Portland will add 500 bikes to Biketown bike share system

Commissioner Mingus Mapps rode bike share from City Hall to the announcement this morning. (Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

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.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Daniel Reimer
10 months ago

For context, there are 1,500 bikes right now according to https://www.portland.gov/transportation/bike-share/smm-snapshot which would be a 33% increase.

dw
dw
10 months ago

What excellent news for a Friday morning! I use bikeshare fairly regularly and it’s awesome. I’d love to see the next steps be:

  1. Keep adding bikes and expand south of Foster.
  2. Integrate payment with Hop Fastpass.
  3. Base cost on distance, not time. Sometimes I wanna slow down and enjoy the city!
Potatoman
Potatoman
10 months ago
Reply to  dw

As s some who lives south of Foster, yea…these bikes would be clutch for getting to/from train/bus stations that are a mile or more from my house. Last mile problem isn’t solved when I live about 3/4 of a mile from the boundary.

Jenni S
Jenni S
10 months ago

In Montreal the bike share is great. In Portland I gave up on BIKETOWN because of the frequency of finding NO bikes at racks. I’m dubious adding 500 bikes will help. It seems they need a lesson from Montreal in bike share logistics.

city-lover
city-lover
10 months ago
Reply to  Jenni S

Are the Bixi’s in MTL e-bikes? I thought they weren’t. I go there pretty frequently, and when I used a bixi there it wasn’t electric but that may have changed.

Allan Rudwick
Allan
10 months ago

Your numbers seem a bit off in the article… some zeroes missing? 3,00 to 4,000 an extra space: 1,00 0 bikes.

This is exciting. But I have to say the faster we can get more bikes the better. 2k is not going to be enough but it is taking us in the right direction

maccoinnich
maccoinnich
10 months ago

I can’t understand how this was worthy of a press conference? It’s almost three years into the BIKETOWN 2.0 contract, and they’re adding just 500 bikes. The goal was to get to 3,000 by 2024:

PBOT says they plan to add 1,000 more bikes to the fleet in the coming weeks. That will bring the total number of bikes to 1,500 — compared to the 1,000 we had with the old system. And by 2024 PBOT says we can expect 3,000 bikes in the system and a six square mile expansion of the service area.

maccoinnich
maccoinnich
10 months ago

I guess I’m salty about them putting up the prices 50% a couple months after I’d bought an annual membership, refusing to give me a refund on that, and then holding a press conference to congratulate themselves on not being on track to meet their targets from three years ago.

At this point I’m still a member because I don’t have a choice, but I don’t see myself renewing again.

Todd/Boulanger
Todd/Boulanger
10 months ago

This is GREAT news for cycling in Portland!

PS. The bikesharemap.com dash board has Portland with ~1025 bikes in revenue service today.

https://bikesharemap.com/portland/#/12.562712104826321/-122.6417/45.5375/

bjorn
bjorn
10 months ago

Did the city pay for the 500 bikes? It doesn’t seem clear to me from the article if the city has finally decided to put some level of subsidy into BIKETOWN or if the funding for this increase in the number of bikes came from the recent massive increase in cost to use the system. Frankly it just costs too much so I haven’t rented one in several years. I wish they could get the member cost back to something closer to what it was and reintroduce the XX minutes per day for free if you are a member.

Jenni S
Jenni S
10 months ago
Reply to  bjorn

Yeah it seems people that don’t qualify for a free pass don’t use it anymore. I’m one of those people. Cost is too high and availability of bikes is too low.

Joseph E
Joseph E
10 months ago

I think previous calculations suggest we need 6000 shared bikes to provide enough access in the current service area. That’s still only about 1 per 1000 people, but it they were used 10 times per day it could add up to 1% of trips. Right now with only 1500 bikes and 180 docks you are likely to have to walk 1/4 mile or even 1/2 mile to the closest one, which is much too far when the average trip is under 2 miles total. At this moment, I count 55 docks with 1 or 0 docks on the map, so there are only 125 you can actually use. The lack of docks also makes it hard to plan, if like me you are too cheap to pay to lock up at random locations, or if you often want 2 bikes together since you are traveling with a friend or family.
Now if we had 600 docks and 6000 bikes, you would usually have a dock with 4 bike within 1/4 mile in the whole service area, and you could have bikes on almost every corner downtown. This would make it a much more reliable option for short trips.

Freewheel
Freewheel
10 months ago

Super glad to see more bikes in the system, but we could really use 1) more consistent efforts at rebalancing and getting bikes back to docks, and 2) expansion of the service area to the south.

Steven Smith
Steven Smith
10 months ago

Biketown is too expensive for me to ride regularly.

city-lover
city-lover
10 months ago

I love this. I love Mingus, and that he rides with his kids (which he has done in Buckman regularly since they were little kids). He is the only public official including city counselor, county reps, and school board, whose staff regularly responds to my emails with something other than an autoresponder. I greatly respect that he is not making the perfect the enemy of the good.

I will be very happy when I actually see Biketown bikes at the corrals in Kerns. They have been empty since the launch of the expanded service area a couple years ago. It’s hard to find one, and I would happily pay the fee and use them all the time if they were full.

I'll Show UP
I'll Show UP
10 months ago

Can we also celebrate that we have a politician, for the first time in I don’t know how long, out there being saying words that a real bike advocate would say. I know actions speak louder than words. But, this level of energy for bikes from a politician has been missing for a long time.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
10 months ago

Run for mayor, Mapps! You got my vote

AndyK
AndyK
10 months ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

He seems like a great guy!

Jeremiah Via
Jeremiah Via
10 months ago

This is great news.

I live in an apartment and taking my bike up and down 3 flights of stairs is a real impediment to biking around. Being able to just hop on these bikes is extremely convenient. As other have mentioned, the stations near me were nearly always empty. Hoping this resolves that issue.

Is it possible to buy some of this BIKETOWN swag? Those shirts are great.

FDUP
FDUP
10 months ago

Personally, I still can’t understand why they ditched the entire fleet of non-electric Biketown bikes; the e-bikes should have been added to augment that fleet, not completely replace it.

AndyK
AndyK
10 months ago
Reply to  FDUP

Those tanks were by far the sturdiest and most dependable bikeshare machines ever created. And very stylish. I get nervous knowing that tourists and newbies are ripping around the town at 20mph.

Yolanda S
Yolanda S
10 months ago

“We have a set of hypotheses on the table in terms of why bike ridership is down. 

No need to make this complicated. It’s one word: LAWLESSNESS