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PBOT confirms Biketown will see big expansion and e-bikes in 2020

Posted by on June 27th, 2019 at 10:58 am

Oh the places they could go with an electric motor.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

In news that won’t surprise anyone that’s been following along closely, the Portland Bureau of Transportation announced at a city council meeting yesterday that their planned bike share expansion will include electric bikes and cover more parts of the city.

“We’re really excited about the electric bicycle piece of this… We think it will really make a difference.”
— Steve Hoyt-McBeth, Biketown program manager

The first official confirmation of the upgrade came from Biketown Program Manager Steve Hoyt-McBeth. He was at council to ask commissioners for an extension of the city’s current contract with Motivate, Inc., the company that operates the Biketown bike share system.

During his short presentation, Hoyt-McBeth said the city plans to release a request for proposals this summer that would, “Expand Biketown into new neighborhoods, and hopefully include the entire city and that will include electric bicycles.” The new system isn’t expected to be up and running until spring of next year (2020).

Electric motors on bike share bikes available in every corner of the city would be a game-changer. Housing prices have forced many Portlanders to live further than ever from jobs and other destinations and access to a relatively cheap, reliable, fun, efficient (no traffic!), bicycle could vastly increase the viability and the appeal of bicycling. A survey taken last year revealed that more than a third of Biketown members said they’d use the service more often if the e-bikes were available.

The ultimate size and geographic scope of the upcoming bike share expansion will depend in part on what vendors offer in response to the RFP. But Hoyt-McBeth made it clear in his language yesterday that expanding the system to places like east and southwest Portland with e-bikes is a foregone conclusion. “We’re really excited about the electric bicycle piece of this,” Hoyt-McBeth said, “We think it will really make a difference — not only for people in general in making biking and bike share more attractive to more people — but also from an equity perspective as we move this system out into east Portland and other areas… hopefully into southwest as well. And with the hills, having an electric bike will really make biking more viable for people.”

If you haven’t noticed, e-bikes are beginning to proliferate on Portland’s bikeways. And if you’ve ridden one, you know first-hand how life-changing they can be. Having power-assist means people can ride further, faster, and carry more stuff without getting as tired. It opens up the idea of cycling to a much broader swath of the population and it allows existing riders to ride even more.

Portlanders got a taste of electric bike share last summer when Jump and Lime offered motorized bikes during a closure of the Portland Aerial Tram.

Last fall, Portland hosted a bike share conference where Ryan Rzepecki, the founder and CEO of Jump, a leading electric bike share company, confirmed to me he was already in talks with PBOT. In his keynote speech, Rzepecki sang the praises of “light electric mobility” and said, “Regular pedal bikes never showed the type of growth and traction as you’re seeing with electric vehicles. The amount of people interested in riding e-bikes or e-scooters is much higher than folks riding a pedal bike because this is mostly about transportation and not recreation or exercise. It’s about getting where you’re going quickly, conveniently, without breaking a sweat. And electric mobility offers that in a way that pedal bikes don’t.”

Biketown’s current system has 1,002 (relatively heavy and slow) non-electric bikes strewn across 147 stations. The city’s contract with Motivate is set to expire on August 1st, 2019. Yesterday PBOT asked council to support an ordinance (PDF) that would extend the existing contract and allow them to increase the value of it by $3.4 million so they could continue to pay Motivate through April 30th, 2020. As per city council demands when the bike share program was established in 2013, Biketown doesn’t use any public funds (beyond Hoyt-McBeth’s staff time, which is paid via general transportation revenue that comes from gas taxes, parking revenue, and so on). PBOT pays Motivate for operation of the system solely through user fees and sponsorship revenue from Nike and Kaiser Permanente.


All commissioners present yesterday were strongly in favor of the ordinance and it passed 4-0 (Mayor Ted Wheeler was absent).

Commissioner Fritz at council yesterday.

The only minor quibble with Biketown came from Commissioner Amanda Fritz.

Just as she did when the bike share plan was first passed in 2015, Commissioner Fritz expressed concerns that Biketown users don’t have easy access to city-provided helmets. “Have we made progress on the helmet issue?” she asked Hoyt-McBeth. “We have not made progress on having something available in real-time,” he replied. Hoyt-McBeth explained that a company PBOT was in discussions with to provide helmets at their kiosks went bankrupt and they have yet to see anyone else enter the market. “When we come back with the new RFP,” he added, “That will be an opportunity to see if there are other solutions out there.”

Commissioner Fritz also used the occasion of yesterday’s meeting to remind people that riding bikes and scooters on sidewalks downtown is not allowed. “People say this is the reason we can’t have nice things. If people continue to break the rules then there will be a problem and they will no longer be able to have the nice things of the bikes and the scooters; because it’s all about shared space and safety.”

Lest you think Commissioner Fritz is anything but a fan of Biketown, she offered Hoyt-McBeth congratulations prior to her “yes” vote. She noted there was zero controversy with Biketown and that the program has been a huge success. “I think it’s definitely a good thing that it has become less controversial and has become more of a way of life.”

And by next summer bike share will be an even larger part of our lives.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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El BicicleroHello, KittysorenEl Biciclero9watts Recent comment authors
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They are mopeds. Bicycles do not have motors. Rebrand it all you want…

Hello, Kitty
Hello, Kitty

>>> Housing prices have forced many Portlanders to live further than ever from jobs and other destinations <<<

I know this is part of The Narrative, but is it actually true that a higher proportion of Portlanders now live further from their jobs and destinations than, say, 10 or 20 years ago? If anything, with all the new apartments in inner Portland, the center of mass has moved inward. Perhaps more accurate would be to say "New housing has allowed Portlanders to move closer to their jobs and destinations."


I don’t want to criticize Fritz too harshly, because she did vote for CCIM, but the solution to sidewalk riding is to provide a safe place for people to ride. There is a huge segment of the population that will not take the lane on SW 4th Ave, but would ride in the (hopefully high quality) protected bike lane we’re going to build on SW 4th.


In the first image… The girl in the foreground… Is it me, or does she look at first glance like a 3D cartoon image of some Shaggy (Scooby Doo) or 2D (Gorillaz) like character? On facebook I had to do a double take.


Correction… There’s 3 people behind her. Two people jogging (count the legs), and the guy in the white shirt, who is standing.


It will be interesting to see what the uptake of bike-share will be like in SW Portland. I am personally dubious that it will work in this corner of Portland, and I predict the bike-share companies will rip out their stations in SW after they discover use is low.

I know SW residents take a lot of crap for driving everywhere, but look at our situation:

– Car2Go and other car-share services won’t serve SW Portland (except for PCC Sylvania, which is isolated and inconvenient and defeats the whole purpose of car-share);
– Other car-share companies have scaled back here;
– SW is very poorly served by Trimet, with routes that provide sparse coverage and run on infrequent schedules;
– Geographical barriers (serious hills) combined with a lack of cycling infrastructure, and even where we have infrastructure there are major obstacles such as the disappearing bike lanes on Barbur and 99W, the hostility of the Riverside Cemetery to cyclists, etc.

One might argue that residents of SW Portland are incentivized to drive everywhere. I’m not saying bike-share can’t work out here – bring it on. But I’d say the odds are stacked against it.


I just used a Jump (Uber) ebike in Washington DC last week, so here’s what they offer. It’s a step-through frame with a quick release seatpost, three gears with twist grip shifter, one power assist level, no throttle, front wheel hub motor, front basket. Basically, you are required to pedal, and power assist is always on. The built-in lock can be unlocked by the Jump smartphone app, and it does not require a return to a docking station. It does allow GPS- defined return zones, so that you are only allowed to end your rental session within designated geographies. The motor was strong enough that you could slowly climb a moderate hill while seated. No speedometer, so I’m not sure what was its top speed, but it felt like 20mph. This type of ebike would fit in well with Portland.

Julie Hammond
Julie Hammond

I have no dog in the helmet/no helmet fight, but folks can look to Vancouver, BC’s Mobi bike share program to see how bike share works with a mandatory helmet law. The design is pretty basic–each bike has its own helmet that connected to retractable cord that locks into the handle bar– and if you don’t want to wear the helmet you can just put it in the front basket (helmet liners are provided at stations). I don’t understand why the e-scooter companies can’t figure such a design out, but that’s a whole other thing…

Photos and such can be found here:

David Lewis
David Lewis

I hope that the e-bikes have more than one level of assist. I recently rode some Jump bikes in Santa Cruz, California. They have a fixed level, and it is very aggressive. Even going up some of the steepest hills in the area in the highest gear, I was rarely able to feel like I was doing much. And I was going at a speed that seemed a little uncomfortable (and I am a very experienced rider). Or at least keep some of the non-assisted bikes in the system for those of us who prefer it.


Sweet. The e-assist makes the heavy bikes way more useful and accessible. I vote for a 15mph governor for the sake of public safety, though.


“Regular pedal bikes never showed the type of growth and traction as you’re seeing with electric vehicles. The amount of people interested in riding e-bikes or e-scooters is much higher than folks riding a pedal bike because this is mostly about transportation and not recreation or exercise. It’s about getting where you’re going quickly, conveniently, without breaking a sweat. And electric mobility offers that in a way that pedal bikes don’t.”

Let’s not forget who is saying this, and also pause to note that most people have always been tempted by what Amory Lovins called ‘energy slaves.’ This is not terribly surprising and I’m not sure how wise it is to base our policy decisions on this kind of consumer vote. Though of course we are used to making policy in precisely this manner.