Is Cleveland ready to join the ranks of cities investing in bike share, a form of two-wheeled public transit that is quickly gaining ground? Toole Design Group, a national firm that does feasibility studies of bike share, investigated the case and recently told Cleveland to “go for it.” The caveats include finding a manager and a $4.2 million initial investment.
Toole told Cleveland it can support a system of 700 bikes docked at 70 stations strategically placed around downtown, the Near West side and in University Circle. Bike share, which is self-serve, rent-by-the-hour with a credit-card swipe is trending with thousands of professionals in Capital Hill to groups of young ladies in Minneapolis attracted to the social and heart-healthy mobility service.
Cleveland would also need $200,000 annually to operate. That might sound like a lot, and certainly finding a funder and a major sponsor is one of the next hurdles. Proponents will need to make the case that cities aim their recruitment activities to Millennials gravitating in and to a projected uptick in tourism. As young people decide where to live, bike share, which operates under different models in 40 U.S. cities including cold weather climates like Washington, D.C., Columbus (coming soon) and Salt Lake City—in tandem with a network of bike lanes—might be seen as the cost of doing business.
Toole's feasibility study gave the green light to bike share in Cleveland based on an online survey which garnered 762 responses. The Minneapolis-based firm also crowdsourced a map of where stations should go: Most want stations that link up destinations around downtown. But, a contingent of Ohio City and Detroit-Shoreway residents made a strong showing and made a case for bike share connecting over-the-bridge neighborhoods. College campuses are trip generators, and so University Circle, viewed as a possible funder and customer, had representatives making the case for bike share (a task force included University Circle, Inc. and GreenCityBlueLake) around campus and possibly up into the Heights. Crowdsourcing was matched up with a “heat map” that Toole produced of area demographics such as income level, age, and density of employment.
“I think (Toole) saw there was demand,” said Jenita McGowan, Cleveland Sustainability Chief and a member of a bike share task force. “The demographics are there to support it. The topography is not so varied and that’s good because these bikes tend to be heavy. We also have a growing cycling culture.”
With the system proposed to cover around eight miles—from University Circle to Detroit-Shoreway, cost is a factor. Finding an operator is another. The feasibility study identified a barrier in that no existing non-profit has stepped forward (yet) to claim bike share during their months-long outreach to stakeholders including Case, the Metroparks, and Cuyahoga County. Next up is a business plan that Toole will identify funding sources and an ideal path to start up.
“We interviewed colleges and employers who saw bike share as positive,” McGowan said. “The saw it as an asset.”
One possible route the city could take if it cannot immediately find a local non-profit or major sponsor would be to broadcast a request for proposals to attract a bike share operator such as B Cycle, the private operator of systems in Denver and elsewhere.
One thing is for certain, experience has shown that it is vital that Cleveland roll out a fairly sizable system to start if it wants to capture market share. A new report from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) which analyzed 600 bike share systems around the world confirms that factors such as bikes per capita and rides per bike are critical metrics in planning for success. In Paris, the city’s Velib system has 20,000 bikes and logs more than four rides per bike each day. It is generally considered the most successful bike share system in the world.
Looking closely at the maps in the Cleveland feasibility study, the proposed bike share system would have to attract equal parts daytime workers, residents and tourists. ITDP pegs success to a minimum of 4 rides per bike—a metric that Cleveland would have to achieve with 4 bikes per square mile. Toole found that Cleveland would need to sign up 650 members paying an annual fee of $80 and do business in the range of 21,000 rides or 30 rides per bike per year. If it collects 38% of its revenue in fees, bike share in Cleveland would need to make up $233,000 in operating expenses either through sponsorships, grants or advertising.
Toole doesn’t operate bike share systems, so its report on Cleveland is presumed to not tie to its financial gain. The company will produce a business plan and implementation steps for Cleveland which the city and RTA helped fund. Toole made the case for its hometown Minneapolis to start up Nice Ride bike share, a non-profit operated system.
Minneapolis’ population (382,578) and weather is similar to Cleveland but with slightly higher density (7,088 versus 5,107 people per square mile). The Twin Cities also has an edge in investing heavily in bike infrastructure (it was recently named the most Bike Friendly City in the U.S.).
But, with Cleveland committing to 70 miles of bikeways by 2016 and 200 miles by 2018, the gaps in the city’s bike network could be filled as bike share rolls out. Nice Ride has been seen as a positive addition to the city’s infrastructure. Articles note that the heavier, slower bikes, the inclusion of baskets and the culture of a shared experience has gone a long way in attracting new riders particularly women to bike share.