Friday, December 27, 2019

Framing on Ride Salem's Slow Start Misses Important Pieces

There's a piece today in Salem Reporter on the bike rental system, "Ride Salem leaders optimistic about bike sharing despite tepid start."

It gives some helpful context on reasons the rentals have been slow.

Using counts rather than rates is less helpful
But because the piece uses raw counts of rides, and focuses on what Ride Salem representatives themselves say, it does not illuminate as much as it might.

Industry and advocates often cite rides per bike per day as a key metric.* Earlier it had seemed that Salem had between one-third and one-half of a ride per bike per day. Industry standard right now is about one ride per bike per day. Portland's system operates right about there. Eugene's started at three rides per bike per day, and was an uncommon success by these measures.

Both Portland and Eugene's systems have not only more bikes but also more stations, and these make possible a larger number of trips. Rental bikes are especially useful when you can make one-way trips and do not have to make a loop to return the bike to your starting point.

Still, since Eugene is about the same size as Salem, even though it is a college town and has a stronger tradition of bicycling, it is an appropriate comparison.

The point about Salemites needing "time to learn" about the bike rental system and about biking points to culture and that tradition, as if it's our fault we aren't using the bikes. This appeal to the mysteries of culture is also a term less helpful in the comparison.

And it deflects from other factors.

A "virtual" hub and station on Ferry and Commercial
from late summer - but who will use it very often?
Essentially this is an ornament.
More than custom and culture, it's high quality bike lanes. The downtown stations are set on a downtown street system that remains very hostile to biking.

Really, who is going to rent a bike at the Conference Center and bike on Trade, Front, Liberty, or Commercial? Those are very busy streets! Even Chemeketa, signed with sharrows, still has enough traffic that kids and infrequent cyclists will not often feel comfortable on it. It's hard to get from the Transit Center's bike hub to any other place downtown.

As long as we prefer to focus on education and culture rather than on engineering, we will fail to understand why the bike rental numbers are small and do not grow as fast as we would like them.

Consider the frequency and density of green and blue
in downtown Eugene
A better comparison with Eugene is the number of blue lanes striped with bike lanes and green low-traffic streets in the downtown area where the rental stations are clustered.

Part of that is because Eugene built highways to take traffic away from the core downtown area - apologists for the SRC have suggested Salem should do the same, and we've heard the Mayor say that's the reason we can't have nice downtown bike lanes.

This is an urban land use fail
(Register-Guard, December 1st)
But Eugene also urban-renewaled away their historic downtown, and the urban highways create barriers, massive dead zones, and induce more sprawly development on the outer edges of the city. Eugene's cycling rate is also declining, and it is not exactly where "bikes are the mecca."
Once upon a time, Eugene enjoyed regular increases in cycling’s modal share of commuters, peaking in 2009 at 10.8 percent....

Since that peak, cycling modal share fell by 43 percent to 6.2 percent of all commuters in 2016....
There are comparisons to make, but the terms are not necessarily simple or straight-forward.

More than anything, it's the cars themselves that are the problem! We have to stop subsidizing cars and car use. Until we are able to talk about this better, we will fail to understand and improve walking, biking, and busing and other non-auto mobility.

* See this NACTO report:
Using the intensity metric of rides per bike per day (r/b/d), U.S. station-based systems produced an average of 1.7 r/b/d. In contrast, dockless bike share systems nationally had an average of about 0.3 r/b/d. Analysis by the University of Washington, adjusting for a changing number of bikes over the 6 month pilot period, shows a r/b/d of 0.8 in Seattle.
Update, February 8th

A new station this week
Salem Reporter has a note about a new rental station at the train depot, but here too important stuff is missing. Sure, it looks like you could "bike home from the station," but once you are home, where does the rental bike go? and how do you turn off the rental fees? Without docking stations embedded in residential areas, unless you live near one of the downtown docking stations, the bikes aren't actually very useful. This is another mainly ornamental installation.

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with note about the new docking station at the Train Depot.