Thursday, March 25, 2010

I want to ride my bicycle...

By Ariel
Full disclosure, I work for Philadelphia's Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities. The following does NOT reflect any official policy of the City and only my own personal analysis.

Last month, the Philadelphia Bikeshare Concept Study was released. The study was commissioned for the City, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and the William Penn Foundation. On its release it was met with great fanfare, the advocacy group Bikeshare Philadelphia proclaimed “YES to bike share! The study verifies the viability of a Public Use Bicycle Program for the City of Philadelphia.” It is worth it to take a much closer look at this excellently researched study for yourself; not only because the study actually answers a slightly different question than the advocates claim it does, but because viability means something different for institutions than it does for advocates.

The study answers two interrelated questions, is there a market for bikesharing in Philadelphia, and if someone were to build a Bikeshare system, what would it look like? It starts by building a map of where bikesharing could work in Philadelphia based upon the density of people, jobs and retail activity as well as the presence of tourist attractions, parks and transit stops. It is no surprise that the Central Business District (i.e. Center City and parts North and South) and University City constitute this core market.

While this mapping exercise describes what parts of the city would best support bikesharing it does not tell you how big such a program should be. To do that the study reviews three surveys done in Paris, Lyon and Barcelona, big dense cities with significant Bikeshare programs. In each of these cities surveys were conducted that essentially asked, “Without a shared bicycle how would you have completed your trip?” In Lyon 1.4% of the people surveyed would have taken a bus or a subway, while 4.6% of Parisians surveyed gave up transit to use bikeshare (far fewer people gave up their car to use Bikeshare, only .06% surveyed in Lyon and .18% in Barcelona). The study then applied these percentages to kinds of trips people take in Philadelphia within the aforementioned market area. They found that within the core market area, anywhere from 5,900 to 18,200 people might ride Bikeshare on any given day.

This means that for Philadelphia to build a Bikeshare system it would need to have 50 to 160 bike stations with anywhere from 770 to 2,370 bicycles, costing anywhere from $2 to $6 million to set up (the final recommendation is for a $4.4 million dollar initial program that would deploy 1,750 bicycles in only the initial phase).

The issue of money is a big one. Advocates point to the success of the Parisian system, suggesting that bikesharing systems must be built into street furniture contracts with the advertising companies that build bus shelters, etc. But they miss a very important fact: J.C. Decaux only offered to build a Bikeshare system so as to win the contract and Paris must now pay $1 million a year to subsidize the program. With ad revenues as an unpredictable source of funding, and with the city scraping every penny, bikesharing looks less and less attractive from a municipal standpoint. While in Barcelona they pay for bikesharing through a parking fee and looking at the Parking Authority as a “home” for a bikesharing system may be initially attractive, there are serious ramifications for it. The PPA contributes money not just to the City but the School District. Moreover, raising the cost of parking in the City is not an attractive option, just look at the pushback over the soda tax.

The study also notes other issues that must be addressed for a bikeshare program to work in Philadelphia. The City would of course need to “upgrade… the bike-lane/path network throughout the core area to provide safe circulation options for both expert and novice riders. [The City would also need to provide] aggressive levels of education and enforcement to minimize conflict among bikes, cars, and pedestrians on the city’s constrained streets and sidewalks.” It is here where a difference in perspective, between that of the advocate and that of a municipality further diverge.

So far all the easy bike lanes in Philadelphia have been set, more bike lanes, which would make it easier and more attractive for people to ride in Philadelphia, require taking away parking. If anything that would make drivers angrier at bicyclists, and we don’t need more of that. The number of people who park is far larger than those who bike, walk or take transit. And they vote.

In other words, the implementation issue is not simply a financial one, it is a political one. Are we as the City willing to make the trade-offs necessary, and even some of the sacrifices necessary to make bikesharing work? Are we willing to reduce the amount of money that goes to different programs to fund bikeshare? Unfortunately that is not a decision that just the advocates can make. In the end, the most significant challenge is the education one, not simply because the tension between bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers in Philadelphia is untenable, but because all Philadelphians need to see the benefit of bikesharing, not just the bicyclists.


Bike said...

Part 1
As a major bike share program advocate, I am responding to say that I believe you have mischaracterized what bike share advocacy is about, and you definitely have mixed up your facts about bike sharing. Any advocacy group’s main purpose is to push forward a certain concept or idea, just as the advocates for National Health Care pushed for universal health coverage for all Americans. So, when the Philadelphia Bike Share Concept Study, which you rightly advise all to read, was made public and concluded: “This study has verified the general viability of a possible Philadelphia bike share program,” the bike share advocacy group definitely proclaimed, that the study said: “YES to bike share!” The study does verify the viability of a Public Use Bicycle Program for the City of Philadelphia.” The reason for a feasibility study is to determine whether or not something is feasible. This study found that a bike share program in Philadelphia is feasible. Feasible or not, viable or not, no matter how slightly different the question that you believe the study answers, the answer the study gave wasn’t NO, but YES to the concept!
In my opinion, it is unfair of you to write that “institutions” view viability differently than advocates. Advocates do understand the difficulties of overlaying an additional form of public transportation on a city, a multi-million dollar price tag and that it must be done right to achieve its greatest potential. But, their role is to promote concepts and help make them successful. I also don’t understand (and find a little disingenuous) why you did not state, outright, that you work for one of these “institutions:” The Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, and did not to clarify whose views you are opining. Does your blog post represent your views, or those of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation? Do your doubts and perceived hurdles of making bike sharing possible constitute the issues about which that the Office is most concerned?

Bike said...

Part 2
I’m disappointed that your post did not reflect the facts about the Paris program. Paris planned for their program for over a year after seeing the success of the program in Lyon. The Mayor’s office in Paris wanted to duplicate a system in the capital. Contrary to what you wrote, the City of Paris nullified an existing street furniture contract to ask for a new one with bike sharing. After contentious bidding and a court battle to supply the city with bike sharing, JCDecaux won the contract by offering to double the amount of bikes asked for in the request for proposal. It also agreed to pay all the cost in setting up and running the program, pay the city of Paris €4.5 million a year over the ten year contract for this privilege and give all the proceeds from the subscription sales and usages charges to the city minus a 12% handling fee. In return, JCDecaux would have the exclusive right to sell the advertising space on the existing 1,600 city owned billboards and street panels, (page 10 Sustainable Transport, Fall 2007.) In the fall of 2009 the contract was renegotiated to have the City pay €400 for the replacement of each unusable damaged or stolen bike after JCDecaux covered the cost for the first 800 bikes per year. Also in addition to the 12% handling fee, JC Decaux would receive 35% of the yearly revenues above the first €14,000,000 to the city and then 50% of anything above €17,000,000 a year. In other words, it is possible that between the cost of replacing the 801st bike and the new percentage of revenue over €14,000,000 that Paris could need to “subsidize” the program by the reduction of revenue. There is debate over the reason why the contract was renegotiated. It is said that the new contract was a result of unexpected higher maintenance cost due to such heavy usage of the bikes, the operating company wanted a larger share of the fees, and the city wanted more control over customer service and the data collected. As for Barcelona, only a portion of the cost to run the program is covered by a parking tax, the rest of the cost is funded by the revenue from a non related street furniture advertising contract. (see page 65 of The Philadelphia Bike Share Concept Study)
I’m also disappointed that you appeared to denigrate all the hard work the Streets Department has done, over the past years, to install over 200 miles of bike lanes by characterizing it as “easy”. Additionally, it is over simplistic to presume that all new bike lanes will require getting rid of on street car parking, which I’m sure is not true. Isn’t it the goal of the City to make Philadelphia a city of “complete streets” for all users, automobiles, bicyclist and pedestrians! Also, your characterization of how difficult it will be to improve infrastructure appears to ignore that the Philadelphia Planning Commission is about to release a Bicycle /Pedestrian Master Plan which calls for adding new bike lanes and marked shared lanes in Center City (and elsewhere in half of the City’s planning units).

Bike said...

Part 3
In almost every bike sharing program around the world, in the weeks and months leading up to the launch of the program, there is an extensive public educational component to get the word out for sharing the road, on how to ride a bike in the city, and the rules of the road. This is directed toward all street and road users. These educational programs continue well after the programs begin and are many times coupled with new enforcement initiatives. Periodically, these programs are brought back as a refresher course. Education has also been a leading issue for bicycle advocates in Philadelphia, not just bike sharing advocates. No one takes this lightly.
There is one thing that you got absolutely right. All Philadelphians need to see the benefits of Bike Sharing, because bike sharing isn’t really for current bicyclist. It is to make Philadelphians think of alternatives to using a private car when the trip could cost less, take less time, create more opportunities for exercise and make a healthier Philadelphian. I hope that this remains a goal of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities.
Russell Meddin

Pam said...

wow - thats a big sermon Bike. I think you took a simple blog post and went a little nuts. I'm a fan of biking and bike programs but dude calm down.

Ariel Ben-Amos said...

Russel, you are right that I should have identified myself and have done so, editing the post above as you may have noticed. I also thank you for helping fill in some of the details regarding J.C. Decaux

Dan said...

I read the the study that said bikesharing was feasible and it wasn't clear to me who the potential users are given the initial focus on having a river to river system south of Spring Garden and North of Washington Ave. The study talks about multi-modal commuters who after getting off the the El or Broad Street line would then rent a bike to complete their commute. How many are going to rent a bike in order to avoid walking a few blocks? Most of the major employers in Philadelphia are within a few blocks of the major transportation hubs in Center City.

Tourists are often cited as potential users of bike shares but few tourist will want to ride anywhere except for the trails around the Art Museum. Does anyone seriously think that tourists will rent bikes near Independence Hall and ride them to the Art Museum?

Bike Share advocates would do well to focus their efforts towards improving the transportation infrastructure for bikes instead of a rental program. This would benefit all cyclists. While Russell may be correct that there have been more than 200 miles of bike lanes installed in Philadelphia recently, I suspect that the vast majority of these bike lanes are outside the area of the proposed bike share program. I see bike lanes all over Northeast Philadelphia but not so many in Center City. I think that the city needs to do a better job keeping roads well paved and to identify and implement more bike lanes before casual bike share users will feel comfortable riding in Center City.

alison c said...

I preface my comments by disclosing that as well as being a Philadelphia native, current resident and avid bike rider, I also work to implement bike sharing systems in cities around the world.

I don't like hashing things out on a blog, and would not do it in any city in which I am working, but since this is home, I wanted to respond to Dan's comment. I'm glad you took the time to read the feasibility study.

The comment focused on two specific uses for a bike share system: a commuter coming in from the suburbs who works near city hall, and a tourist.

These are two potential users.

First, responding directly to the comment, I would argue that there are many, many employers outside of a 2-minute walk from the major train stations (read most of Penn, Drexel, hospitals, shopping areas by Old City, Penns Landing, South Street and *tons* more), and research has shown that people will pick up a bike if they need to walk more than 300 yards. In addition, your example of a tourist going from Independence hall to the Art Museum is a perfect example of a trip that is amazing and different on a bike, about 1.5 miles, either a taxi ride or a 40 minute walk, or a 5-10 minute ride. I took my honeymoon in Paris riding bikes everywhere, and it was an unforgettable, convenient and green way to see the city.

However, beyond these two potential users, you can come up with hundreds of others. For example, the young professional who lives near Fitler Square and works at 17th and Market. 5 minute ride. Their partner who works at Penn. 5 minute ride. The person who lives in Fairmount and works out in the suburbs (hopefully near a train station) can ride to 30th Street and jump on the train. The person who works in West Philly and meets their friend in Rittenhouse Square for lunch and takes the train home.

Bike sharing creates a network. Just like the internet, one can't predict exactly how it will be used. People will find a way to use it if it is designed well. Laying down the network will allow people who live, work and visit our city to have the option of getting around quickly and affordably (most are $7 per month or less) without bringing a car.

You are 100% correct, however, that the infrastructure to make it safer for people to bike in Philadelphia must be improved along with helping to increase the number of riders through a bike sharing system.