Three Reasons Bike Share Will Succeed in Philly

I am thrilled that Philadelphia is getting a bike share program. And I am terrified the city is going to screw it up.

Let’s face it: This city doesn’t always have a great track record when it comes to implementing forward-thinking projects that benefit the common good. Remember the citywide wifi project? There’s no particular reason that shouldn’t have worked, except that we’re Philly … and sometimes these things just don’t work out.

Philadelphia institutions aren’t doing the greatest job these days. The schools are a near-disaster, and while City Hall isn’t in the same kind of trouble, agencies like L&I seem to veer between making it impossible to get a business started and letting dangerous demolitions occur with minimal supervision. So you can understand why I feel some trepidation about the ultimate success of a bike share program here.

There are three reasons for optimism, though.
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Mayor Nutter: Bike Share in Philly by Summer 2014

Just got a long press release from Mayor Nutter’s office (see below). Basically, the city’s ready to start a bike-sharing program of the type that’s been so popular in New Yorkexcept among Ayn Randian capitalists—it’ll roll out in summer of 2014, with a cost of $10-$15 million raised from state and federal grants as well as private sponsorships; no local tax dollars will be used.

We say: Hooray! (Although announcing this program right when the schools are starving for money is a little tin-eared, maybe, but still: We should be able to have good transit options and good schools in the city, right? Besides, we like to think this announcement is making Stu Bykofsky turn red somewhere.)

Anyway, here’s the whole, very detailed press release:

Thursday, August 22, 2013 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Philadelphia, August 22, 2013 –Mayor Michael A. Nutter and Deputy Mayor for Transportation and Utilities Rina Cutler announced the completion of the Philadelphia Bike Share Strategic Business Plan and the release of a Request for Expressions of Interest to host or sponsor bike share stations.

The Philadelphia Bike Share Strategic Business Plan proposes an operationally viable and self-supporting size and scope for bike sharing in Philadelphia. Bike sharing is quickly becoming an integral part of transportation networks in cities around the country and around the world.  Implementing a top-quality system is imperative as Philadelphia strives to improve its status as a city of choice.

“This past Monday, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board wrote that bike sharing is just what the city needs and I couldn’t agree more.  This is a rare opportunity where $3 million City capital budget dollars can be leveraged with millions more of state and federal transportation funds and private funds to create a new form of convenient, affordable and healthy public transportation,” said Mayor Nutter.

The program is expected to have a capital cost between $10-15 million, which will be raised from state and federal transportation grants as well as private sponsors.  This system is not anticipated to require any public operating subsidy.

In Philadelphia, the plan calls for a system of 150 to 200 bike sharing stations and 1,500 to 2,000 bikes that will serve an area that stretches from the Delaware River into West Philadelphia, from the Navy Yard through Center City to beyond Temple University’s main campus in North Philadelphia. The system is projected to generate nearly two million trips per year by residents, commuters, students and visitors.

Bike sharing helps connect residents, commuters and visitors to more of Philadelphia’s businesses, institutions and attractions and provides a clear benefit to the hosts of stations as well as the thousands of users expected each day.  Bike sharing will be another incentive to choose Philadelphia as a place to live, to work and enjoy.  It can also provide a healthy and affordable transportation alternative to a diverse group of City residents.

“We’ve seen bike sharing work amazingly well in other cities, but we know that we have to tailor our system to meet the needs of Philadelphians, which is why I’m asking everyone to take some time to think about where they’d like to see bike sharing in their neighborhoods or workplaces,” said Deputy Mayor Cutler, as she urged Philadelphians to go to and put their preferred bike share locations on the map.

“I’ve been impressed with the seriousness with which the City is approaching launching a bike sharing system. I expect the system will be operationally self-sufficient and leverage a small City investment to have a large impact,” said Robert Victor Comcast’s Senior Vice President of Strategic and Financial Planning.

Businesses and property owners who recognize the advantages of being linked directly to this new system at their locations are urged to respond to the City’s request for letters of interest. These non-binding expressions of interest will serve a valuable function in helping the City plan for implementation and of a world class bike sharing system to Philadelphia. The City is looking for partners at several levels:

  • Station sponsors: Businesses, property owners and institutions who decide to underwrite stations on or near their property will be assured placement when the system rolls out in late summer 2014.
  • Station hosts: Property owners willing to locate bike sharing stations on or near their property will be considered for deployment in the early stages of bike sharing.

Hosts and sponsors will be indemnified from all liability by the system operator who will manage and operate the system.  The City will be releasing an RFP for a firm to perform this service in the early fall.

Many of the major real estate holders in the city have already confirmed their intention to support bike sharing stations.  According to Jerry Sweeney, CEO of Brandywine Property Trust, “Sponsoring and hosting a bike sharing stations at the Cira Centre and our other properties in Philadelphia is an obvious business decision. Property owners who are serious about providing transportation options and quality amenities to their tenants are going to support bike share.”

Bill Hankowsky, CEO of Liberty Property Trust commented, “Bike Sharing is an exciting program that is already creating a new dynamism in some of the world’s greatest cities. Many of our tenants from The Navy Yard to Comcast Center have embraced bike commuting and many more are poised to take advantage of this new transportation option.”

“For our students, faculty and staff, bikes share is sure to become an important transportation option, which is why we expect Penn to be home to several stations,” said Penn Vice President for Business Services Marie Witt.

GlaxoSmithKline enthusiastically supports efforts to bring a world-class bike sharing system to Philadelphia.  “Bike sharing is a natural fit for the city and GSK, as it is completely in line with our goal of building healthy communities everywhere we work and live,” said Michael Fleming, Head, Corporate Engagement.  “An accessible, easy-to-use bike sharing program will greatly enhance transportation choices for residents, students, workers and visitors to our area. These improvements will certainly benefit our employees, and we look forward to working with the City of Philadelphia to finalize the details of a bike sharing station installation that can support the growing, thriving healthy community at The Navy Yard.”

“A community bike sharing could transform not only how people travel in Philadelphia, but also how they exercise and stay well,” said Independence Blue Cross President and CEO, Daniel J. Hilferty. “For example, for people struggling with depression or obesity, taking active transportation — by riding a bike through a bike sharing system — could help tackle these important health challenges.”

“We believe that Bike Sharing in Philadelphia has a unique opportunity to bring an inexpensive and flexible form of transportation to the people that really need that.  More than half of all Philadelphians who live below the poverty line will live within walking distance of a bike share station. The Bicycle Coalition is committed to helping the City reach out into the communities and help make sure that nobody is left out from this great new form of transportation,” said Alex Doty, Executive Director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

Russell Meddin of Bike Share Philadelphia and member of the Bike Share Advisory Group said, “The progress made by the City and the Bike Share Advisory Group has positioned Philadelphia to truly have a chance at creating one of the most innovative bike share programs in the United States. Now is the time for Philadelphia’s businesses and institutions to partner with the City in this 21st century endeavor.”

Information on how to recommend a bike sharing site for your neighborhood, and how to become a station host or sponsor for a bike sharing station can be found at the City of Philadelphia’s website, which will be the home for all official information on bike sharing in Philadelphia.

The Business Plan was completed by Toole Design and Four Square Integrated Transportation Planning in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and a business advisory group from the private sector including representatives from Comcast, Glaxo Smith Klein, Independence Blue Cross, Liberty Properties Trust and the University of Pennsylvania.  Funding for this effort was provided by the William Penn Foundation.


Video: Eccentric Dude Gives Spinning Lessons to Homeless People on Bike Share

One of the issues Philly’s eventual bike share program must grapple with is how to make it accessible to low-income people. Here’s an idea, out of New York, where a man who goes by “The Fat Jew” is leading Soul Cycle-style “spinning classes” for homeless people at CitiBike docks. Fabulous!

Let the music take over! Do you guys want bitching definition?! [Jewcy]

Forget Bikeshare. Flying Bikes Are Here.

Czech inventors have unveiled the first functioning flying bicycle since the release of E.T. in 1982.

It only has enough battery power to fly for five minutes, and it looks like someone else has to fly it for you. Still, if the Dorothy Rabinowitz of Philadelphia manages to kibosh our forthcoming bikeshare program, here’s a mode of transportation that won’t bully the poor cars off the road.

I Tried New York’s Bike Share

Over the weekend, I tested New York’s weeks-old CitiBike bike share program. An unhealthy amount of my time was spent idling at intersections, bashfully deflecting the glowing attaboy stares I was getting from do-gooder Brooklynites. And the first station I tested—right at City Hall—was defective.

The first station I tried didn't work. Nobody could get the bikes out of the docks.

But amid all the distractions, I also made some mental notes about what Philly’s eventual bikeshare—due in the fall of 2014—could learn from New York’s.

  • Skeptical New York taxpayers haven’t spent a dime. Citibank is bankrolling the implementation and rollout of New York’s program for at least the next five years, at a cost of $41 million; Mastercard bought the payment software. That’s why their logos are all over the place. While Michael Nutter is asking for $3 million from Council and another $5 million to $6 million from the state, the feds and private donations to kick off Philly’s bike share, he should seriously exhaust sponsorship options before doing so. (Citizens Bank, Wells Fargo?) The city’s broke, and compared to New York, many more of its residents are too. It’s going to be near-impossible for a lame-duck Nutter to ask overtaxed citizens to pick up the slack for an inherently yuppie goo-goo enterprise like bike share.
  • Speaking of broke taxpayers. Philly’s bike share program has got to be way cheaper to use. A yearly membership in New York costs $95. Annual median income in New York is $56,000. Annual median income in Philadelphia is $37,000. To keep it proportional, Philly should charge about $60 a year instead.
  • If bike share is going to work in downtown Philly—whose economy depends in large part on tourists—it needs to make the program very attractive to visitors. One of the biggest flaws with CitiBike is that for non-annual members, the only options are daily or seven-day subscriptions. Three-day passes, perfect for the Liberty Bell set, need to be available in Philly, as they are in D.C.
  • CitiBike features little safety-reminder signs like these.

That’s all well and good, and I haven’t seen it anywhere else yet. But let’s go a step further, and install helmet-dispensing machines, as Boston is.

  • CitiBike completely ignores Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, and all of Manhattan north of 59th Street—including Harlem and other poorer areas of the upper part of the island. If Philly, with a much smaller downtown and a cluster of poorer neighborhoods relatively close to Center City, ignores those populations, its bike share will suffer from underuse.
  • New York offers discounted annual CitiBike memberships for two-thirds the cost. But only those who live in public housing get to use it. That’s not a ton of people, and that’s not a heck of a discount, either. In Boston, meanwhile, anyone who proves they are low-income, receives any form of government assistance, or lives in public housing, gets a membership for $5 a year. Again, to get Philly’s comparatively poorer population to use bike share, that’s more like it.
  • After four hours of CitiBiking—from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back again—I never once got “dockblocked.” Dockblocking, which happened to me all the time when I lived in D.C. last year, is the enraging experience of arriving at a station only to find all the spots filled. New York has helped ensure that rarely happens by building twice as many ports as bikes. Philly should do the same.
  • The issue I had with a defective dock at City Hall was not an isolated one. Alta, the system operating CitiBike—which also runs the programs in D.C. and Boston—is experiencing some serious bugs in New York. If that persists, and Philly ultimately can’t cobble together the money for the standard-bearer Alta bikes, it might want to consider an alternate model debuting in Hoboken, New Jersey this summer. “Social Bicycles” can be parked at regular bike racks within the system’s boundaries; they’re tracked using portable locks that double as computer pads on which users can rent the bikes.

The system ain’t perfect, but neither is Philly—whatever bike share it chooses, I have a sneaking suspicion the city’s fall 2014 roll-out date might be a tad optimistic.

Philly Bikeshare Won’t Be Docked on Sidewalks OR Streets

At a forum in Philly last week, a representative from D.C’s Capital Bikeshare described the phenomenon of being “dockblocked,” in which one shows up to park a bike and all the dock spaces have been filled. Especially at night, in high-traffic areas like Dupont Circle, any Washingtonian can attest that this is a common phenomenon. Well in Philly, the docks themselves are getting dockblocked.

Today, Inga Saffron reports that Philly’s forthcoming bikeshare program will include docking stations neither on sidewalks nor on streets themselves. Verdant parks like Rittenhouse Square will probably be off-limits too. All of which raises the question: Where else can they go? Here’s the city’s answer:

[The city has] identified 130 locations that fit the city’s strict siting criteria. Many proposed docking stations could be installed on private property, such as the Comcast tower plaza, when the owner agrees, or on the aprons fronting city museums.

Well, wherever you put them, maybe don’t get them from the firm that makes equipment for Capitol Bikeshare, which is being investigated by the Department of Labor for not paying adequate wages. [Inquirer]