SLC Bike Share: A labor of love

By Ben Bolte

Green Bike, SLC Bike Share Director

http://www.facebook.com/SLCBikeShare

What’s Bike Share?

A Bike Share program is a network of many bike share stations where members can take ANY BIKE, from ANY STATION, as many times as they like for one price.

Bike Share trips are short trips that get you from point A to point B (typically 30 minutes or less). Stations are near other stations and popular destinations for food, drink, and entertainment. “Grab a bike from wherever you are and drop the bike off wherever you end up.”

Bike Share is not bike-rental. Bike rental is renting a specific bike (mountain, road, cruiser), for a specific person (big/small, man/woman) for an extended amount of time (24 hours or more). You are responsible for that bike.Bike Share bikes are designed for one job, short trips in the city by people wearing regular clothes and carrying ordinary stuff. These bikes are one-size-fits-all and the only thing you may need to adjust is the seat.

Bike Share removes the standard deterrents of riding a bike in the city and is focused on convenience. You don’t need to bring a lock because you’re not concerned with the bike or its parts being stolen. Your clothes are protected by a full chain guard, dress guard and fenders. A wider seat, upright & step-thru frame makes for a comfortable and reliable ride in an urban environment. My personal favorite part is that you’re not responsible for maintenance.

You don’t have to ask yourself, did I bring my lock? Pump? Spare tube? Lights? Change of shoes? Bike Share creates a scenario that makes it easy for someone to try riding a bike instead of taking their car. And it will result in a large segment of people experiencing cycling for transportation for the first time.

I believe that the average non-biking motorist will try Bike Share because it’s convenient and have a change of heart towards how they feel about cyclists in the road. People are unlikely to change their perspective about something until they become a participant in it.

Think about trying to cross a busy street downtown. When you’re driving, the person in the crosswalk is in your way, and many a muffled expletive has been uttered about how that pedestrian acts like he owns the place or needs to hurry up. After all, you’re driving. You’ve got somewhere important to be!

When you’re the pedestrian, it’s TERRIFYING. Cars are zipping by and all you’re trying to do is cross the street. But you never thought about it until you had the experience.

My hope is that when more people know how it feels to have a car blow past, inches from knocking you over only to arrive at the light seconds before you, that they will realize how scary and frustrating that experience is. Because life is all about shared experiences.

Another great thing about Bike Share is that it will serve as an enhancement to existing public transit options in Salt Lake City. Wouldn’t you be more inclined to take Trax if you could grab a bike from a station located at your stop that allows you to drop off the bike at another station that’s at your destination? Bike Share addresses what’s known as the first and last mile problem of mass transit. Currently, people often have to walk several blocks to a couple miles to reach their desired destination once they exit the train. Or it’s inconvenient for them to get to the train in the first place.

Plus you don’t have to bring your bike with you on the train, which can be inconvenient at best or miss your bus entirely because the bike racks on the front of the bus are already full. Each bus can only carry two bikes at any given time.

Are We Getting Bike Share?

Yes. Our program will launch in spring of 2013 in Downtown SLC.  Bike Share programs have been around for a long time in many different forms all over the world. Many started as community projects where donated bicycles, often in poor condition, were all painted the same color and released into an urban center of a city. A “find a bike, ride a bike” mentality. These programs rarely if ever were successful. Bikes were stolen, vandalized or thrown into a river. Bikes that weren’t destroyed were not maintained and people didn’t know where they were, which makes it hard to plan a commute.

When Mayor Becker began seeing Bike Share systems utilizing GPS and automated locking systems in Europe and more recently in the U.S. in 2010 in cities like Denver http://denver.bcycle.com/, he asked the Salt Lake City Transportation Division to look into it. I was the lead researcher on this project. An RFP was written, but the City didn’t have any funding available at the time. And certainly not enough to come up with the $800,000 it would take to get a skeleton system of 10 or so Bike Share stations up and running. So the Director for the Salt Lake City Transportation Division, Tim Harpst, asked Jason Mathis, Executive Director for the Downtown Alliance, if they would be interested in taking the lead.

The Downtown Alliance has a great track record of serving as an incubator for a variety of initiatives and are still in charge of many projects that benefit our community, including the Downtown Farmer’s Market at Pioneer Park, The SLC Live Green Festival, First Night, Eve, Dine-O-Round, The Holiday Arts and Craft Market and most recently the Jingle Bus: http://www.downtownslc.org/events/jingle-bus .

Jason saw the potential that Bike Share could have on making Downtown an even better place to live, work and play. But it wasn’t until he used Washington DC’s Capital Bike Share that he became a passionate advocate.

In June of 2011, the Downtown Alliance received $25,000 and me from Salt Lake City to see if we could make a Bike Share program happen. Now remember, we needed at least $800,000 to get a starter system in place. Over 60% of that money would go towards the capital purchase of bicycles, stations, solar panels, docks, freight, installation and assembly. The other costs would go towards operations. Things like maintenance on the bikes, grant writing, community outreach, fundraising, marketing, legal, administrative costs and “rebalancing” the bikes. Rebalancing is moving the bikes around the network of stations so that there are always a given amount of bicycles and open docks available. It wouldn’t be good if you arrive at a station and it’s either completely empty or completely full.

The $25,000 was used to pay me while we researched different models such as profit vs. non-profit, public/private partnerships and a variety of fee-structures. It was difficult to find lots of data because there were only a few cities in the U.S. at this time that had operational Bike Share programs, while others were completing their first year of operations.

We eventually decided that a non-profit model that was a public/private partnership was the best option and began fundraising with the help of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. In February of 2012, we were lucky enough to find a fantastic title sponsor in SelectHealth and so far we’ve raised enough money to purchase 11 stations and 100 bicycles. The more sponsors and grants we find, the more stations and bikes we buy.

Green Bike was created to be Utah’s Bike Share brand. Salt Lake City will be the guinea pig but the long-term goal is to have Bike Share stations across the region, connected by light rail, and to have a universal access pass that is compatible with UTA’s “tap it” pass. The next Utah municipalities to connect to SLC Bike Share with their own satellite bike share systems will most likely be Ogden and Provo.

SLC Bike Share is a 501(c)3 non-profit that was created to operate and manage our city’s Bike Share program. The initiative is a partnership between the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Alliance, Salt Lake City Government and the private sector sponsors who will make operations possible. Our Board of Directors are Mayor Becker, Robin Hutcheson, Transportation Director for Salt Lake City, Scott Beck, CEO and President of Visit Salt Lake, Jason Mathis, Executive Director of the Downtown Alliance, Executive VP Salt Lake Chamber, Ted Knowlton, the Deputy Director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, Dee Brewer, Marketing and Sponsorship Director for City Creek, Bill Cutting, Marketing Director for the Tour of Utah, and our Board Chair is Tim Harpst, a now consultant and former Director of the Salt Lake City Transportation Division.

Until our website launches in February, check us out on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SLCBikeShare . The more “likes” we get, the easier it is to show potential sponsors and political officials that there is support in the community for this great project.

Links to other Bike Share program in the U.S.

Ben Bolte is the director of SLC Bike Share and Green Bike. He attended the University of Utah and earned degrees in Political Science and Business.

One response to “SLC Bike Share: A labor of love

  1. Pingback: Salt Lake City Bike-Sharing Program to Launch in April | Architectural Nexus·

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