Putting the 'share' in Philly bike share program
As Philadelphia rolls out its bike share program, officials are negotiating between the need to leverage private dollars and to serve low income residents.
Kristin Gavin, founder of the Gearing Up cycling program for women in transition, raised some interesting questions about Philadelphia's planned bike share program, slated to roll out late next summer with a network of 150 to 200 stations stretching from the Navy Yard to Lehigh Avenue and from the Delaware River to 52nd Street.
"Let's think creatively here – where is the Criminal Justice Center, where is probation and parole, and are there going to be stations near welfare, social security?" Gavin said.
"Are there going to be stations that make this great bike share tool accessible to all individuals, not just folks going from 20th and Market to City Hall?"
Those are some issues with which the city will be dealing as it chooses bike share station locations, which will be done through a combination of crowd sourcing on the city bike share website and at community group meetings, as well as by partnering with private landowners.
"We feel in the current environment, the only way the system is going to be successful is if it has significant private sector support," said Andrew Stober of the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities.
"We're going to take $3 million in city funds and leverage them with, hopefully, millions more in state and federal funding and private sector sponsorship and support."
As one consequence of the public-private partnership, property owners who apply to underwrite the cost of bike share stations on their land will be assured placement, while those who request to host a station will merely be considered for deployment.
Firms that have already confirmed their intention to sponsor stations consist largely of big institutions like the University of Pennsylvania and Liberty Property Trust, whose portfolio includes the Comcast Center and the Navy Yard.
Andrew Stober of the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities said it boils down to pure economics.
"This is really about helping us deploy our public funds in the best way, so it doesn't make a lot of sense for us to be paying public dollars when someone will pay private dollars to put a station there," he said.
"For instance, Brandywine Property Trust, who owns the Cira Center in Philadelphia, said, 'This is going to be a great amenity for our tenants. We want to pay for a station there.' That's great news for us regarding getting stations into areas where we're not going to have private sector folks to pay for it.
"Obviously, having a bike share station at 30th Street Station makes sense, but if we have the private sector to pay for it, it releases funds to be spent elsewhere."
Gavin, who said she'd be happy to work with the city to provide input, said it's important to make sure the stations are distributed equally, regardless of where the money comes from.
"It's just a matter of where are the private dollars that are close to Vine and Broad, where probation and parole is, or the Criminal Justice Center at 13th and Filbert?" she said.
"I hope that in areas where city buildings are, that local businesses nearby are being engaged strategically, too."
Stober said those details will continue to be debated in a series of meetings starting in the fall, which will then unfold into a more detailed planning process.
He further noted that as the last major Northeast city to receive a bike share program, Philadelphia is uniquely positioned to learn from other locales like New York, Washington and Boston.
"We have an opportunity that hasn't been realized in other cities, in terms of meeting the transportation needs of low income residents," he said.
"There's no one who needs affordable transportation more than low income folks, and bike trips are really best when they're three miles or less. In many of the other cities, people who are living on low incomes live more than three miles from their jobs, from major commercial hubs and from recreation hubs, and that's not true in Philadelphia."
Its total capital cost is estimated to be $10 to $15 million, $3 million of which the city from this year's budget.
Officials also applied for a $6 million federal TIGER grant and will this week travel to Washington to meet with the secretary of transportation.
Philadelphia will this fall issue a request for proposals for a firm to manage and operate the program. Stober said two frontrunners are B-cycle and Alta Bicycle Share.