Sharing Is Scaring 

City Sparks Debate with Pitch for Bike-Sharing Plan

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IMAGINE 74 STATIONS across inner Portland where a credit card lets you check out one of 740 shared bikes, complete with lights and bells. That's the plan the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) and a dozen community partners urged city council to recommend for funding to become a reality in Fall 2013.

The plan passed 4-1 at the city council meeting Wednesday morning, August 17th, with Commissioner Amanda Fritz voting no.

Backers of the long-pursued dream of bike sharing in Portland—including Mayor Sam Adams and Congressman Earl Blumenauer, along with over 1,100 people who signed a Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) pro-bike-sharing petition—say offering the Zipcar-esque service for bikes throughout downtown and the inner Eastside will attract new riders and make taking transit easier. Aimed at tourists, students, and downtown office workers, the bikes would be free for the first half hour, but would likely require some to-be-determined daily and yearly user fee.

But even active transportation advocates split on the idea, some arguing that $2 million of the project's $4.5 million price tag shouldn't come from a pot of money that's meant to promote equity in the region. Others say the city needs to focus on basic safety infrastructure before investing in a bike-sharing system modeled on programs in cities like Montreal, Washington, DC, and Paris.

"One of the barriers to riding a bike is actually access to a bike. If you make bikes more available, more people will ride them," say BTA Advocate Gerik Kransky. Data shows that getting more bikes on the road leads to a decline in crashes.

The city weighed bike sharing two years ago, but balked at the cost. The current plan would match millions in private donations with $2 million in federal funds up for grabs through Metro's Regional Flexible Funds. PBOT is also seeking $3.37 million from the fund for East Portland "Transportation to Transit" projects and $1.25 million for improving safety on Foster Road, but passed on the chance to go after $2 million for fixing up SW Barbur—where 26-year-old Angela Burke was fatally struck by a car this year while crossing the road.

"I think the concept of bike sharing has a lot of merit," says Willamette Pedestrian Coalition Director Steph Routh. "But the East Portland, Foster, and Barbur projects further equity—and bike sharing does not." Advocates and neighbors have long decried a lack of spending on transportation safety in Portland's outer edges—PBOT spends more than triple on capital projects in central Portland than it does anywhere else in the city.

Transportation consultant Don Arambula says Portland needs to invest in world-class bike infrastructure citywide before going after bike sharing.

"I think it's spreading the resources too thin," says Arambula. "My fear is that it's going to be implemented and it won't be as successful as people say and it'll be an obvious target for anti-bike people."

City Commissioner Fritz explained she could not vote for the plan when there are unmet basic safety needs across the city. Fritz said she couldn't support the plan as when, "I can't get off the bus a stop earlier than I usually would because there's no sidewalk."

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