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Where should Portland’s bikeshare stations go? Ten maps that might help

Posted by on August 21st, 2013 at 11:01 am

Portland’s draft plan for locations of the first bikeshare stations, shared online by KATU.com. Possible phase-two expansion locations are purple, and eventual expansion areas in blue. (Click to enlarge)

The main gripe Portlanders seem to have about bikesharing so far isn’t that it’s a bad idea — it’s that there isn’t going to be enough of it.

This is, as TriMet officials often say when they’re trying to cheer themselves up, a pretty good problem to have.

In the meantime, however, it’s still an interesting puzzle — as Willamette Week showed last week with a characteristically dramatic article reporting that the City of Portland is planning to focus its stations in the central city (something it’s been clear about from the beginning) and that (in a new development) it’s planning to grease the wheels for bikeshare sponsorship by offering to pay the up-front cost, essentially as a loan, should private sponsors step forward. (WW’s article also said unnamed sources think the likeliest sponsor is health company Kaiser Permanente.)

Also, as we shared in this week’s Monday Roundup, Transportation Nation has been reporting on the failure of Alta’s New York City bikeshare system to expand out of Manhattan as promptly as it said it would.

It all adds up to some legitimate concerns: With only enough money for 75 bikeshare stations in Portland, which neighborhoods should get them?

To answer that question, let’s look at some maps. First, let’s start with one prepared by Alta using a six-part formula they’ve developed in the eight cities where they currently operate bikeshare systems: residential density, job density, retail/mixed-use density, transit ridership, street connectivity and flat terrain:

Alta Bicycle Share’s analysis of the places where bikeshare stations would get the most use, based on six factors. (Click to enlarge)

Compare this to a similar analysis of “suitability” in Washington DC’s successful bikeshare program, including dots where the stations actually wound up:

Bikeshare station feasibility and location in DC.

And here’s a map showing which stations drew the most rides:

Ridership at DC bikeshare stations.

Alta did similar analyses in two cities close to Portland’s size, Cincinnati and Calgary:

Bikeshare location feasibility in Cincinnati.

Bikeshare location feasibility in Calgary.

And here are the first and proposed second phases of Minneapolis’s Nice Ride system, the one that’s likely to be most similar to Portland’s in user base and initial size. It successfully opened the second round of stations one year after launch, and a third round of stations a year after that. Total ridership has continued to grow rapidly thanks to that expansion, but ridership per station was highest when the system was confined to the central city.

Bikeshare expansion in the Twin Cities.

Ridership, however, isn’t everything. Portland’s public startup cash for bikeshare came from a federal grant intended specifically for “equity,” and city council approved it only after committing to a “robust public process” about how to make it useful for poor Portlanders and Portlanders of color.

So, would stations downtown serve only the white and well-to-do? Well, here’s a map from the Coalition for a Livable Future’s Regional Equity Atlas showing the Census tracts with above-average percentages of residents in poverty in 2010:

The darker shade means a higher share of poor Portlanders.

And here’s one showing above-average percentages of people of color as of 2010:

The darker shade means a higher share of Portlanders of color.

These maps back up the fact that, as former Mayor Sam Adams pointed out in a testy exchange with Multnomah County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury at a 2011 Metro hearing, downtown includes “some of the most poor and diverse census tracts in central Portland.”

However, just because people live somewhere doesn’t mean they’ll use bikesharing. Bikesharing in other cities has been disproportionately underused by poor people and people of color; a shockingly low 3 percent of Capital Bikeshare riders are black. Some of that may be due to station location; another factor is up-front cost of annual membership (about $75) and the fact that they typically require credit cards to use (something that locks out 12 percent of Americans).

Here’s one final way to think about where bikeshare stations should go: the places where the city’s bikeshare station crowdsourcing tool shows that they’ve been most requested. Here are the top 20 most popular stations on the city’s website, all of which have received at least 40 votes:

The Internet’s favorite Portland bikeshare station locations.

Or looking at it another way, here are all the stations that have received at least 10 votes:

The Internet’s favorite Portland bikeshare station locations, expressed differently.

The puzzle of which neighborhoods bikeshare should serve is a real one, but it isn’t unique to Portland. It isn’t even unique to bikesharing. It’s almost exactly the same as a longstanding tradeoff in the world of public transit: should we focus transit in the areas where ridership is the highest and requires the least subsidy, or in areas where ridership will be lower but there are fewer other ways to get around?

The more money the public is willing to spend to subsidize a system, the more that system is able to afford serving less-profitable areas. In the case of Portland bikeshare, our city agreed to use federal money to subsidize the startup cost, but not to cover the ongoing cost of the service.

In the public transit world, every community comes to a compromise between the two extremes, then continues to tweak that compromise on an ongoing basis. That’s what to expect when and if Portland bikeshare finally shows up.

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Josh C.
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Good question. A buddy of mine and I asked the same one back in March then presented our findings to our GIS class.

Portland Bikeshare Hot Spots = http://j.mp/PdxBikeGIS

Andrew Seger
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Andrew Seger

Great maps. I think it’s a sign of bike share’s strength that it’s the only form of transit in modern times that’s been able to be launched and sustained with private funds. I think that speaks to the popularity and strength of an idea whose time has come.

If TriMet stepped in and offered funding we could have a complete network right away, and not just in Portland. I think there should be bikeshare stations supporting the frequent service network of max and busses, greatly extending the walking range for each line (http://www.humantransit.org/2011/04/basics-walking-distance-to-transit.html)

My modest proposal: Take the subsidy Portland Streetcar gets and give it to bikeshare instead.

Reza
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Reza

The City’s map is logical. You need to have a critical mass of stations in the Central City to make the system a success. Placing them too far to the east without having enough docks downtown is bound to create capacity issues, as well as require constant rebalancing to account for commuter travel. If there aren’t enough stations close to your destination downtown, it would make docking a total hassle. So while there would be no place to park your bike downtown during the daytime, all of the Eastside racks would be deserted. Reverse that for the evening hours.

Placing stations for the sake of coverage rather than maximizing density is usually done out of politics and is a good recipe to making sure the stations go unused. The issues with Capital Bikeshare east of the Anacostia River in DC provides a good example of that.

On another note, placing four stations on 28th Avenue between Stark and Broadway is bound to bring the bike access issues there to the forefront.

Curt
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Curt

Seems like a tricky problem, with many angles.

Presumably the system is for tourists and for residents who don’t always ride their bike already (or drive today). Stations need to be at spots where people want/need to go, but also at a variety of starting points around town. I think it makes sense to try to hook up with MAX and bus line points around town. What about the bike boulevards – would it make sense to have more stations also oriented to those roads (as opposed to the main streets like Belmont and Hawthorne)? Particularly where the boulevards cross MAX/bus lines.

Coverage seems light in the N. Mississippi area in Phase 1.

Oregon Mamacita
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Oregon Mamacita

I understand the practical reasons for putting the bike stations in the
richest areas that already get all the attention, and not making any firm commitment to servings Saint Johns, or Lents, or Gateway.

But, since starting a bike share system and equity are not compatible in this plan, there is a strong case for not using any public funds on the first phase of the project. Perhaps David Evans and Associates, or United Streetcar, or Urban Design Group and all the other businesses that has prospered due to “smart growth” can chip in to pay for the first phase of bike share.

If money was diverted from the street car to bike share, that would be fair because the street car doesn’t help anyone who doesn’t live close-in.

Once the program is shown to work, I would support some public funds to build out the system to the neglected neighborhoods, despite my concerns about Alta and its’ relationship with City Hall.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

As a Brooklyn resident I’m disappointed that even Phase 2 doesn’t include a single station south of Clinton street.

We have a new TriMet line opening up here in late 2015, which coincides with the earliest date we could reasonably expect phase 2 to occur. At an absolute minimum, why wouldn’t there be BikeShare stations at the Rhine, Holgate and Bybee MAX stations?

And why wouldn’t there also be one at Reed College, which would allow students there to better connect with MAX? This would be especially useful since TriMet snubbed Woodstock/Reed by cutting the Harold Street station and overpass from the project.

I’m also a little surprised the phase 2 stations would be clustered quite so tightly together. In the Twin Cities’ second phase (which I enjoyed using a couple months ago, and would have found a lot less useful in its phase 1 iteration), the furthest southeast station is 18 miles away from the furthest northwest station. In Portland, the greatest distance between any two phase 2 stations is only 7 miles. I know Portland is a lot more compact, but this seems disproportionately scaled-down, and pushes a number of Portland’s bikey neighborhoods out to Phase 3 (assuming phase 3 even happens).

i ride my bike
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i ride my bike

Believe it or not, most people in Portland go to Central City whether they live there or not, Central City is where the density and destinations are and is the most walkable. The blind anti-downtown rhetoric that is so popular now completely ignores that downtown IS a unique crossroads location for everyone. Leave it to Portland to be the only failed bike share city because it located stations for political reasons not for logical reasons.

John Landolfe
Guest

I think we need to get away from thinking of the central city as some kind of, umm, Elysium that the vast majority of us don’t visit in some way (and Jonathan’s story gets at this). Rich and poor, we travel to the central city for work, education, healthcare, et al. My only concern is actually for the out-of-towners who we want to help fund this service and who we want to leave Portland thinking it’s an a great town to bike. It’s already been noted here and elsewhere that the most pleasant biking experience is on the east side. Lookin forward to that Phase 2.

spare_wheel
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spare_wheel

“Rich and poor, we travel to the central city for work, education, healthcare, et al.”

The central city is simply not on my map as a destination. At best its a part of portland I travel through to get to areas of interest.

Terry D
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Terry D

It would be a public relations nightmare….and a feeding frenzy for the anti-bike crowd if the city funds this with public money even if it is a loan. The remaining 2.6 million needs to come from the private sector.

Starting in the dense neiborhoods is fine, but the phase two and three plans need to be MUCH more equitable if this is going to gain any long term traction for anyone other than tourists. We already have a much higher bike mode split than any of these other example cities. Hence, I am afraid that is may not int the end be economically viable and the city should not put itself at financial risk.

was carless
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was carless

The station locations around Foster & Powell have got to be a joke. Foster and 82nd the most popular site for bike rentals? Really?

Must be ironic hipster-internet voting day.

Duncan
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Duncan

Look its a map of where rich white people live.

Duncan
Guest
Duncan

Alex who do you think will be taking trips on bikes downtown- the non-rich folks or the loft dwellers? This is a huge tax expendeture on people who already have made it. This money would be far better spent on better infrastructure in outer SE and N Portland.

Yes I have been downtown, my son went to school there for years, but I lived in outer SE Portland and if you think there are a lot of non-rich, non-white people downtown you should head out to 102nd and Powell and get your world rocked. Those are the places that need investments in bike infrastructure not downtown that aready has bike lanes, sharrows, bike paths…

Paul Cone
Guest
Paul Cone
Joe Suburban
Guest
Joe Suburban

Honestly, who the heck needs bike share in Portland? Almost all hipsters have a fixie. The few tourists that do come here go to the wineries, have not seen many of them biking to the zoo or the museum. When the share bikes come, I sure hope the seats are welded to the frames – my current seat on my WalMart bike chafes my tush! Then the city needs to buy trucks and hire people to relocate/restock bikes to empty holders – they do that in NY daily. And at night a drunk a-hole can take out an entire rack of them with his SUV.
By the way, they found some Velib bikes from Paris in North Africa and Ukraine! Looking for that $100 rattle can painted share bike out there in Idaho soon.