Bikes for All

Portland, Ore. — often on the country’s cutting edge of sustainability — is considering a bike-sharing program similar to the one in place in Washington, D.C. Will it work?

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Portland, Ore. is seen as an almost perfect embodiment of sustainability and green living in the U.S. SustainLane, the largest online site regarding sustainable living, has named Portland “the most sustainable city,” every year since 2005. Number-one rankings in the categories of green building, green economy, city innovations, and knowledge base consistently earned the city the top spot.

A SmartBike rack in Washington, D.C. Image via flickr.

An important element of sustainability is environmentally conscious forms of transportation, like rail, of which Portland has been a great advocate. Now, the city hopes to further encourage another popular green form of transportation: bicycling. Portland is without a doubt seen as a bike-friendly city and was awarded the platinum-level award as a bicycle-friendly community – the first large U.S. city to be recognized as such—by the League of American Bicyclists. The city is researching a bike rental system that, if carried through, could make it even easier to travel and commute around the city.

Portland transportation officials are currently studying other systems in place around the world to see if bike sharing would be a worthwhile project to pursue in Portland. Washington D.C. currently has the only bike-sharing system in the United States and other cities like Denver, San Francisco, and Chicago are also interested in rolling out their own.

The city currently has no funding for the program, which is an expensive one. The cost per bike ranges from $3,400 to $4,000 and includes installation, bicycle tracking, docking stations, and payment technology. The fees that would be paid would also have to help cover issues like theft and vandalism, making it unclear whether the system would be a sound fiscal investment.

There are several systems that the Portland Bureau of Transportation has been studying as potential models. The system in D.C., SmartBike, started last year with 120 bikes and 10 stations. Riders pay an annual fee of $40 and have a maximum of three hours per ride. The private advertising company Clear Channel installed the system and consequently, taxpayer money is not needed. The city actually receives money from Clear Channel in exchange for certain advertising rights.

The Montreal Parking Authority created its own system, BIXI, which debuted this past May. The system is a lot larger and gives riders 24-hour access to the bikes for an annual fee of $78. The city has already planned to roll out Phase II this summer, which will add another 200 stations and 1,000 bikes. In order to pay for startup costs, Montreal plans to franchise the system and sell it to other cities.

BIXI bikes in Montreal. Image via flickr.

Portland plans on hosting two public bike-sharing demonstrations this August to invite vendors to exhibit their systems. BIXI and vendors from France are among those who plan on attending. These demonstrations reveal Portland’s desire to take its time in deciding whether or not they will implement a system. It will also give residents the chance to express their feelings on a bike-sharing program and help to ensure that whatever decision is made will be the most suitable for Portland.

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Tags: infrastructurepublic transportationwashington dcbikingbike-shareportlandmontreal

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