Saturday, December 3, 2016

Is Salem ready for Bikeshare? Corvallis could be Template

A few days ago the paper ran a brief photo gallery of the new Corvallis bikeshare system, and gave the name of a Salem couple working to bring bikeshare here.

The Corvallis system launched last summer, and it's worth a little discussion.

Here are some excerpts from an ODOT summary of it:
Before BikeTown launched in Portland in July, Corvallis became the second community in Oregon to launch a public bikeshare system. Jackson County started its program in 2015.

Corvallis’ bikeshare program, Pedal Corvallis, rolled into town on June 30 thanks to a collaboration between several community partners, including the region’s Medicaid provider – the InterCommunity Health Network Coordinated Care Organization (IHN-CCO) – and the Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments (OCWCOG), a regional planning and service-delivery agency that covers Benton, Lincoln, and Linn Counties.
The close involvement of healthcare and the local MPO is remarkable. It would be interesting if Salem Health and SKATS/MWVCOG, or a similar group, emerged in Salem. (The Lund Report has more on it as a health initiative aimed at Medicaid clients.)

Station at Good Sam in Corvallis - via OCWCOG
(But is that convenient location?)
There are 6 stations and 35 bikes throughout town. Station locations are:
  • Downtown Transit Center, 5th Street and Monroe Avenue • Oregon State Credit Union, 1980 NW 9th Street
  • Lincoln Health Center, 121 SE Viewmont Avenue
  • Benton County Health Department, 530 NW 27th St.
  • Osborn Aquatic Center, 1940 NW Highland Drive
  • SamFit / Samaritan Square, 777 NW 9th Street #310
The bikes are equipped with front and rear lights, a basket, and a U -lock. Helmets are being provided free to a limited number of IHN-CCO members. The system also includes 2 trikes, to accommodate loads such as groceries or laundry, as well as for the benefit of participants who may have balance challenges. All Pedal Corvallis stations are located within two blocks of a Corvallis Transit System stop or closer.

An annual Pedal Corvallis membership costs $25, a month pass costs $10, and a 3-day pass costs $5. Trips up to 2 hours are free at all membership levels. The program is open to anyone age 18 and older, and membership is free for IHN-CCO members.
Corvallis of course has fareless transit and a very large population of college students. But the six stations are not very closely spaced, and really appear oriented towards the CCO members. It's not obvious that the stations are really very convenient for the general public. Do you go to a clinic first, traveling by bus or something, and then get on the bikeshare? The stations seem to be located at trip end or trip middle rather than trip start. As a system, distinct from it as any emblem of bikeyness or urbane cool, it doesn't appear all that functional. Maybe the integration with transit is key and better than it appears on the surface, even with stations not more than two blocks from a transit stop. But it just looks like it requires too much trip planning to use in an easy, convenient, frictionless way.

So what are the real prospects for Salem?

Two young people working in the healthcare sector want to bring it here.

Jenna and Evan Osborne have started Osborne Adventures for a venture with a working name of Capitol City Cycleshare.

The Osborne Adventures/Capitol City Cycleshare concept at the moment seems to be aimed more at tourism than as an extension of public transit or a health initiative.
Most recently, Evan and I have been working toward bringing a bike share to our home town of Salem, Oregon!

On one of our travels to Minneapolis, Minnesota several years ago, bike-share programs were discovered. Our experience in MN led to travel goals of riding bike shares around the world. The major cities of Paris, London, Amsterdam, New York, Chicago, and Miami are some of the bike-sharing opportunities we have enjoyed.

From that first experience in MN, the founding members of Osborne Adventures made a wish that such program would come to the city of Salem. That wish is becoming a reality. Salem’s bike-share program is around the corner! Planning is still in the early stages with the city and bike program, but we are anticipating a mid-spring launch!
But Salem is nothing like these cities, and the hugeness of ambition here may not be queuing things up for an actually achievable success in Salem.

More writing and thinking about the Corvallis system, and less about London and Paris, might be salutary at this point.

To be honest, Salem has seemed like a stretch for bikeshare still. Answers on the practical details about where to put stations, who will find them convenient and who will use them, and whether city streets are welcoming enough have seemed elusive yet. Willamette University, Chemeketa Community College, the Capitol Mall (especially during the summer Legislative session), and the Minto-Riverfront-Wallace Park system have seemed like logical places with potential demand. But would there be enough demand in an on-going way for a sustainable business? Will there be enough stations and close enough spacing that they are easy to use?

On the other hand, it would be so great if bikeshare was actually viable!

If bringing bike share to Salem is something that fires your imagination, go connect with Osborne Adventures and see how you can help. Even if it didn't work, it could be a noble failure, something worth failing on, and a project that would bring other ancillary benefits for walking and biking and transit.

(This isn't something I've been following closely. Yeah, the stance here is a little "concern-troll-y" and that's one reason why we haven't been chasing after this story. Better to let it develop than to hover over it with skepticism or nay-sayerey, right?)

Northwest Hub at Market and Broadway
(Totally ready for some sun again!)
If bike share here isn't quite your speed just yet, this past week Northwest Hub asked for donations:
Want to help our newest neighbors in need of transportation this #givingtuesday? We're experiencing a significant increase in bicycle commuter package requests and seeking support to purchase refugee resettlement families the following: $20 will purchase a refurbished children's bike. $50 will purchase a helmet, lights, fenders and u-lock for a ressettlement commuter.
Update, December 4th

The article is out and here's some more detail:
The couple’s plan calls for 50 bikes at 10 spots around Salem, though other Zagster locations in Oregon each have less than 40 bikes.

But they need money to make it happen.

In anticipation of a mid-Spring opening, the Salem nonprofit has applied for city and state grants and recently sent out flyers to advertise tax-deductible sponsorships, with annual options that range from $250 to $10,000 each. Some of those options include getting a business' name on the bikes, an advertising incentive....

[For comparison] As of last Wednesday, [the Corvallis] program had 968 total trips, according to Campi, with 88 active members.
The Corvallis membership numbers really underscore the problem: According to the Lund Report piece, the Council of Governments invested about $100k in the program. That's a little over $1,000 per member, each of whom is taking on average a little over 10 trips in the 5 months it's been going - two measly trips/month.

In order to achieve efficiencies of scale and to enjoy real network benefits, a bike share system really needs to be bigger than 5 or 10 stations with 30, 40, or 50 bikes. We should not want a system whose members take two trips per month.

By comparison $1,000 donated to the Hub would go much farther and would provide bikes and support for several people.

Maybe there's a path to successful bike share program in Salem, but I'm just not seeing it.

But, again, if you see a path, go help the Osbornes! Make it happen! - because it would be so great to be wrong on this.


Jenna Osborne said...

Thank you so much for your interest in our endeavors and for featuring us on your site. We are optimistic and enthusiastic, while remaining realistic about Salem’s biking opportunities. Our mission is to engage Salem’s community by offering a healthy and active outlet, as well as environmentally-friendly transportation option. Tourism is a by-product of what demographic that may benefit from our program. As healthcare professionals with years of treating symptoms of chronic diseases, the health of our community and promoting active lifestyles is our strongest motivating factor to pursue this philanthropic endeavor.

Thank you again for presenting our program, as well as promoting the Northwest Hub (a local and greatly commendable nonprofit). We look forward to gaining the community’s support as we work to deliver this bike-sharing opportunity to our City!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jenna!

The article by Jonathan Bach is out, and offered a few more details. But they aren't very helpful details, alas. If the Corvallis program has 88 members, and over the five months they've been open those members have taken 968 trips, that's about two trips per month per member.

That's not very good at all.

Anyway, good luck with the project! It would be a wonderful thing to be all wrong about the skepticism!

Kaileigh W. said...

I think the idealism is commendable, but I worry that a bike share program located at Riverfront Park is not what is needed in Salem. I have the same concerns with Mayor Elect Chuck Bennett's ideas of bringing Uber to Salem. The thought is great, but does that really address the needs and concerns of all Salem residents? I personally would love to see both (bike share & Uber) but I don't feel like it addresses the majority of the needs of Salem.

I am reminded of an experience I had while traveling in a remote village in Nicaragua. Humanitarian aid workers were noticing that many families had their wood burning clay ovens inside their homes and families were getting sick from the smoke. So they raised thousands of dollars to build brick ovens outside the homes to improve air quality. Upon a return visit, they found that multiple families were still using their ovens inside and using the newly built ovens as tables. The aid workers, although they had the best intentions hadn't considered the culture and needs of the families when installing the ovens and their efforts were wasted.

Generally in Salem, I would love to see more evidence that projects are wanted, needed, and will be utilized by residents. Even the new bike lanes, while I think they're great, seem to be underutilized and more effort could have put into engaging communities in alternative forms of transportation--THEN install the bike lanes.

Overall, I love to efforts to bring about a more sustainable and connected community, I just hope that the efforts are conducted in the right way.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Kaileigh, Re: Downtown bike lanes.

Did you see the project in 2015 for the NEN-Grant area?

Here's a before and an after.

"Engaging communities" as you say here doesn't have a very good track record yet in part because there isn't a network of good bike lanes yet. A bike route is only as good as its weakest link, and even though Salem has stretches of bike lanes, too often they are interrupted by gaps and so there's not a robust network that actually supports people who would like to shift to making more trips by bike. No matter how interested people might be in theory, once they get on the road to try, if they don't find comfortable and safe facilities, they give up. Changes don't stick.

More bike lanes and better bike lanes are critical. Have to disagree with you on priority and staging, alas.

Jenna Osborne said...

Our response to the previous postings were delayed so that we could speak with an informed voice on comments made about Pedal Corvallis. Regarding membership numbers, the SJ neglected to include the all-time membership number. According to Pedal Corvallis, their program has, since June, 206 all-time members (meaning people who have purchased month passes or three-day passes any time between the June 30th  launch and now, which have since expired). Also, with their new calculations, a more up to date statistic states that there is now close to 5 average rides per member. This is a success when you consider what demographic (Medicaid) they primarily focused their program towards. Also, being in a well-known, bike-friendly community with a very high number of PhDs per capita, the individual need to rent a bike may be far less than the Salem community.
Another factor behind the potential low numbers surrounds the lack of involvement from OSU. The closest kiosk to OSU is 0.4 miles (8 mins walk) away from the nearest campus building. Any buildings further South of Burt Hall would be a hassle to walk to and not very convenient. Although, Pedal Corvallis intends to involve OSU in the future, our nonprofit’s efforts have involved Willamette University from the beginning. One of the first community connections we made was with WU. We are excited to collaborate with their community and work with students to help them benefit from this program.
The comment, “…I worry that a bike share program located at Riverfront Park” warrants further explanation. Our initial launch involves the four-corners of the downtown area. Only 3 of the 10 original kiosks will be along the water-front. These 3 will connect downtown with West Salem, as well as the following parks: Wallace-Marine, River-front, and Minto-Brown. The remaining kiosks will be strategically placed to encourage bike transit throughout the downtown area. Plans are already in the works to determine connecting areas outside of the downtown region where funds and demographics drive us.
This is wonderful dialogue which has arisen from this blog posting! Just the fact that a discussion, such as this, is being publicly displayed is success in motion. The bike-share program will continue to be a catalyst for change benefiting the local biker because of the larger/louder voice that will develop as the community accepts the program. This gathered voice will eventually touch those who are in control of the bike-friendliness, or the lack there of, and make positive changes. We look forward to gaining your support and benefiting the entire community with this program.