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Portland will offer Biketown-branded cycles for people with disabilities

Participants in the June 5 adaptive bike clinic where the city gathered suggestions for an accessibility program.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)


After taking criticism from local accessibility advocates and from the transportation commissioner’s political challenger, Portland says it’ll fund a discounted rental program for handcycles and trikes.

It seems to be the first such program in the country, though city staff couldn’t say for sure.

The goal is to make it possible for more people with disabilities get access to bicycles, in the same way that most other people will have an option to use Biketown, the publicly backed bike sharing system that launches July 19.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act is a major consideration in other forms of public transit. TriMet dedicates 10 percent of its $344 million operations budget to running a scheduled shuttle service (called LIFT) for people with major mobility challenges, as required under the federal law. But it’s currently ambiguous whether bike sharing, a relatively new form of public transit, has comparable obligations.

Here’s the city’s description of its proposed accessibility program:

It focuses on medium length rental (1-3 hours) through existing bike rental businesses located on or in close proximity to non-motorized trails. PBOT would purchase the adaptive bicycles and work with participating bike rental shops to provide the service. PBOT is considering providing both hand bicycles and three wheeled bicycles.

Many aspects of the proposal are still vague, including what it’ll cost, where the cycles might be rented and whether people would need to pay for their use.

“Right now we’re thinking about the purchase of six adaptive bicycles,” said Steve Hoyt-McBeth, who oversees the city’s bike share program, in an interview Thursday.

Hoyt-McBeth said he based the city’s plan on conversations with people who attended the city-sponsored Adaptive Bike Clinic on June 5.

‘For exercise and recreation’

Another participant at the adaptive bike clinic.

“The program was developed directly out of the interviews I did with about a dozen people who used a wheelchair and expressed an interest in some sort of bicycle rental program,” Hoyt-McBeth said. “They said they wanted something where they could have somebody there to assist them moving between their wheelchair and the bicycle; they wanted someplace to store their mobility device; they wanted to ride for exercise and recreation; and they did not want to ride in traffic.”

Though these cycles would be branded as Biketown, the program would be run by the city itself (Biketown is an independent contractor that works for the city). And the way the cycles are used would be different than the one Hoyt-McBeth has been keeping in mind for the rest of the Biketown system, which is optimized for short one-way rides of 45 minutes or fewer.

But in other ways, this program will be informed by a similar philosophy.

“Sometimes the issue is not whether you own the device or not, it’s whether you have access to it,” Hoyt-McBeth said.

Transporting adaptive cycles by car is a major challenge

Richard Fletcher, 44, has spina bifida but had never tried riding a handcycle until this month’s Adaptive Bike Clinic.

For example, Hoyt-McBeth said, he talked to a couple people who already own handcycles but lack an easy way to get it to a place they’d like to ride for recreation.

“I’ve got to put it in my car, I’ve got to drive somewhere,” Hoyt-McBeth said. “If I’ve got a partner or a spouse or whatever, I may need to put their bike in the car too. … Logistically it was really tough to use it. The idea of having a service that is centrally located downtown right on a multi-use path … was compelling to them.”

Then there are people who have disabilities but haven’t been able to or didn’t want to spend $1,500 for an adaptive cycle.

“I’m sure there will be a number of people that we will provide a much more financially accessible way to use a handcycle,” Hoyt-McBeth said.

Hoyt-McBeth noted that different people have many different types of disability, and this plan will only serve some.

“It’s a very wide and diverse community, and we want to make sure that we fully understand that,” he said. “I’ve not done very many interviews with people who have balance issues.”

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Novick pushed action after political pressure from Eudaly

Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick at the 2015 announcement of the city’s bike share plans.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

The city’s commitment was rolled out rapidly after an “early June” meeting between staffers for the Portland Bureau of Transportation and the office of Commissioner Steve Novick.

Novick is the only city council member currently up for election, facing bookseller-turned-politician Chloe Eudaly.

In a May 24 Facebook post (which her campaign sponsored to get in front of more people) Eudaly raised the issue of accessibility.

“It’s exciting to finally be getting a bike share program, but I was disappointed to find out that the program excludes people with mobility challenges,” she wrote. “How is a 1000 bike program without a single adapted bike equitable or inclusive?”

Sue Stahl, who serves on the Portland Commission on Disability and ran against Eudaly and Novick in the primary, had previously raised the issue during her own campaign.

Candidate Chloe Eudaly with her son Henry.
(Image: Eudaly campaign)

All three politicians have personal connections to the issue. Stahl uses a mobility device. So does Eudaly’s son Henry. Novick was born without a left hand or fibula bones in his legs; he struggled to pedal a bicycle in childhood and hasn’t tried since, though he’s occasionally ridden them as a passenger.

We asked the Portland Bureau of Transportation about the issue on May 24, then heard nothing for nine days. On June 2, city spokesman John Brady said the city was “talking to our peer cities and people in the disability community.”

We covered the issue that day, and The Oregonian did so June 6.

Around that time, Novick got directly involved.

“We’ve been researching what other states are doing for a while,” Hoyt-McBeth said. “It’s fair to say that the public conversation about this issue this spring triggered us to look harder at it.”

The city says the “pilot concept will be further developed with community stakeholders this summer and fall, with a planned pilot launch in spring 2017.”

Brady said the city isn’t doing this specifically to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We’re not doing this for legal reasons,” he said. “We’re doing it to make the system more accessible.”

Update: Eudaly put a new statement about the issue on her Facebook page. Here’s what she said in a short interview Friday:

Without putting a damper on what is a positive development, I remain concerned that 26 years after the ADA was passed, that we’re still not dealing with issues of access up front in our policymaking, planning, development. And that needs to end. … This should not have been the responsibility of individual citizens to take on. complying with the ADA and serving our whole community is the job of our elected officials and the people working for these bureaus.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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