Thursday, June 6, 2019

Public Bike System to Launch; City Mainly sees Tourism Toy

Tipped off by the City Manager's update, Salem Reporter has a piece on the prospect of launching the public bike system this month.

via Twitter
It's been a little bit of a slog, and it will be great to see the project finally come to fruition.

In the piece the Mayor and Transportation Planning Staff talk around some of the issues, however.

The Mayor seems mainly interested in the project as an emblem of a hip city. He likes the signalling function.
Ride Salem will be the first bike sharing program in Salem and the first new, modern transportation change in Salem since Uber and Lyft arrived in 2017.

“It offers, sort of like Uber and Lyft, an alternative transportation to using an automobile,” Bennett said. “This just adds another dimension for folks who want to try it out but don’t want to buy a bike.”
Planning Staff, as well as the Mayor, avoid addressing ways that the downtown street system remains hostile to bicycling, instead positioning the bike rentals for tooling around on the park paths. They see it as "alternative transportation" - a toy for adults in the park! - that like a decal can be applied on top of the existing system, but not something that requires deeper integration with adjustment and modification to the full transportation system.
For the downtown area, cyclists using Ride Salem could also be just the latest sign of a changing downtown, which is set to welcome new apartments and a new hotel in the coming years. [Senior transportation planner Anthony] Gamallo said he could see tourists to Salem using them.

“Our parks system is really robust and it’s great if you’re a cyclist,” he said. “For folks that might be in town for a short period of time, maybe staying a hotel downtown and wanting to tour the park, a great way to do it would be to rent one of these bikes for an hour or two and ride around.”
The launch, then, will be a bit of an ambiguous thing.

It will be great! It will provide options for people and it will induce a few new bicycle trips that would not otherwise have been taken. It may also reveal new uses, new trips, and new demand that we don't currently imagine. There is real benefit.

"Pass with Care" signs all around Minto Park
But it may also be annoying with unwanted consequences. We will have some people riding too fast or unsharingly on the paths in the parks, and we will have people biking on the sidewalks downtown.

Realistically the total number of bike trips will be very small, rounding to zero in the total transportation mix. It will be a small amenity, again the emblem for a hip kind of city, not an important part of citywide mobility.

An important service it can provide, then, is to create pressure for the City to do more for downtown bicycling, especially to create demand for protected bike lanes on city streets. In this way the annoyance could be a feature, not merely a bug. If enough people ride the bikes where we don't want them to, maybe the City will get more serious about creating the space in the road - those smile lanes! - where everybody is happy. (But of course it shouldn't take this non-compliance for the City to get serious.)

All in all, until we address biking on the streets, with connections to businesses and places people want to go, the public bike system will be a fringey and small thing, more appearance and emblem than substance.

See previously:

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