The City of Portland’s transportation bureau has been successful with their bike share system by just about every metric except one: The system has been starved for bikes.
As PBOT expanded the service area to cover 41 square miles of the city and boosted access to the bikes to a wider variety of users through various programs, the one thing we (and many other observers) have grumbled about for a long time is the simple lack of bikes. (Well, that and the price, but that’s a whole other story.)
This morning, PBOT Commissioner Mingus Mapps responded with an announcement that the system will expand by 500 bikes.
“Portland needs more bikes!” Mapps exclaimed at a press conference in front of a row of Biketown bikes and a crowd of media assembled at PSU’s Urban Plaza. “These machines that you see right in front of us are really miracles of technology. They are beautiful.”
In the right hands, bicycles can be powerful political tools — especially in a city desperate for good news. Mapps has yet to full embrace cycling in a very public way. But today, that started to change. Wearing a Biketown t-shirt and a wide grin as he pedaled a bike up SW 5th Avenue from City Hall, he seemed as energized and excited as I’d ever seen him.
“If you’ve never been on an electric assist bike before. The first time you get on one will be like the first time you figured out how to ride a bike. You will rediscover the joy of riding,” Mapps said in his remarks. “And Biketown is for the youth,” he continued. “I’ll tell you, I’m the parents of two young kids. One of the fun funnest activities we’ve had in recent weeks was I gathered the kids and we hopped on a couple of e-bikes, and we went for a ride and it was an amazing experience. They love these things.”
Below audio from Mapps prepared remarks (edited for clarity and brevity):
In an interview with Mapps after the announcement, he said the inspiration for today’s announcement came from a BikePortland post (maybe it was this one about our one big wish from Cycling Santa?). “Frankly, this is a lesson that I think I learned from you,” he said. “I remember seeing a piece that you wrote, which suggested, you know, maybe we can increase bike ridership if we got more Biketown bikes out there. So we’re giving it a shot.”
Asked how/if more Biketown bikes is part of his response to the decline in cycling in Portland, Mapps said:
“We have a set of hypotheses on the table in terms of why bike ridership is down. We’re continuing to find innovative ways to get people back on bikes. Biketown is part of this. Building more bike infrastructure is part of it too. Public education, going out and modeling the kind of behavior that we hope Portlanders will embrace is an important part of it. And listening to the bike community and listening to Portlanders, who tell us where some of the friction is that they face in terms of getting on the bike and using that as their primary transportation tool as opposed to a gas-powered vehicle.”
I then shared with Mapps my opinion that no matter how many bikes we get on the road, if people don’t feel safe, they won’t ride. I told him how many of us are scared when we hear stories like the one about the guy who drove a stolen car 50 mph on the Springwater Corridor path. I asked if he was doing anything to reduce these types of dangerous behaviors and to restore public safety in Portland. He touted a partnership he’s working on with the Portland Police Bureau to recover stolen cars that he says has been “incredibly effective.” Here’s more from his answer:
“I think at this point the strategies we’re using right now, both avoid racial profiling and are 30 times more efficient than what we were doing back in 2018 or whatnot. So I think we finally have a model and plan for getting back on top of this stolen car problem.”
Mapps was clear to say PBOT’s police partnership (thus far) revolves specifically around stolen car missions; but when it comes to making Portland safer in general, he said re-activating public streets is a key part of what he thinks it will take to make that happen:
“Part of the way you make Portland safer is get people back into the community. Eyes -on-the-streets is one of the things that keeps people safe. I think during the pandemic we saw as people retreated, away from their offices and away from restaurants or whatnot that empty space created opportunities for vandalism and other bad behavior to proliferate. I think one of the things that you see even right now in this sort of vibrant streetscape we’re that we’re in right now in Portland State, as we have people around looking out for each other patronizing local businesses: it feels safe, it feels fun. And if we can keep this momentum going, I think Portland is going to continue to be safer.
We need to activate our neighborhoods, downtown, everywhere from downtown to east Portland. What really keeps people safe is a sense of community. So as we get people walking in their neighborhoods, biking their neighborhoods, you know, going down to your local coffee shop, maybe even going into the office sometimes — all of that is going to be incredibly powerful in terms of bringing a sense of normalcy and safety to Portland.”
Using transportation policies, programs and projects to activate people space and renew Portland’s civic pride is another thing Mapps and I agree on.
Hopefully these new bikes will entice even more people out of their homes and into the streets.
Biketown currently has about 1,500 bikes in their fleet. PBOT launched these new e-bikes in 2020 with just 500 of them and a total fleet size of 1,000 bikes. So we’ve doubled the size of the fleet in less than three years. That might seem like a lot, but the system needs a lot more than 2,000 bikes to reach its full potential. PBOT has promised to have 3,000 to 4,000 bikes in the system by 2024. If past performance is a measure of future results, we won’t reach that goal.
Hopefully Mapps remains a strong supporter of “more bikes!” and we get more announcements like this one soon.
The new bikes will be injected into the system in the coming days and through this summer. To further entice riders, all rides will be free (up to 60 mins) this Saturday to coincide with Earth Day.