Bike share's coming to Portland! Uh, well part of it.

With PBOT's announcement it's going with a cheaper, more versatile bike share program than originally planned come inevitable concerns about access and equity. The city's always proposed starting bike share in and around downtown, then expanding if/when the system gains popularity and more money from interested sponsors, and that's very much still the plan. Here's the slim swath of Portland where PBOT's proposing its initial 600-bike rollout next summer (it's the tan sections). Hit the jump for more.


In some ways, this is a surprisingly small area. It's true that bike share systems often target tourists as much as residents, but even by that token the proposed service area leaves out some bustling and popular destinations in Northeast and Southeast (Alberta! Hawthorne! The gustatory glitz of SE Division!).

Beyond that, it'd leave a whole lot of residents with no more a viable means to and from home than they already have. When its not shuttling around sight-seers, bike share's frequently seen as a last mile sort of conveyance, getting people from their bus or train stop to home more quickly. This initial rollout would help some residents, but many of them probably don't much need it.

"I think the City of Portand is being pretty thoughtful about it," says Justin Ginsburgh, vice president of development at New York-based Motivate, which will run the bike share program (the company was called Alta Bicycle Share and based here when it was hired by the city). "They understand you need a robust system in the core. Once you have that, then you're able to expand beyond there."

All this is partly understandable. Portland's been trying for three years to attract a sponsor who could help roll out a big system, and has come up with nothing. The 600 bikes PBOT's proposed are being bought mostly with $1.8 million we've had since 2011. It's a far cheaper situation than what Portland had been planning, and potentially more-nimble than other bike share cites.

The system PBOT's buying is more akin to Car2Go than traditional bike share systems—meaning you can park a bike anywhere in that tan service area, not just at specified dock points. (There will, however, be "hubs" where its cheaper to park bikes. Riders who want to lock up outside of those hubs would have to pay a fee. The city doesn't know where hub locations will be yet, or what the system will be called.)

It'll be interesting to see what kind of political support this long-sought program gets at a time when Portland's as concerned as it's ever been about people being shunted to the side. Commissioner Amanda Fritz has repeatedly raised concerns about bike share being unavailable in farther flung parts of town, and it looks like this one will be unavailable even in many close-in 'hoods. Fritz may well vote against the new plan (PBOT's seeking council approval to modify a contract and move forward). Her office says it's too soon to tell.

Dan Saltzman's also been a consistent skeptic. He's opposed to spending any city dollars on bike share (which isn't part of the plan right now). Even if those two go against the proposed system though, it's got likely allies in Commissioners Steve Novick and Nick Fish, and Mayor Charlie Hales.

There are plans, as I say, to expand this system, but that's going to be wholly reliant on Motivate. The company's struck out on finding sponsors so far, but says it's marshaled a new marketing team that's going balls-out to find money.

"We’re being a lot more creative and aggressive," Ginsburgh says. "We're beating the bushes in Portland."

He stresses Portland bears no risk in this—that Motivate will operate the system even if sponsors take longer to convince than planned. The exact language of that agreement's should become public on Friday.