the Central City. This project will transform many occasional riders to regular cyclists and it will be a unique lure to the coveted ‘interested but concerned’ riders essential to meeting our Bike Plan 2030 and Climate Action Plan goals. In its first 12 months of operation, staff estimates that bike sharing will generate 500,000 new bicycle trips, The City of Portland recognizes the importance of shifting trips to bike to preserve our constrained capacity, increase the efficiency of our current system and reduce our city and region’s investment in costly transportation infrastructure.

We support this project because it goes beyond a bike share program: essentially creating a healthy promotion program and exceeds in reducing transportation costs for our residents and impacts on our environment. Bike share systems have proven successful at increasing the number of bicycle trips taken in cities across the globe by providing access to bicycles at a low cost, increasing the visibility and presence of bicycles on downtown streets, and providing a transportation option that connects residents, employees, and tourists to work, home, transit and attractions.

We urge you to support the PORTLAND BIKESHARE project because of the innovative approach to meeting the goals of the program and the multifaceted return on the investment for the community. This project has broad community support as exemplified by the partners in this letter. Importantly, this project has financial commitments and the project development to insure success.

That last sentence makes clear what we’ve suspected for months now — that private companies have already committed to sponsoring bike-share in Portland.

The letter adds some serious firepower to Portland’s efforts to finally move forward on bike-sharing. As we’ve shared in the past, Sec. LaHood loves Portland Streetcar, so the halo effect of them giving such a strong endorsement of bike-sharing could be significant.

Why is Portland Streetcar Inc. so interested in bike-sharing?

Portland Streetcar Inc. Board of Directors member Chris Smith tells us the letter is, “Very much emblematic of “big tent” thinking about active transportation and the opportunities for mutual support between transit, biking and walking.”

But beyond feel-good policy goals, Portland Streetcar Inc. could also have designs on running the system and managing the public/private partnership that will be required to make it succeed (something they’ve already demonstrated success at with their streetcar system). There’s also the idea (of PSI’s executive director Rick Gustafson) of using bike-share as leverage to spur a revamp in the entire public transit fare structure.

The current list of candidate projects includes five projects worth a total of $9.75 million.

Will the backing of Portland Streetcar Inc. be enough to push bike-sharing to the funding finish line? That remains to be seen; but it certainly doesn’t hurt its chances.

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  • Doug June 1, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    With all due respect to the editor of bikeportland.org, I hope Powell proofed his letter, and that all those typos in the letter are JM’s. 🙂

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  • Paul Cone June 1, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Let’s hope they don’t put all the rental stations just at streetcar stops. At least the existing ones.

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  • Chris Smith June 1, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    The streetcar loop will form a ring around the central city, so having bike share stations at streetcar stops (doesn’t have to be every one) and densely within the ring (and probably at key locations outside the ring) would create an easy way to get around the central city without a car. Same logic would apply to having bike share stations close to MAX, although in that case bike share will also serve as a way to handle the “last half mile” for commute trips.

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    • NL June 1, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      Chris, I think the key part of Paul’s statement is “just.”

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  • NL June 1, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    And “all.”

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  • Chris Smith June 1, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    And it shouldn’t be ‘just’ or ‘all’. I’m just trying to paint a picture of a very interconnected system of central city mobility with folks moving seamlessly between rail, bus and bikes.

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  • dwainedibbly June 1, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Didn’t I read something, somewhere, maybe a month or two ago, that this is somehow related to the demise of the free rail zone once the east side streetcar loop comes on line?

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  • Chris Smith June 1, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    What’s pretty clear is that it’s neither fair nor economically sustainable to have streetcar be free for most of the west side but $2.15 for the east side. A fare study is in place to determine how to handle this. MAX is being looked at in the same study, but I don’t expect MAX fare policy to change next year when the streetcar Loop opens.

    There was some hope that changing the streetcar fare would spin off some cash that could go to bike sharing, but there are no promises and I think the bike sharing proposal is moving forward without this assumption.

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  • timbo June 1, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Chris, When the street car is functional on the east side and light rail (orange line?) is complete. The transportation grid in the central city will be fairly dense without even needing a bicycle to interconnect. You could walk fairly easy from one connection to another. I would hope that a bicycle share would allow us to reach a little deeper into the neighborhood commercial area’s out side of that grid to expand our transportation options a little farther. I’d be curious to hear your input on that.

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  • Chris Smith June 1, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    timbo, I think the spacing of the bike share stations should be dictated by best practice for bike sharing systems. I’d just like to make sure that within the grid dictated by those best practices we give some thought to interconnection points with other modes. My understanding is that DC has very successfully used their system as the ‘last mile’ component of commute trips.

    And I think in many cases folks may prefer bikeshare to some distance on travel. For example, if I were commuting from Hillsboro to Old Town, I might be very happy to get off MAX at Goose Hollow and use a bike to complete my trip 🙂

    I think the combination of modes is going to be awesome.

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    • David June 2, 2011 at 9:09 am

      Chris – that seems a bit like a non-answer. Spacing of the stations should be dictated by best practices, but the system’s catchment area will more likely be dictated by specific stakeholders and/or political will. Right?

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      • Chris Smith June 2, 2011 at 11:02 am

        What I’m suggested is that the bike sharing station locations should be dictated first by the land uses we’re trying to serve and spacing suggested by what has worked elsewhere. Having done that, if some slight adjustments make for better connectivity with streetcar, MAX or bus, great.

        The transit connections should be the tail, not the dog, in this planning exercise.

        And I hope every important stakeholder in the central city is fighting over getting a station 🙂

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  • Maren June 2, 2011 at 12:08 am

    I just visited Minneapolis, and was very impressed with their “Nice Ride” bike sharing system. I hadn’t really been able to wrap my head around the benefits of such a system here, but when I saw it in place there, and saw how convenient and inexpensive it was for users, I was impressed. So, let’s hope we can get it going here soon!

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  • John June 2, 2011 at 9:25 am

    It seems like biking would be faster than the streetcar for most trips. If it’s free and readily available, I would expect a bike share program to take a big bite out of the streetcar ridership. That’s not a reason to not do it, I’m just surprised the streetcar folks are excited about it.

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    • Andrew Seger June 2, 2011 at 10:17 am

      I think that’s a great point. You could ride a bikeshare bike from either the Lloyd center or goose hollow stop to anywhere in the central city much faster than max or streetcar. Which maybe helps improve peoples experience with rail transit as a quicker option than driving?

      One thing Tom Milller mentioned last night was the city was already thinking about an expansion of a bikeshare system up along Killingsworth to leverage that yellow line max stop. Hopefully this would include improvements to killingsworth.

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  • Kevin June 2, 2011 at 11:29 am

    If this is a viable transportation alternative, why cant a business start-up do it? Cant we use the millions of dollars in grant money somewhere else?

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  • John Mulvey June 2, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I think the bike share program could be a great thing for the city, but I would caution bike advocates to look a little deeper into the various projects on the table for these limited funds. All are under consideration for “Active Transportation” funds, so they ALL advance biking and walking in the city.

    I would hate to see bike advocates fall into line behind this program, which implicitly means opposing the others.

    For one thing, there’s a significant equity issue here: We all know that historically some areas of town have gotten more investment than others. Some of the projects in line for these funds would represent a modest step toward correcting that imbalance.

    I told PBOT staff last night that I didn’t envy them for having the responsibility for winnowing this list down –it’s a tough choice among some very deserving and needed projects. I’m sure some here will disagree, but I think if I was charged with making that tough choice, I’d probably try to scale back the bikeshare program’s “ask” to something more modest than the $2M they’re requesting.

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    • Andrew Seger June 2, 2011 at 12:05 pm

      I meant to ask last night, but forgot, why PBOT was pursuing funding for bike share through this route. I agree the other projects are a better use of the funds, especially the East Portland, Foster road, and Sandy sidewalk projects. Considering a projected bike share passes through 5 different URAs it seems like the city should twist the arm of PDC and get the money from there.

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      • John Mulvey June 2, 2011 at 12:16 pm

        Hi Andrew. I appreciated your comments last night.

        Urban renewal funds are only legally allowed to be used for “brick and mortar” projects, not ongoing program costs.

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        • Andrew Seger June 2, 2011 at 12:29 pm

          Thanks John, I really appreciate all the hard work everyone has done for making the outer east portland projects a priority. It was great to see the support for the Foster Road project last night.

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          • John Mulvey June 2, 2011 at 1:16 pm

            I know! How cool was it for Ben Cannon to show up and speak in favor of the Foster improvements? Especially on the same day he successfully delivered PBOT its speed limit bill.

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  • Red Five June 4, 2011 at 9:53 am

    Waste of tax money. Bikes are cheap. Let people buy their own.

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  • poncho June 11, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    this needs to go east to mt. tabor, north to rosa parks, west to the base of the west hills and south to reed college.

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