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As city council weighs bike share agreement, three of five votes look certain

Posted by on September 16th, 2015 at 12:53 pm

Portland City Council

Portland’s city council: Steve Novick, Amanda Fritz, Charlie Hales, Dan Saltzman, Nick Fish.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

A half-hour city council hearing Wednesday on Portland’s proposed bike sharing system raised some questions but, seemingly, few serious concerns.

With a formal vote lined up next week, Commissioners Steve Novick and Nick Fish, along with Mayor Charlie Hales, all spoke warmly about the proposal.

Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Dan Saltzman didn’t seem to be raising major objections, though both asked pointed questions: Fritz about safety and Saltzman about money. Saltzman in particular seemed upbeat about the plan. Neither offered a closing comment Wednesday, leaving themselves plenty of room to back away from the deal if they decide to.

“It’s nice sometimes not to be first, and this time we’re going to be 65th.”
— City bike share project manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth

The hearing was significantly less contentious than previous council discussions about bike share, all of which have occurred in the glare of repeated editorials from The Oregonian urging the city not to create such a system. (The latest of those was published Monday.)

This time around, the council seemed less stressed about the concept.

“It’s nice sometimes not to be first, and this time we’re going to be 65th,” city bike share project manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth told the council.

Commissioner Fish, in particular, seemed to be strongly influenced by the success that bike sharing has had in other cities like San Francisco, New York and Chicago. He said he’d seen it in action on family trips around the country.

“Bike share is blowing up in those cities and everybody seems to be on a bike,” Fish said.

Like the other commissioners, Fish also praised the low-risk nature of the deal the city has set up. The city’s contractor, Motivate, will assume all downside risk for the first three years. The city says that even if the system flops and no private sponsors are found, it can scale back the system’s performance standards for the fourth and fifth years that would be required under the terms of a federal grant. That’d prevent any public operating subsidy of the system.

“There’s risk in everything we do,” Fish said. “It seems like this time there’s a modest risk.”

“There’s risk in everything we do. It seems like this time there’s a modest risk.”
— Commissioner Nick Fish on financing bike sharing systems

Novick, laying out the virtues of a bike share system, sounded similar notes. He said that though he hadn’t supported a public subsidy for a convention-center hotel, sending a $2 million federal grant to bike sharing seemed like a “reasonable investment” for a system that would both serve many locals and provide a service that tourists have come to expect.

Hales called the proposed 600-bike system a “Goldilocks” proposal: not to big, not too small, not too fast and not too slow.

“I hear from people saying ‘We’re way behind in Portland and that’s terrible!'” Hales said. “We’re behind, or ahead, or somewhere, because we started it.”

He said that other cities that have been embracing biking amenities are doing so because they’ve seen Portland’s success.

“That has set off a virtuous competition among cities to be green, livable,” he said. “What a problem to have, for cities to be competing with each other to do the right thing. … To those who are wringing their hands saying ‘we’re not a leader’: yes we are, and others are running in our same direction.”

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Commissioner Saltzman asked if the city would be opening itself up to lawsuits. City Active Transportation Manager Margi Bradway said the city’s contract with Motivate protects it from liability. This seemed to satisfy Saltzman on that issue.

“It’s a nice thing to have; it’s not an essential thing to have,” Saltzman said.

Commissioner Fritz raised two main areas of concern: whether bike-share users would be able to get helmets, and what the city’s plan was for keeping people from riding the bikes on downtown sidewalks, which is illegal.

“Downtown is a dangerous place to ride a bike safely,” Fritz said. She said she’d recently met an East Portland resident who told her he’d been biking in a downtown MAX lane, caught his wheel in one of the grooves and badly injured himself.

“Downtown is a dangerous place to ride a bike safely.”
— Commissioner Amanda Fritz on obstacles to good bike sharing

Hoyt-McBeth said the city’s proposed contract with Motivate includes a plan to test helmet vending machines, but that choices are limited because no reliable option seems to be on the market yet. In any case, he said, the system will promote helmet use through its membership channels, offer discounts for helmet purchases, give free helmets to low-income members and pursue partnerships with bike rental shops.

As for downtown sidewalk riding, Hoyt-McBeth said the city will find some way to add messages on the bikes or their docks that tell people not to ride on downtown sidewalks.

Meanwhile on Twitter, various people suggested another way to reduce sidewalk biking.

A handful of other Portlanders came to testify in support of bike sharing, including a developer who said that commercial real estate tenants rarely ask about auto parking availability these days and are much likelier to ask about bike parking.

Bicycle Transportation Alliance Executive Director Rob Sadowsky spoke in favor, saying his organization would be happy to partner with the city to educate people on safe bike use.

BikeLoudPDX co-chair Ted Buehler said the system seemed small but that he looked forward to inviting visiting friends to use it.

“600 bikes isn’t really a lot to go around,” Buehler said. “Still, it’s a terrific start.”

The most skeptical testifier was Joe Walsh, an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. He echoed Fritz’s concerns about people biking on downtown sidewalks.

“Right now the police aren’t enforcing that,” Walsh said. “It’s the wild west.”

But even Walsh didn’t have a problem with the general idea of bike sharing.

“The program itself sounds really interesting,” he said. “They did it in New York. That’s kind of a good endorsement, because it is a very complex city.”

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maccoinnich
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‘”Downtown is a dangerous place to ride a bike safely,” Fritz said.’

Glad she acknowledged it. Now lets do something about it.

Adam Herstein
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Adam Herstein

Hey Fritz! Don’t want people riding on the sidewalks? Support protected bike lanes downtown! It’s the only solution – other than banning all cars, of course. 😉

Stephen Keller
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Stephen Keller

Being a commuter and all, I understand the value of getting people on bikes, but I’m having a hard time seeing the value of this sort of set up or why tax payers (via federal grants or local taxes) should ever be asked to fund it. I’d much rather see dollars going to beefing up the cycling infrastructure for safety and throughput. A well designed and safe cycling system will encourage bike-share vendors to run their businesses here in a far more sustainable manner than one-time grants ever will.

davemess
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davemess

Fritz really seems to have downtown sidewalk riding on the brain.

reader
Guest
reader

“In any case, he said, the system will promote helmet use through … partnerships with bike rental shops.”

In other words, the City will rent the bikes and the bike rental shops can rent some helmets?

mixtieme
Guest
mixtieme

maccoinnich
‘”Downtown is a dangerous place to ride a bike safely,” Fritz said.’Glad she acknowledged it. Now lets do something about it.Recommended 11

I’m still amazed how people manage to crash in those tracks. There is also so much hub bub about how ‘dangerous’ they are. It’s always seemed rather clear to me, bike tire skinny, move parallel to skinny crack in the ground, get caught in the crack and drop an inch, logically you’ll either have to stop to get out, be that purposefully or via a crash. Is this not so obvious to people? Tracks or cracks aren’t dangerous, people with bad decision making skills are dangerous (sounds like guns). Of course exceptions to the rule, being pushed/bullied into a dangerous situation, but in 8 years I have never crashed on those tracks and probably never will.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Same here.

To ride safely in the city, you have to have some basic skills. Crossing rail tracks is one of those. Some people learn by falling. Don’t whine about it. Get up and learn your lesson.

Granpa
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Granpa

Portland’s experienced cyclists know how to ride without crashing on the tracks. I doubt that can be said for many bike share users. Many will be from out of town who want a taste of Portland’s cycling culture. Some will crash and crash hard.

I used a share bike in Frankfurt and found it a pleasant experience.

Ted Buehler
Guest

(Thread drift alert — warning)
Granpa wrote:
“Portland’s experienced cyclists know how to ride without crashing on the tracks. ”

Incorrect.

In 2011 AROW solicited crash data from Portland bicyclists. We got a large number of replies. Maybe 200? I don’t recall at the moment.

A common element of many peoples’ responses were:
* I am an experienced bicyclist
* I have ridden for XX years and had zero crashes, in Y cities or Z countries.
* I have been riding around Streetcar tracks in Portland for a few years.
* I was surprised to find myself in an ambulance after so many years of safe riding. And felt betrayed that Portland had built a system of streets that could not be safely navigated by a skilled bicycle operator.

This trend continues, I’ve had two friends suffer very bad crashes (broken bones, busted teeth, that sort of thing) in 2014 and 2015. Both had been bike commuting for over 15 years.

BikeShare bikes usually have fairly thick tires. I don’t know if they’re fat enough to stay out of a streetcar track, though. Almost as thick as a mountain bike.

We should bring that up, and if the first order of 600 has narrow tires, we should make sure the subsequent batches have streetcar-proof tire widths.

Ted Buehler

Ted Buehler
Guest

Thanks for the article, Michael.

If you like BikeShare and want to see it in Portland, you might consider letting your elected officials know your opinion.
http://www.portlandonline.com/Auditor/index.cfm?a=191877&c=27481

Thanks to all who have worked on this for many years to bring it into fruition, I hope to see it come into being next summer.

Ted Buehler

Scott Mizee
Guest

Keep in mind that bike share bikes use wider tires, and therefore are less likely to easily slip into the flangeway.

Mark
Guest
Mark

The whole sidewalk thing is weird. Bikes are apparently deadly to walkers (um no), but its perfectly fine to blend semi trucks, trucks, cars with bikes.

Make sense?

The reason cops don’t enforce the sidewalk issue until its a problem….because its dumb. The ordinance simply gives a few people the right to complain about whatever wheeled item on their sidewalk

If there are a lot if people on the sidewalk, I go around. If not ..I might use the sidewalk. Whatever works. Bleh. Sidewalk elitists.

Mark
Guest
Mark

One other thing, why does the Oregonian hate bikes share? Do they even have a dedicated writer for all things bike or was that handles by joseph rose?

Adron Hall
Guest

I’m kind of perplexed, as there is a lot of cognitive dissonance in Fritz’s continual drive (no pun) for safety. She seems overly concerned about the damage a cyclist could *theoretically* do but seems to never really go to bat for the real problem. Which is of course, errant motorists and dangerously designed road system – which her husband was even killed by. Which makes things even more confusing, considering it would make things SAFER for people if a greater density of people actually biked in downtown Portland.

In the end, with some logic and data analysis applied it just seems like Fritz has a strange hang up about someone biking into somebody even though there’s basically non-existent or only extreme outlier data that this is a significant risk. But there’s boatloads of data to point to getting cars OUT of downtown and increasing cycling would be a GOOD thing for safety…

Blagh… the dissonance just hurts the mind. :-/

Denver Dan
Guest
Denver Dan

We have a big bike share system in Denver. I’m a hard core commuter. I don’t see noobs renting bikes and causing issues. I see visitors using them who obviously ride bikes at home. I see locals who prefer the convenience of not having to tote all the heavy accessories (like multiple locks) that coincide with riding your own bike. The system is convenient and fun. The bikes are super heavy though (over 40 lbs), so they are a bit slow.