A person’s transit experience starts before they step onto the bus or train; it starts the moment they leave their house, office or any other starting point. Likewise, it doesn’t necessarily end the moment they step off the bus or train. Rather it ends at their final destination. Bike-sharing programs can help connect passengers from their starting point to the bus stop or rail station and then complete their last mile after deboarding.
Bike sharing has many advantages — providing greater mobilization for the public, health benefits, it’s good for the environment and so on. However, a bike-sharing program can be challenging to get started. One major hurdle is funding because bike sharing doesn’t fit into the U.S. Department of Transportation’s current definition of “public transportation.” For example, Denver Bike Sharing received funding from the Federal Highway Administration, not the Federal Transportation Administration.
“The interesting thing about that was we were awarded those dollars [from the Federal Highway Administration] last summer and are still working through the really incredibly complicated intergovernmental process, and it’s partially complicated by the fact that bike sharing is so new that the bucket we fit in doesn’t really fit us. It’s highway construction so we’re quite a simple technology and installation and minimal disruption of the land surface, but we’re regulated like a highway construction project,” explains Parry Burnap, executive director, Denver Bike Sharing. “So it’s slowed us down but we’ve learned a lot and I think maybe down the road we’ll figure out how to fast track this a little bit because it’s such a great solution for transportation challenges like congestion and climate and fuel reliance and all that stuff.”
However, while the FTA can’t fund the bicycles directly, it can help fund a lot of the infrastructure for a bike-share program. According to the FTA, some of the major formula programs, such as the Section 5307, the Urbanized Area Formula Program, bicycling amenities, stationary furniture, bike lockers, things of that nature would be eligible expenses under that program.
“Then we also have, especially in this era, several different discretionary programs like bus loadability that would also sort of tailor toward the multi-modal aspects of bike sharing and bicycling to public transportation,” according to the FTA.
The FTA now has a new page on its website dedicated to available funding opportunities for bicycle projects. You can find more information on available funding at http://www.fta.dot.gov/13747_14400.html.
Both the physical and political environments of a city need to be bike friendly for a bike-share program to be successful. For example, in Denver Burnap says they have more than 300 days of sunshine a year, which helps for good riding conditions. The city is also laid out with wide streets on a grid-based system, which makes riding a bike in traffic less daunting, she says. Likewise, when Denver Bike Sharing was in the development stages in 2009 then mayor, now Colorado governor, John Hickenloope was extremely supportive.
“We had a mayor who is hugely supportive and helped us by talking about it every time he opened his mouth. It helped us raise some money. We had the full support of the city,” Burnap says.
In Seattle, this is creating some challenges. “We’re thinking of a bike-share program here in Seattle, and we have a number of challenges. We’ve got a very hilly topography with weather challenges and we have a bike helmet law here in Washington State,” explains Kevin Desmond, general manager of King County Metro.
Both Burnap and Desmond agree that the city already needs to have a certain amount of biking infrastructure in place or have a plan to improve or add it, including a network of bike lanes or bike paths.