If you wandered by Rittenhouse Square yesterday afternoon, you may have noticed a tent with a bunch of shiny bikes parked nearby. And if you timed it juuuust right, you may have even seen Mayor Michael Nutter there. He was at 18th and Walnut with reps from bike-share programs in DC, Boston and Denver to drum up support and interest for Philly’s in-the-works bike share program. And it looks like all systems are go: The mayor has already earmarked $3 million in bike-share seed money from the capital budget—with more on the way, he hopes, from state, federal and private sources to help get it off the ground.
The Boston, DC and Denver reps weren’t just props at the demo tent. Last night, they gathered at the Academy of Natural Sciences, along with our own Deputy Mayor for Transportation and Utilities Rina Cutler and Andrew Stober of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, for a panel discussion on how to get a successful bike-share program off the ground. After each city rep gave a 10-minute presentation on their programs, Stober briefly outlined a plan for Philly’s system. Here are the highlights:
• According to the proposed timeline, Philly’s bike-share program should be up and running by summer or fall 2014. The experts from the other cities, where bike share has existed successfully for several years, agreed that the timeline was realistic—in fact, Boston’s Nicole Freedman said the timeline might even be “a bit conservative.” I’ll take it!
• Philly’s bike-share program will be rolled out in phases, with stations first going into the Center City area—basically from river to river and South to Spring Garden streets, give or take a block or two. Phase II will see the addition of more bikes and stations in areas like West Philly and surrounding neighborhoods, including Fishtown, Point Breeze and Temple.
• Philly’s system will launch with between 100 and 120 stations and include about 1,500 bikes. Planners are aiming for a station density of 13 stations per square mile in the “core area” (i.e. Center City), with an overall density system-wide of eight stations per square mile.
• The team is currently scouting locations for where stations will be located. They were vague on specifics but said they’ve already identified 130 potential sites where bike stations would fit without taking away any parking spots.
• Like DC’s program, Philly’s will most likely be a 24-7, year-round operation. In the event of inclement weather, like snow storms when schools are closed, operators have the ability to lock down the system until the weather clears. Cool!
Beyond the basic whats and wheres, the panel, prompted mainly by audience questions, probed potential safety issues with bike-share systems. Although none of the other bike-share programs require users to wear helmets (Denver said they’ve had no injuries in the few years they’ve been up and running, and DC, which had the largest program of all, reported about 60 accidents, none of which involved head injuries), Boston’s Freedman said she’s about to install helmet vending machines at four stations in her system as part of a pilot program. The dispenser was developed by students at MIT. Helmets can be taken from the bike-pickup station and recycled at the drop-off station. Used helmets will brought back to headquarters at the end of the day to be sanitized. Although Philly’s city officials didn’t say whether the helmet machines would make an appearance here, most everybody agreed that a helmet system of some kind is a must.
Between now and launch date, the city will host several more bike forums to answer questions and gauge interest in the program. Those will be posted here, if you’re interested in attending.