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As opposition grows, supporters defend bike share funding decision

Posted by on August 16th, 2011 at 11:03 am

Not even 24 hours has passed and the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) decision to include bike share in a federal funding request is already facing opposition — and some of it is coming from unlikely places.

But, while this bike share funding decision is poised to become just the latest bike-related political/media punching bag, supporters of the project are confident and feel that the time is right to move forward.

At issue is whether or not a large-scale bike-sharing system deserves funding priority over other, more traditional biking and walking safety projects. Bike share is on a $6.6 million list of three active transportation projects that PBOT hopes to get adopted by City Council tomorrow. Not on that list is the SW Barbur Boulevard Streetscape project, which would improve a street that has claimed two lives in the last year and that many neighborhood activists have been working on for years.

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz has already made her opposition known based on her familiar mantra that PBOT should focus on “basic services” first. On the 11 o’clock news last night, a veteran southwest neighborhood activist expressed disappointment that the SW Barbur Streetscape Plan was passed over in favor of bike share. (KATU-TV framed the decision as Mayor Adams putting bike share in front of much-needed sidewalks.)

Also last night, a joint campaign to advocate for the Barbur project — instead of bike share — was launched by two non-profits. Upstream Public Health and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition (WPC) are using Facebook and grassroots outreach to urge members and supporters to testify against PBOT’s bike share funding request at City Council on Wednesday.

Upstream and the WPC’s main objections are that bike share “does not address [geographic] equity in a meaningful way,” that the safety improvements on SW Barbur are urgently needed and long overdue, and that bike share has not gone through an adequate public outreach process (many elements of the Barbur project where identified by neighborhood groups over 10 years ago).

This activism by Upstream and WPC puts them at odds with a usual ally, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. The BTA has been a vocal supporter of bike share and has emerged recently as its main booster, helping to build a coalition of public and private stakeholders around the project. In their recently released Strategic Plan, the BTA says, “We will push the City of Portland to launch bike sharing before the end of summer 2012.”

BTA Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky says advocates should be working together to get a larger piece of the funding pie, instead of fighting over scraps. “We don’t have enough money to fund all the priority projects we want, we have to work together to get more funding at every level. Period.”

Kransky also said the BTA supports PBOT’s funding request for bike share.

“We think bike sharing is a fantastic project that stands on its own merits, and in terms of how it increases access, safety and serves all Portlanders.” (The safety argument for bike share has been bolstered by new research that shows a strong correlation between improved traffic safety and the use of a bike share system.)

Bike share is the only project on the list, Kransky points out, that doesn’t rely on City funding (the plan is to use a mix of federal and private funds for the $4 million start up cost and and a mix of user fees and sponsorship for the $1.5 million yearly operational costs). He also says it’s the only project that will create about 30-50 long-term (non-construction) jobs, some of which are already lined up to go to homeless and at-risk youth through a partnership with local non-profit New Avenues for Youth.

WPC Executive Director Stephanie Routh is also concerned that there hasn’t been a robust public process for the bike share project. To that point, Kransky says the federal funds won’t be available until 2014 and that there will be plenty of opportunities to fine-tune the project and hear public feedback about it before then.

Routh says she isn’t opposed to the bike share project, she just feels it’s not the right fit for this specific funding source at this time. “If, as a City, we are truly concerned with both the safety and the equitable distribution of our transportation resources,” reads a sample letter to Commissioners, “then the Barbur project, in addition to the East Portland and Foster Road projects, is a clear choice for the Regional Flexible Funds.”

In their defense, PBOT says the Barbur project is in flux due to an ongoing planning project and it wouldn’t make sense to move forward on a project with so many undecided elements. They also feel that they’ve adequately addressed the equity issue. In a presentation they’ll make to Council tomorrow, PBOT will point out that 70 percent of the $6.6 million they’ve requested for active transportation projects will benefit “low income and minority populations.”

After Council votes tomorrow, the project list will be forwarded to Metro where a 30-day public comment period will commence in September. A Metro committee will make the final decision on December 8th, 2011.

— Stay tuned for more bike share project coverage and check out the BikePortland archives to learn more.

UPDATE: The BTA just posted on their blog about their support for bike share in light of the WPC’s concerns.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • NF August 16, 2011 at 11:10 am

    The BTA’s support of bike share over other projects makes sense.

    Bike share is about bikes, while the Foster and Barbur streetscape plans do very little to improve biking in those areas.

    As a bicycling advocacy organization, their first goal should be advancing the march of the bicycle, and bike share is a vital piece of that goal.

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    • gregg woodlawn August 16, 2011 at 11:40 am

      I can vision folks MAXing or Bussing into central portland and using the bikeshare to get around faster. I can also imagine out of towners using the bike share for touring around the city, as well as workers on their lunch hour or after work running errands using the bike share. The more bikes on the roads, the better for all.

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      • wsbob August 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm

        “…I can vision folks MAXing or Bussing into central portland and using the bikeshare to get around faster. …” gregg woodlawn

        Will people really use bike share bikes to get around central Portland faster? In saying ‘central Portland’, do you mean Downtown? Walking, Portland’s downtown is small…15-20 minutes walk from PSU to the Pearl, and walking doesn’t require extra time to check out a bike and re-lock it at the arrival point.

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        • Elliot August 16, 2011 at 12:59 pm

          Yes, walking from PSU to the Pearl takes about 15-20 minutes. Biking takes maybe four minutes. Add two minutes onto either end for checkout/docking, and you get eight minutes… twice as fast.

          But even better, think PSU to Lloyd Center, or OMSI to the Pearl. Biking beats the heck out of walking or bussing for diagonal or cross-river trips in the central city. Bikeshare will make taking transit into downtown much more practical for people with multiple destinations.

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          • wsbob August 16, 2011 at 2:11 pm

            “…Yes, walking from PSU to the Pearl takes about 15-20 minutes. Biking takes maybe four minutes. …” Elliot

            Four minutes? Time the trip sometime, not from the perspective a of an athletic person on a quick bike, but instead, from the perspective of a person of average build and conditioning that would ride the type of bikes the bike share bikes are likely to be.

            Four minutes maybe…if it’s low traffic conditions…not rush hour, not noon time traffic, and if the person riding were to mostly hit the greens on the trip.

            Access to a bike, over choosing to walk, could for some people in some situations, represent a savings in travel time. On a broad basis that would be sufficient to support a bike share system, how important or valuable that time savings would be, is questionable.

            I don’t see anyone describing a substantial customer base that would routinely be using bike share bikes for trips to, for example, Downtown to NW 23rd, or Downtown to Lloyd Center (a very easy, pleasant ride on light rail, a number of nasty sections by bike.). Does anyone seriously consider that many people will use bike share type bikes to pedal up the stiff hills to two of Portland’s premier tourist attractions, Washington Park and Japanese Garden?

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        • Mindful Cyclist August 17, 2011 at 11:08 am

          And, we shouldn’t forget that it does rain quite a bit here. I can’t see people dressed in nice clothes hopping on these bikes to go down to the food carts when they can ride max or streetcar for free.

          Nor do I see tourists making sure they packed extra rain gear along with them so they can ride a rental bike in the rain.

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  • Duncan August 16, 2011 at 11:17 am

    I disagree- bike sharing is anothergift to the predominantly wealthy areas of downtown while outer SE continues to be forgotten except on tax day. I would rather see this money go for the improvment of non-moorized facilities in the parts of Portland that really need it.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 16, 2011 at 11:19 am


      In case you are not aware… the other two projects PBOT put on this list are $1.25 million for safer crossings of SE Foster Road and $3.36 million for bike blvds and other improvements to access transit in East Portland between I-205 and NE 130th.

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      • Duncan August 16, 2011 at 2:46 pm

        Yes I am aware… I am also aware that people downtown have a variety of options for coar-free transport, where people out in the numbers may not even have sidewalks. I am all for mutiple options, however I feel like the city prioritzes the haves over the have nots the situation in outer SE will not improve. There are a lot of things we could do to improve non-car transport in outer SE. I am not opposed to bike sharing, I just think that the money needs to be spread out over all of Portland.

        I am sure that there are more projects in outer SE (and SW and NE) Portland that could use the money too…. I am sure you are aware the of the density of bike lanes in Inner vs outer Portland, on the investment levels in bike infrastructure per mile in inner vs outer Portland too…

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  • Heidi G August 16, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Thanks for following this conversation, Jonathan. A few quick notes.

    Gerik’s absolutely right that we need more money, and we shouldn’t have to be fighting over scraps.

    At the same time, the Regional Flexible Funds have three top priorities including equity (serving underserved communities). Leveraging funds, however, is considered a low priority, and increasing use is a medium priority.

    I have no doubt that we can ultimately develop a Bike Sharing Program in Portland that meaningfully meets all of the requirements of the Regional Flexible Funds, including equity. However, for this round of RFF, we’re being asked to trust that Bike Sharing will eventually involve a community process & will identify areas where access to a rentable bicycle is a transportation barrier. I’d love to see this project come up again during the next round after some of this outreach and planning has already been done.

    As to the fact that 70% of the requested funds will benefit “low income and minority populations,” each project (not just the package of projects as a whole) must address equity.

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    • NF August 16, 2011 at 1:22 pm

      This is a good point – If the funding source has stated priorities of equity, the awarded projects should be in line with these goals.

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  • Allan August 16, 2011 at 11:29 am

    If we, Portland, are going to do bike-sharing, this argument will always exist:

    Existing infrastructure could be improved with the money that is going to be spent on bike-share.

    Right now its Barbur, in 5 years I’m sure there will be some other ‘great project’ that just has to be done right now.

    Bike sharing makes sense, has been proven elsewhere and will be a boon for rallying others to use the existing infrastructure and see how easy it is to get around by bike. I don’t think all of the benefits of bike-sharing are well-understood by the community but those who have looked through the numbers and research on other programs will acknowledge that this is something we want. Why not now? The other projects aren’t being ‘cancelled’ just delayed a year.

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  • fiets503 August 16, 2011 at 11:35 am

    say it ain’t so. WPC not aligned with BTA? guess I need to read more of this to try and understand…

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    • Steph Routh, WPC August 16, 2011 at 12:24 pm

      Agree with Gerik and Heidi G. that more funding is absolutely needed for active transportation and access to transit (as well as transit). Looking at the best way to divvy up scraps is not the conversation I would like to be having.

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      • John Mulvey August 16, 2011 at 1:57 pm

        The BTA picked this fight. I’m shocked and disappointed that they would undercut efforts to improve safety for pedestrians and bikers in the outer neighborhoods. The WPC should be commended for pushing back against City Hall and the BTA on this.

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  • 9watts August 16, 2011 at 11:45 am

    “We don’t have enough money to fund all the priority projects we want,”

    …of course, and that is why it seems funny to put money toward something like this. I ask again, who is this bikeshare project intended/expected to serve in downtown Portland? There’s been a lot of talk on this blog about tourists. Frankly if tourists are a nontrivial part of the equation then I’m not in favor. Not that attracting tourists doesn’t have a long history of public subsidies, but we surely can think of better more targeted ways to spend money than on folks who don’t even live here.

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    • Machu Picchu August 16, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      I’m not defending bikeshare, but I think the “tourist” part is about attracting people here to come and spend money, and doing so while getting around on rented bicycles rather than adding their cars (rented or otherwise) to the traffic and parking mess.

      Just one of my concerns with selling bikeshare to visitors is that most Americans I’ve talked to equate “bike-friendly city” with lots of dedicated paths. A tourist on an unfamiliar bike in central Portland could be in for a rude awakening.

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  • rootbeerguy August 16, 2011 at 11:50 am

    will bike sharing hurt local bike rental businesses? have the city talked to them? Can it be co-existed with them? I just wonder.

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    • Elliot August 16, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      Bikeshare is designed to help people make short trips, and the pricing structure is a disincentive to longer use. The latest bikeshare systems give the user the first 30 minutes free, then the price ramps up very quickly for subsequent increments so as to be non-competitive for day-long bike rentals. You can get around this by chaining trips, docking and checking out another bike at a new station, but you couldn’t (say) take a trip out through Forest Park for a few hours without building up a hefty tab.

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  • Evan Manvel August 16, 2011 at 11:51 am

    I don’t know enough about the other project I see in the list:

    N Time Oil Road and N Burgard Road Intersection Improvement. Total project cost: $2.6 million ($2.36 million in federal funds + $270,000 in City funds). The project will correct an uncontrolled intersection at a blind corner that is heavily used by trucks in the Rivergate Industrial District. Improvements include widening Burgard Road and creating left-turn lanes from each direction onto North Time Oil Road.

    Can you tell us more about that? Right now it seems the freight community is grabbing at what should be active transportation funds, and we’re arguing among ourselves instead of finding other pots of money (e.g. CRC funds) to get the freight project done.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 16, 2011 at 11:59 am

      Hey Evan,

      JPACT is the reason there’s a freight project on this list. They decided that the RFF money would be split 75/25 between active transportation and freight projects.

      Here’s the description of the freight project:

      The N. Burgard‐Lombard “Around the Horn” project includes the segment of N. Lombard Street from the UP Railroad Bridge to Columbia Boulevard intersection. This segment includes several key intersections that provide direct access to the surrounding industrial properties including Terminal 4, Schnitzer Steel Industries and NW Container Services. This roadway is designated as a National Highway System Connector Route and a Priority Truck Street in the Portland Freight Master Plan. The segment south of the Columbia/Lombard intersection narrows from 4 lanes to two lanes with narrow or no shoulders, no turn lanes and two 90‐degree turns with poor sight distance. The Burgard‐Lombard project is a key element in implementing the St Johns Truck Strategy and is identified as a Tier 1 priority project in the Freight Master Plan. The St Johns Truck Strategy calls for improving freight mobility on the designated freight route connecting the St Johns Bridge to the Rivergate Industrial District. The Portland Freight Committee has identified this project as a candidate for 2014‐15 Regional Flexible Funding.

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  • 9watts August 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    A partial answer?
    found here:
    “Who uses bike sharing systems and what type of trips do they take?

    Bike sharing is geared toward short trips under 30 minutes and under three miles. Commute trips and work-related trips compose a majority of bike sharing trips. People also use bike sharing to conduct errands, to reach social destinations, and for recreation.”
    “The majority of users are 25 – 55 years old. the 25-34 years group are the largest users in terms of memberships and frequency of use. As 3rd Generation bike sharing is still in its infancy in North America, current users tend to be college-educated “early adapters.” If the City of Portland installs a bike sharing system, PBOT will implement outreach and pricing strategies to engage a broad cross section of Portlanders.”

    I’m not seeing how these bikes are useful for what are referred to above as ‘commute trips.’ Perhaps someone can explain this.
    You still have to get to the bike sharing station before and get back home from the bike sharing station after your fling with the shared bike, no? How are those trips expected to be accomplished?
    I don’t doubt that these questions have been answered for other cities where these programs work, but in my imagination this keeps returning to professionals on their lunch breaks and tourists, neither of which need $$ very badly nor is the ‘getting folks out of cars’ argument very strong.

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  • GlowBoy August 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Fighting amongst ourselves over scraps: JUST what the right wing wants us to be doing!

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    • 9watts August 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm

      $2M isn’t scraps if it can be leveraged to solve your local transport problem.
      And I’m not sure I’d characterize this as ‘fighting’ – perhaps reflecting on the merits would be more apt?

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      • poncho August 17, 2011 at 10:32 am

        $2 million is scraps. Compare that to the $4 billion CRC and $1.5 billion Milwaukie MAX line. Hell, the CRC has blown $130 million on studies so far, still years from a shovel in the ground even if it did go forward.

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  • laura August 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Why is government money in play at all? The City will give up right of way for the stations, but it’s a private contractor and likely some advertisers/sponsors who will see financial gain. Put the federal $ to projects with better benefits for geographic equity, safety and multiple user groups, rather than one that is a masquerade for private profit.

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  • Jay August 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    i’m sorry but i tend to agree with the opposition; i still feel we need to improve our “outside-of-downtown” infrastructure/bike-ways before we invest in something that once again, gives people downtown yet another way to to travel. (Streetcar, MaX, plenty of bike lanes; what more do they need?); while the East County and arterials around the rest of PDX need attention? C’mon guys.

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    • timbo August 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm

      Don’t forget East Portland Active transportation is getting $4.4 million. And of that City of Portland has to pony up $1.2 million plus argue with everyone’s parking spot.

      However with bike share it is funded by the Federal govt and private parties. And yearly operational costs will be paid by sponsors and subscribers. To my knowledge this is a relative freebie for the City.

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    • Machu Picchu August 16, 2011 at 4:35 pm

      You forgot the Tram.

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  • GreggB August 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    There are LOTS of people out there that, for medical reasons alone, a bike share program would simply never work well for.

    Can we please focus on fixing existing roads and improving bikeways, before shucking increasingly scarce dollars towards gimmicks like this?

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    • timbo August 16, 2011 at 2:47 pm

      There are many successful examples of this being implemented and adopted in north america. No gimmickry. In fact the 9 before us have saved us the pain of being the early adopters. PDX will be able to leverage their best practices. Bike share has a proven record.

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  • Michael M. August 16, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    With all due respect, I don’t agree the positions opposed to putting this money into bike sharing at this time are coming from “unlikely” sources. You might add that OPAL is also considering testifying against this proposal, though I’m not sure they’ve reached a decision. Especially when you look at the organizations lining up in support (the PBA, Travel Oregon, etc.) — all of whom, along with the BTA, represent powerful economic interests whose advocacy often guarantees (purely coincidentally, of course!) with the anti-equity outcomes Portland has seen for decades — it’s not at all unlikely that those groups and people who take equity seriously are more cautious about pursuing bike sharing now.

    It’s also not surprising that the very institutions that profit off denying people the human right of health care — the big insurance providers — are likely to kick in a lot of the “private” money.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) August 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm

      Michael… I used the word “unlikely” more because these groups are usually allies, not because I’m surprised they are sticking up for equity.

      Thanks for your comment.

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  • DC August 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    I doubt these bikes will get much use. Bikes aren’t really that expensive, just buy one. It will be much more convenient to own your own than have to continually drop off and pick up your bike every day at a designated area. Waste.

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  • Alex August 16, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Kind of reminds me of when the U.S. government paid for tractors to be sent to S. America to help the farmers.. Worked great for a while til a tire went flat and the infrastructure wasn’t there to fix it.
    Long-term question: Will the bike share program pay for itself and a percentage of the cost to upkeep the roads the bikes use? Will it pay for the bike ‘green’ zones?

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  • Rob August 16, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    I support the WPC’s stance 100%. residents along Barbur Blvd. have been asking for safety improvements to the streetscape, including safe crossings and sidewalks, since at least 1999 (if not earlier). I encourage everyone to read the Barbur Streetscape Plan (​apr/4451) to get the relevant background. much of Barbur still has no sidewalk at all.

    how many more pedestrians need to die in SW Portland along Barbur before the city gets serious about funding the plan and making the area safer? I would feel terrible about funding a something like a bike-sharing plan while there are people dying for want of a crosswalk on my street.

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  • Paul Manson August 16, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    This is a tough one for me. It pits one of the only funding options for trails against experimentation in a new system altogether that is worth exploring.

    RFF funding is unique – it allows for projects that otherwise will not be funded under normal transportation sources. So trails depend heavily on a kickstart from these funds. It is essential if the trail has no highway component to move funding to (e.g. I-205). RFF needs to be carefully applied – it is the only option for many projects. In the current climate general fund options are really not an option.

    I can see benefits from the implementation in DC and Minneapolis. But I worry about the realistic use that may occur.

    The Bike Master Plan echos this when it mentions that no other city with similar mode share has experienced any increase in ridership due to bike sharing. (Pg 76)

    I also worry about the design and density issues. To match density of stations the PBOT website mentions means 50-70 bike stations (one every 5 blocks). Where will they physically go: remove on-street parking, remove sidewalk access, or remove park space?

    We don’t have the tourism component DC does, and the jobs density is much lower here. The Central City only has about 82,000 jobs. The admittedly larger DC area has almost 300,000 jobs and a robust subway to interconnect with.

    I hope this decision has enough time to be evaluated fully. I worry we may be giving up an enormous opportunity here in denying trail developments.

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  • Troy Cross August 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    I’ve used bikeshare systems in other cities — DC and Paris — and it is awesome. Yes, great for tourists but I know dedicated cyclists, bike owners, who still find it vastly more secure for a short daily commute than their own bike.

    You have to experience the new smartphone apps paired with the bikeshare system to appreciate it. You can tell, instantly, what’s available and where. You can start uphill, park downhill.

    DC’s smartphone system made all the difference on the second go-round. In Paris, they’re just everywhere, so you never need to worry about finding a spot or a bike.

    One thing no one has yet mentioned is that bikeshare widens the scope of cyclists dramatically. This will lead to some non-cyclists doing crazy dangerous things in the streets, but ultimately will broaden advocacy as more people see what a great (and dangerous) way it is to get around.

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  • Jj August 16, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Ha ha ha!

    “We think bike sharing is a fantastic project that stands on its own merits, and in terms of how it increases access, safety and serves all Portlanders”

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  • Transilvanian Boy August 19, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    So for a view from afar…I went home to Romania this spring. And what shall I see in some godforsaken village in the middle of Transilvania? Two freshly stolen bikes from the Paris bike share program leaning on the fence outside the village pub. Apparently they’ve become a “souvenir” for the departing Romanian workers in France. And they fit easily in the belly of a bus…
    So who will pay for the stolen/damaged bikes of this future Portland tourist attraction?

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