Public bike sharing in Detroit

A couple years ago, NYC’s Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said public bike sharing would transform urban transportation.

Given the number of cities investing in such systems, that seems to be coming true.

There have been a number of discussions about a Detroit system over the past years. Such a system would complement the Woodward light rail investment by expanding its reach into the surrounding neighborhoods and connecting with places such as Corktown, Eastern Market, and Hamtramck.

Typically, bike share systems are city-led efforts. However, that’s not typical of successful Detroit projects which are collaborative public-private partnerships.

One exception is the Twin Cities Nice Ride system. This seems to be the public bike share model that best fits Detroit.

Nice Ride Minnesota was formed through the Twin Cities Bike Share Project, an initiative started by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation in July 2008. After meeting with stakeholder groups and evaluating bike share systems, the Project prepared a non-profit business plan and sought public and private funding. Bike/Walk Twin Cities (a program of Transit for Livable Communities funded through the Federal Highway Administration) announced its financial support in March of 2009, responding to a major funding commitment by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Center for Prevention (funded through the historic tobacco litigation settlement).

One likely reason for their success — over 100,000 rides in 2010 — was their impressively detailed business plan. The plan’s Phase I estimated the system startup costs at $3.4 million with $680K of in-kind donations and an annual operating budget of $1.6m. Modern public bike share systems are not cheap!

This Phase I plan was for 75 kiosks and 1,000 bikes over the 7.75 square mile service area. (Their actual installation was lower.) This provides 9.7 stations per square mile, which is a somewhat lower density than other systems.

Nice Ride is now expanding with help from the McKnight Foundation to 116 stations throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The city of Portland is also beginning a bike share and they’ve reviewed other systems. They note that station density is a key to success.

Dense systems tend to increase bike utilization rates, whether the systems are large (e.g., Montreal 500 stations at 27 stations/sq mile with 2.5 trips/bike/day) or Dublin 37 stations at 15 stations/sq mile w/ 10 trips/bike/day). Conversely, Minneapolis system has about 9 stations/sq mile which allows more districts/neighborhoods access to the system but has a much lower utilization rate at roughly 1 trip/bike/day. Portland plans to mirror Montreal in station density. Effective utilization not only requires a density of station but a high density of uses within the service area to be successful. Portland has chosen to locate the vast majority of stations in the city’s highest density districts related to employment, residential, commercial activity and tourist destinations.

Given Detroit’s greatly varying density, some analysis would be required to help determine optimal station placement.

Funding a Detroit System

Where could Detroit get the funding to build a Nice Ride system in the Motor City?

One likely target is Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding, which is sub-allocated to SEMCOG. Those federal dollars require applicants to show how their respective projects improve air quality. A Nice Ride system can do that by reporting on the number of bike trips taken, many of which would be replacing car trips.

With CMAQ funds only paying up to 80% of the total costs, private funding would likely be required. Finding private funding might not be too difficult if the bike share connects downtown employers to the light rail and elsewhere. For example, imagine the value of having bike share stations at the Blue Cross Blue Shield campus and their other offices at the Renaissance Center.

Other Federal Transit Authority (FTA) grant funding may also be a possibility. The FTA recently announced that “all bicycle improvements located within three miles of a public transportation stop or station shall have a de facto physical and functional relationship to public transportation.” It’s likely that nearly all of the bike stations in Detroit would be within 3 miles of the Woodward Light Rail.

Bike Share Detroit

A Detroit bike sharing web site and proposal has been recently proposed. While we applaud their enthusiasm, we don’t see enough details or funding to have a working system like the Nice Ride. A proposal of this scale might work on a much smaller service area (e.g. a college campus) rather than Downtown and Midtown.

The stations density appears to be about 1.5 stations per square mile — a fraction of what others consider as the minimum. Phase 2 expands north along the Woodward corridor to 11 Mile with an even lower station density.

Our preference is to take advantage of the Twin Cities’ experience, learn from their mistakes, and through a collaborative effort, invest in a system that gets more people in Detroit on bikes more often.

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5 Responses to “Public bike sharing in Detroit”

  1. Everett Says:

    One other aspect of the Detroit proposal that struck me as problematic, are the bikes that would be used. It looks like they are planning to hold a design competition to design the bicycles with only a $1,500 prize. That amount will barely cover the cost of a custom-fitted bicycle, let alone a bicycle designed to withstand the abuse of a bike share system. Detroit has the manufacturing chops, but with just a few bike builders in the area, I think we may be lacking the design expertise at that cost level. It would be far less expensive and time-intensive to use an off-the-shelf model.

  2. Todd Scott Says:

    I also got email that Nice Bike system itself is not as nice as Denver’s B-Cycle. Either would work in Detroit. The article is really just suggesting the Nice Bike business model and governance is a good fit for Detroit.

  3. Bryan Reinolds Says:

    In the Detroit Bike Share proposal it says they are planning a $1500 scholarship for the design of the bike as a sponsored class project at a college, not the amount to which they will use to manufacture the bikes. I think this is cool because they are trying to keep all the money in creating this bike sharing system in Michigan and especially Detroit… as well as involving the community.

  4. Burton Knows Says:

    Yada, Yada, Yada…and so on. I’m so tired of the talk and quite frankly the lack of activity that occurs on this issue and regional mass transit in general.
    Drivers of motorized vehicles, i.e., those gas guzzling things that have dominated metro Detroit economically and it appears socially for decades, have NO RESPECT for bicyclists. Until people get their heads out of you know where, this issue won’t move. And forty years from now we’ll still be talking about coulda woulda shoulda regarding bicycle transporation and regional mass transit.

  5. Todd Scott Says:

    I understand your frustration, but some parts of Metro Detroit are moving forward. For instance, Detroit now has added 40 miles of bike lanes during the past 5 years and is adding another 100 miles this year. I expect we’ll get the funding and implement bike share in Detroit within a couple years. Unfortunately many parts of Metro Detroit are still embracing the status quo, auto-centric transportation mindset from the last century.

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