Rolling Along 

Concerns Grow as Bike Sharing Advances

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MAYOR SAM ADAMS' plans for a Portland bike-sharing program are moving forward, with the city council expected to vote on Wednesday, March 14, to start the search for potential vendors.

But while the mayor's office was saying—as of the Mercury's Tuesday press time—that Adams' "request for proposals" was expected to pass without much debate, some transportation advocates are worried about what kind of equity rules the city might require for providers.

"The most important thing is that the vendor commits to local workforce development," says Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) advocate Gerik Kransky. "This isn't just a transportation program, it's a way to uplift people in society."

While the ordinance before council explains that the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has "worked closely with the transportation equity community to assure that the successful vendor will provide a system that provides opportunity," some critics note it does not include any specific language on how the city should enforce that promise.

It's a small hiccup for local bike and transportation advocates who otherwise see the program as a progressive and crucial system in a city touted for its bicycle awareness.

Last October, the Community for Equity (CFE), a group of organizations promoting local sustainability efforts in communities of color, issued a letter opposing the plan to Metro—the source of some $2 million in federal grant money for Portland's program.

The group's beef? "The program has created a detailed set of data and relationships to inform program design, but proposes to incorporate equity concerns into that program later," writes CFE's Alan Hipólito. The letter asks Metro councilors to show how the program will economically benefit "underserved communities" and asks them to insist that bike-sharing stations be placed in more low-income neighborhoods rather than solely downtown.

The planned program costs about $4.5 million overall, funded by $2 million in private investments, Metro's grant money, and other PBOT funds.

PBOT spokesman Dan Anderson says that while he cannot speak on the city council's intentions after the request for proposal passes, he said that the city is required to follow equity rules when negotiating a contract with the chosen vendor. "There's certainly a process for it," says Anderson.

Anderson told the Mercury on Monday, March 12, that he was unaware of any vendor proposals. But sources say Portland-based Alta Bike Share—the vendor behind programs in New York City and Washington, DC—and Wisconsin's B-cycle are rumored to be at the top of the list.

Shortly before Wednesday's council meeting, PBOT unveiled a website geared to inform the public on the program's goals and system. In addition, the site allows visitors to suggest ideal locations for bike-sharing stations. Not surprisingly, the current suggestions reach far beyond the city's intended downtown perimeter.

Kransky says the BTA would be happy to work with PBOT on fine-tuning the plan: "The equity piece is the most important piece to this puzzle."

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