Last week, I discussed why Stockton should become more-bike friendly; Biking promotes good health, provides an economic boost to merchants and offers alternative methods of transportation in an increasingly congested region. But transforming transportation options in Stockton goes beyond laying down more bike lanes: it requires a commitment to getting Stocktonians to think differently about getting from point A to point B. How can Stockton accomplish this goal? Two words: Bike Share.
Stockton will always be a car-first city, but it shouldn’t have to be a car-only city. It’s time to start investing in alternative methods of transportation and a bike share program would be an excellent, cost-effective addition to the city’s transportation infrastructure. Here’s why:
Bike sharing programs have become increasingly popular in recent years, providing residents with a cheap alternative to driving while also acting as an economic development tool. Widely popular with families, young professionals, college students, and tourists, cities across the country are rushing to implement their own bike shares. Most of these programs are extremely cost effective and can be implemented using a variety of funding streams.
Here’s a crash course on how a bike sharing program works: A network of bike stations is set up around the city based on points of interest. Some systems are city-wide, others center on specific areas within the city—such as downtown. Riders can pick up a bike at any of these locations, ride to their destination, and deposit the bike to the nearest station. Payment for a one-time use of a bike is made at the stations themselves with a credit card, or subscribers can access bikes using an electronic key card. Most bike share programs set daily rates around $5-$10 bucks, or $70-$80 for annual memberships.
Since Washington, DC became the first US city to introduce bike sharing in 2008, the program has exploded in popularity. Cities as big as New York and Los Angeles and as small as Fort Collins, and Spartansburg are either planning a bike share program or already have one. Even sprawling, car-dependent cities such as Houston, Fort Worth and Oklahoma City boast sizeable networks. Locally, Sacramento, Davis, and most Bay Area cities are also considering these programs.
And this is not some trend or fad: investment in bike infrastructure provides tremendous economic benefits. In New York, businesses along one of the city’s new protected bike lanes experienced a whopping 49% increase in sales. Studies in Washington, DC and Portland have yielded similar results. Other surveys find that cyclists incur lower transportation costs than drivers and in turn have more disposable income. Even bike shops benefit, as people who use bike share may enjoy the experience so much that they invest in a bike of their own.
So what could a bike share program look like in Stockton? I took the time to put together a system map of where stations could be located. As I discuss below, the program needs to be centered in and around downtown because of better street connectivity and proximity to worthwhile destinations. Take a look (If map doesn’t load, just refresh the page).
While a bike share program would be great, I concede that it can’t work city-wide, but it doesn’t need to. Most areas of Stockton are simply not conducive to biking and there is no way to change that. This is why a program in Stockton would need to be centered in and around downtown, at least initially. The street grid of downtown and its neighborhoods allows for cyclists to avoid busy and congested avenues, making it safer for both drivers and bikers. Moreover, there are a good number of destinations to bike to in a relatively short span, as indicated by the area’s high walk score.
The program would be a big boost to UOP, as students would have the mobility to head down to the Miracle Mile or the waterfront. Likewise, residents of the Midtown neighborhood would have easier access to downtown, Victory Park, and UOP. As the city eventually attracts residential development downtown, a bike share program would be an attractive incentive to potential residents. Imagine a Sunday spent wandering the Haggin Museum in the morning, biking downtown to catch a ballgame or movie in the afternoon, and finishing the day with a ride to the Miracle Mile for dinner. All without having to worry about your bike being stolen or paying for parking.
I know what you may be thinking: This would be nice, but could never work in Stockton. The bikes would get stolen. Drivers in Stockton are too dangerous. No one would use it. Stockton can’t afford it. Woe is me!
But you would be mistaken and here’s why. Bikes can’t be stolen from stations because they are locked in place. If they are stolen from riders, they are tracked by the contracted company using GPS and would be recovered easily. Someone may try and steal a bike, but they will be caught every time.
Drivers in Stockton are certainly not used to sharing the road with bikers. However, I argue that if bike sharing can be successful in New York City and Los Angeles—two cities notorious for aggressive drivers— why can’t it work in Stockton? As more people turn to bikes and the city provides better bike infrastructure, drivers will learn to share the road. Also, investment in bike infrastructure is proven to reduce collisions.
Most Stocktonians would never use such a program, but that’s OK. It does not take very many riders for a bike share program to reach a critical mass. If bike sharing could get the share of cycling up to just 1% of total commutes, that would be a significant accomplishment (currently that number is .04%).
Lastly, bike shares can be funded with grants from the state and federal level, and advertising on stations and the bikes themselves generates revenue. New transportation legislation at the federal level—such as MAP 21– provides grant money to local governments for projects such as these. California’s new cap-and-trade program earmarks revenue for green initiatives and bike share programs would certainly qualify. If done correctly, a bike share program would cost Stockton very little.
If you are still skeptical, consider the case of Chattanooga, Tennessee. This sprawling, mid-sized, car-dependent city of 170,000 shares many of Stockton’s characteristics, yet late last year successfully launched a 30 station, 300 bike system within a 2.5 mile radius of the city’s historic downtown. In just its first six months, the system attracted 400 annual members and provided 12,600 rides, which the city estimates helped residents burn over one million calories. Moreover, Chattanooga was able to start this program using all grant money. If it works in Chattanooga, it can work here.
Stockton needs to get serious about alternative transportation, but our spending patterns don’t reflect this urgency. For example, the city’s five year Capital Improvement Plan released earlier this week includes numerous road spending projects, including a plan to spend $72 million alone on ramp upgrades for Interstate 5 at Eight Mile Road (see page 101). With just a fraction of that money, the city could fund a robust bike sharing system and provide more bike lanes to entice higher usage. Instead, our investments continue to reflect a culture of car-first, sprawling growth that saps the general fund, stretches resources too thin, and alienates residents from other parts of the city.
What are your thoughts on bike share? Is this something you could see in Stockton? Why or why not?