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Biketown, the day after (reflections on a big deal)

Posted by on January 8th, 2016 at 3:08 pm

Portland bike share launch-6.jpg

Makes your jaw-drop huh?
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Wow. Yesterday’s bike share news was pretty amazing. Our heads are still spinning here at BikePortland headquarters.

Nine years ago when we announced that Portland wanted to be the first U.S. city with a bike share system, we never expected it would take this long. But now that it’s happened, we’re just glad that the deal was done. And, like many people in Portland, we’re eagerly awaiting the sight of 1,000 orange bikes being used in our city.

We’ve posted 70 stories about Portland’s bike share saga since 2007 and things are just now getting interesting, so expect a lot more coverage in the months to come. For now though, Michael and I want to share some brief thoughts about PBOT, Nike, Biketown, and what this means for all of us. Some are fun, some are serious, and like always, we’d love to hear your thoughts…

Wait. Before we get started. I want to publicly congratulate the team at PBOT. There are some smart and dedicated people who worked very hard under a lot of pressure and ups-and-downs (understatement) over these past nine years to pull this off (I won’t name names, you know who you are). Something like this doesn’t happen in a city unless someone makes it a priority and sees it through to the end. High-fives all around.

OK, let’s go…

Hey, wanna’ grab a Biketown? Let’s Biketown to the Timbers game.

I’ve been wondering how the system’s name, Biketown (pronounced bike, not bikey), will be used once it becomes common parlance. It works well as a place name, but it’s not so great as a noun. And will it work as a verb? This is only the second time naming rights have ever been sold to a title sponsor of a U.S. system (the other one is CitiBike in New York), so we’re all a bit new to this.

Did Nike just make cycling cool, or did cycling make Nike cool?

Yesterday I wrote, “With one fell swoosh, Nike has made cycling cool in Portland.” To my surprise, several people took lighthearted offense to that. They said cycling is already cool and it’s Nike that benefits from an association with cycling, not the other way around. My point was that, while cycling might be cool to you and I (and other bike nerds), the vast majority of Portlanders disagree. Sorry to break it to you, but most people prefer to drive and young people especially don’t see cycling as being cool. But with Nike now in the picture, cycling has instant street cred. Cycling in general will benefit from the halo-effect of Nike’s powerful brand association. Pretty cool huh?

Hopefully this one miracle can lead to others

This was a miracle deal. After all the years searching for a corporate sponsor, PBOT pulled a rabbit out of the hat. If they mustered the urgency and commitment to make this deal, surely they can solve other pressing transportation problems — like find more money to improve streets, build more protected bike lanes and fill in glaring bikeway gaps that exist all over the city. Momentum is our friend, let’s ride it.

The visual impact

Imagine: 1,000 beautiful orange bikes designed by Nike strewn all about the streets of Portland. Once these bikes are out in the wild, they’ll serve as a constant reminder of this city’s belief in bikes. The impact of having more humans riding bikes downtown will itself be a game-changer, but the orange bikes themselves will be a real-life, tangible version of Strava’s heat map. The data these bikes yield will be invaluable to researchers, engineers, planners, and advocates; but to everyday people who see them on the street, they’ll serve as a free daily advertisement for cycling.

Nine years is a long time

While we bask in the euphoria of Biketown, let us not forget it took us nine years to get here. And let’s hope that PBOT doesn’t see this planning process as a great template to replicate with other big projects. We need to get better at delivering game-changing solutions to our city’s problems in a much shorter time-frame.

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It’s not all about downtown

This will be a big deal downtown but it’s arguably an even bigger deal for Northwest Portland, because its residential density makes private bike storage so annoying, because public transit options aren’t great, and because there are so many homes within bike share’s service area. Inner northwest will likely be the epicenter for bike share memberships. The downside to this is that northwest has even less bike-oriented infrastructure than downtown.

Welcome to the neighborhoods

With more money than expected from the title sponsor and 66% more bikes than originally announced, there’s a much greater chance that Biketown will cross the river into Portland’s inner neighborhoods. When bike share’s startup funding was debated, some advocates weren’t on board because of its geographic focus on the central city. We haven’t seen a revised service area map; but our guess is it’ll spread much further than anyone expected. Lents will still be out of luck for a while, but docks on NE 28th Avenue are looking likelier (that is, if anyone can spare the auto parking space…).

“In the near future, we will begin a public engagement process to solicit input from Portlanders about station locations and the service area,” city spokesman John Brady said. “This information will help determine the service area borders for the summer launch.”

Bikes are bad for business! Oh really?

Nike just decided to spend $10 million to make it easier for people to ride bikes in Portland. Now, I’m sorry, come again, what were you saying about this new bike lane will hurt your business?

Let’s talk about profit

Will Biketown be a moneymaker? Probably. One of the great things about the size of the title sponsorship is that it’ll probably be profitable enough to finance a decent share of its own ongoing expansion. If all goes well, profits will become a growth engine that will gradually make the system bigger and bigger, which will in turn make it more and more useful.

Why do we think Biketown will be profitable? Well, other bike sharing systems are. In Chicago, Divvy operates far enough in the black that its profits are used as local match for state and federal grants to improve biking and walking. In Phoenix, which has a similar smartbike system, Grid Bikes doesn’t even have a lead sponsor and it might turn a profit anyway.

Secondly, the numbers for Portland look good — really good.

After a 20 percent sales commission for Motivate, the Nike deal will give the city $8 million over five years — 46 percent more money than the city had been expecting to get from all sponsorship revenue under an earlier version of its bike sharing plan. Add to that the fact that a smart bike system is likely to have significantly lower operating expenses than the earlier smart dock system would have.

Add that all up and it looks likely that Biketown is going to deliver at least a modest annual surplus, maybe in the six figures. Under the city’s deal with Motivate, half of that would go to the operator and half to the city itself. PBOT’s John Brady said Friday that any city profits will get reinvested in bike share.

==

Now that you’ve had time to process the news, what are your thoughts?

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org
— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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Adam
Subscriber

This is super exciting. The orange looks fantastic on those bikes, and will be a constant reminder of everyday biking, as it has become in other bike share cities. Hopefully this deal helps the system expand into more of N/NE/SE. North and Southeast especially can benefit from a bike/MAX combo, since those areas are so poorly served by rail service.

This deal will also hopefully prompt better protected bike lanes throughout the city, as more and more people ride. Perhaps Nike could even sponsor some cycle tracks? If I remember correctly, they had some sort of branding on Chicago’s Lake Front Trail, so it’s not completely unheard of.

As far as corporate sponsors go, an athletic wear company is certainly better than a bank. They have a reason to get more people active and bike share is a great way to do that with little upfront cost to the user.

I’m not loving the name, but then again, I hated “Divvy” at first and eventually it sounded natural enough to use in conversation. It will take a bit of getting used to.

Summer can’t come soon enough! In the meantime, we can all have fun with the station map comment website and trying to compete for the lowest member number! I foresee a Pedalpalooza ride where everyone rides BIKETOWN bikes!

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

Brace yourself for 5-6 months of higher than normal anti-bike fervor peaking in June and then immediately dropping off when the bikes finally arrive on the streets and the world fails to end.

Anne Hawley
Subscriber
Anne Hawley

To be honest, I’m still a bit mystified as to how PBOT did it. Looking from the outside (well, the BikePortland subscriber outside), bikeshare seemed to go from Amanda Fritz yanging on about people riding on downtown sidewalks, to 150% sponsored and funded overnight. There really is a “magic trick” feel to this rabbit out of the hat.

However it happened, I’m glad it did. I have higher hopes for better central-city infrastructure now. Let’s hope it doesn’t take Tourist Killed on Biketown Bike headlines to speed that process up.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

Can’t wait for all those downtown biz leaders to start experiencing riding a bike downtown, then we will get some momentum to improve the infrastructure. What ever happened to Spinlisters bikeshare?

jessie
Guest
jessie

I know they want it pronounced bike-town, but I love calling it BIKEY-town. It’s cute, and it rolls off the tongue easier. Bikey! Bikey! Bikey!

Pete
Guest
Pete

I’m so stoked to hear this news, and I hope these bikes become prevalent all over Hellsboro and the Beav in addition to Portlandia. So many times when I worked for an Intel subsidiary I’d have loved to take an airport Max and use a bike for that ‘last mile’ to meetings, but had to rent a car instead.

Very good point about the data gathering value incorporated into ‘smart’ decentralized bike share systems – nine years ago you wouldn’t have this. Speaking of which, some time back there was a BP article about an open source bike share technology project whose name escapes me; IIRC sponsored by Intel. Anyone know if that went anywhere?

Also: interesting that these are orange and not green… 😉

eli bishop
Guest
eli bishop

I love the whole point about this being super great for NW, and “The downside to this is that northwest has even less bike-oriented infrastructure than downtown.” Especially with streetcars tracks AAAUUGGH

maccoinnich
Guest

Those are great points about Northwest. I don’t think there’s any part of the city where the potential and actual cycling rates are further apart. I really hope PBOT is successful with the application for the Flanders Greenway. It would be a step change for the neighborhood.

RH
Guest
RH

So is it Biketown or BIKETOWN….just curious.

Andrew Kreps
Guest
Andrew Kreps

Given your first example, what happens when everyone in the city tries to bike(y)town to that Timbers game at the same time?

Spenzor
Guest
Spenzor

I can’t wait to “ride it like I rent it”. Oh yeah!

P.S.
I wonder if these bikes will get a reputation for unskilled/dangerous cyclists? I’ve personally noticed that people who use the Car2go service can be a little inept, probably on account of lack of practice behind the wheel.

Randy
Guest
Randy

More pictures of the bike and maker please. It’s the quality/ease of use of the bike (not) the marketing hype that could make this work…

Portlander Abroad
Guest
Portlander Abroad

My issue is the with cost. I current live in Taiwan where the city bikes are FREE for the first hour! I thought the whole argument for city bikes was equity, but according the city it costs as much as a bus ticket for only 30 minutes!

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/544363#H

What gives? 30 minutes won’t get your east Portland to your job downtown.

Noah
Guest
Noah

Soon enough these bikes will be so prevalent that practically EVERYBODY will want new bike infrastructure downtown because people will ride in the auto lanes anyway which will make them even more congested. Give all those bikes dedicated space and everyone’s trip will be smoother. The momentum will be huge!

Mike Sanders
Guest
Mike Sanders

Sellwood and the Springwater Trail corridor (and it’s extensions east and west, one hopes) could be a great market for this. How about having some cargo bikes in the fleet, too?

9watts
Subscriber

“Did Nike just make cycling cool, or did cycling make Nike cool?”

This I think is perhaps the most interesting question.
My take is that those at Nike empowered to enter into this arrangement with the city seem to think that cycling-(at least)-in-Portland is already cool enough for Nike to get involved, work its branding magic, leverage what has already been cooked up into something they can use to build their brand. The potential for both Nike and cycling-as-lifestyle to win is I think very real, and I appreciate your introducing that angle which I-who-boycott-all-multinational-corporations had not (and would not have) thought of 😉

Robert Burchett
Guest
Robert Burchett

Waiting for the first orange bike hucking video

Captain Karma
Guest

I will call it an orange bike. I won’t type Biketown in all CAPS just because Nike wants me to. I probably won’t use them anyway if I have to pay as much as a bus unless there are a bunch on the east side, then *maybe*. I would not use these on Springwater, nor where there hills. I predict there will be lots of them running around Waterfront with pink boxes of donuts on Pleasant Valley Sundays.

ed
Guest
ed

It’s natural for us to want to see this go city wide, even metro wide right off. (reflected by some letters here) There’s no doubt many areas of the city further afield from downtown can make an equal claim to need. And some seeing the concentration as planned might see the old PDX trope of “neglect of less core areas” as showing up. But we must remember how people are known to use bike share schemes and why it’s important to start an area quite concentrated.

We know truly successful mass transit must run with people feeling they can just show up at a stop without having to check stop times, or matching with time of cross routes they will transfer to. You just walk to a Max stop knowing one will pull up shortly and you don’t confer to see when the Red line you’re on intersects with the Green line you want to transfer to. So with bike share we already know people will only walk so far to pick up or drop off bikes. (especially non-cyclists and/or the curious, newbies or out of towners) For the debut of a cycle share, much better for it to work really well in a given, smaller, high density high profile area first. Everyone in the area knows a pile of the bikes are close at hand. Hits the ground running as a mature, workable network for the area and its practicality is immediately perceived. Then after it can move to a new (also relatively small) sector and is mature and fully functional in that area right off. (and so on)

So spreading too thin by aiming too wide right off will be counterproductive, even if well intentioned. Few if any readers here need to be sold on this or doubt it’s workability and most also go out of their way to incorporate cycling into their lives. (yey to us 😉 But this has to work for a different demographic with different expectations and higher skepticism. Like it or not, convenience and no-brainer ease are critical to both public acceptance and broader use. Thanks for the thoughtful coverage Jonathan!

Chadwick F
Subscriber
Chadwick F

Verb or noun? No. I’ll probably just call it bike share. Like how I just use the term “the bus” or “the car.”
I’d probably vomit all over Portland if I ever heard “Oh, well, today I Trimetted to work, Biketowned to lunch with my co-workers,Trimetted home, and then VolVoed out to the coast with some friends for the weekend.”

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Active
All caps should be reserved for acronyms (IBM). Companies love to push all caps but media typically doesn’t go for it. It’s marketing. After all, you wouldn’t pronounce BIKETOWN by each letter as you do IBM: “b-i-k-e-t-o-w-n.” Sorry, former journalist in me.Recommended 5

ALL CAPS is commonly used for named parties in legal documents, and sometimes people in the business world tend to all-caps the name of their company, because they’ve seen it done that way in legal documents.

But outside of the special variant of English known as Legalese, it is incorrect. Neither Nike nor Biketown is an acronym, so neither one should be all caps.

ED
Guest
ED

After all these comments, I can’t believe no one has thrown out the classic quote: “It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” Just replace that with: “It will be a great day when we have all the money we need for non-motorized transportation and we have to spend nine years hunting for a sponsor to add another freeway lane.” I’m certainly glad to see that bike share will be happening, but it is interesting to think how many other $10s of millions of dollars have been spent on vehicle infrastructure in the past nine years, while we waited for a corporation to step forward and fund bike share.

Mossby Pomegranate
Guest
Mossby Pomegranate

This has zero impact on me as a east Portland citizen. My bike commute to and from the inner city is still terrifying.

eddie
Guest
eddie

My only experience with a program like this was in Paris. I found it to be a pain because it was really hard to find a dock, and you’d lose all sorts of money and time trying to locate one.

How can a system like this work for someone who is in danger of being late for work / a bus / a plane / a movie / a date if they can’t find somewhere to dock the damn bike, and don’t want to leave the meter running, as it were?

It will be interesting to see if and how the program manages to work out the bugs …. I’m probably never gonna ride one of those things anyhow, got my own bike after all.

Mark Smith
Guest
Mark Smith

Lars Larson’s head just exploded.

Michael Whitesel
Guest
Michael Whitesel

What amount of bike theft is anticipated? It could be costly:
“Under the Capital Bikeshare member agreement, when a bike is kept beyond the allotted time “then the Capital Bikeshare bicycle is deemed lost or stolen, Member’s credit card will be charged a fee of $1,000, and a police report may be filed with local authorities.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2014/05/13/are-capital-bikeshare-bikes-ever-stolen/

Adron @ Transit Sleuth
Guest

Now that this is going to happen… where are all of these novices going to ride? That’s my major concern. Downtown is still a pretty horrid place for a novice to ride. Will they know they can take the lane? Will they take the lane? Will they let motorists squeeze them in and get ran over? Will they bike into a MAX (hey, it’s been done before)? Where are the clear paths between notable points (like say the Target to Pioneer Square to PSU, no path exists that is clear or safe for 8-80 year old novices)?

This is awesome, I’m stoked that it has happened, but I am concerned where and how people will figure out (if they do) how to get from point A to point B downtown. The only people I know that can easily do it are confident, strong, and somewhat aggressive riders. Everybody else is left to very round about, not interconnected, and disparate bike lanes. This simply will not do.

As has been mentioned, this is going to put major pressure (I hope) on politicos to make the bike infrastructure network downtown finally work!

Peter W
Guest

Does the new bike share system mean Portland will start installing covered bike parking across the city? Or do the bikes just rust outside in the rain?

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

$10,000 bicycles

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

The more people who bike…the more people who will vote for biking.

That’s what ticks off the Lars Larsons of the world.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Meh.

Lizzy
Guest
Lizzy

Do the bikes have any theft deterrents? Like trackers.

EricIvy
Subscriber

So excited we are finally getting bikeshare! I love using it while traveling to other cities. The Nike sponsorship just leaves a very sour taste in my mouth. :-\

BeavertonRider
Guest
BeavertonRider

Love how Lars addressed Jonathan’s transit system conjecture; the cost; and utility of the program.

BikeShare is not a transit system intended to move a group of people and economic goods as a road or rail network does. The interstate system and state and local roads were not constructed to facilitate and popularize private car ownership, either. Private car ownership is wholly a byproduct of the existence of publicy-funded roadways. Which is why like national defense and public safety and education, transportation is a core government function/responsibility which is why public funding for roadways is appropriate and rational.

Non-car people need to pay for a transportation network because their lives and livelihoods rely on the ability to easily, quickly, and safely transport people and goods across town and across the country. The existing transportation network is paid for via general taxes and dedicated road/gas taxes. General fund transportation funding is appropriate given that transportation is a core government function.

This bikeshare program is a great program. I wonder, though, what happens in 5 years? How likely does it retain corporate sponsorship?

Re: cost – I wonder if Jonathan would cut out all of the staff costs for roadway spending as he does for this bikeshare program? Doing so would necessarily reveal a lower cost for roadways, no? So why try to compare the two without the same caveats?

Andy K
Guest
Andy K

Will the GPS data be accurate enough to show all the newbies riding on the sidewalks?

KarlK
Guest
KarlK

So why was a service like this ever legalized that didn’t require helmets or other safety guidelines? Bike shops that provided bike rentals were required (I’m assuming due to litigious insurance policies) to issue helmets and such, but afaik biketown has no such regulations. How? Why? Smells of corporate privilege. Personally I hope this service goes right down the toilet. It’s simply going the wrong direction for legitimizing bicycles as a responsible transportation option.