On May 19, the North American Bike Share Association (NABSA) hosted a webinar titled Room to Ride — Advocating for Bikeshare and Shared Micromobility Infrastructure.
Representatives from bike share systems part of NABSA’s member organizations came together to talk about their unique approaches to the advocacy for investment in bike share and shared micromobility infrastructure.
In a post about the webinar, NABSA wrote, “the discussion touched on how some cities are incorporating slow or closed streets into their COVID-19 response, providing expanded, safe spaces for socially distant pedestrian and shared micromobility transportation.”
This was the question at hand for each speaker: Having a safe place to ride is key to getting more people out of cars and onto bikes, e-bikes, and e-scooters — how can those in the bikeshare and shared micromobility industry help make safe infrastructure a priority in more cities?
These were the speakers:
- Nicholas Oyler, City of Memphis
- Sara Studdard, People For Bikes
- Shannon Hake, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
- Erin Potts, Healthy Ride
If you weren’t able to attend this webinar, keep reading for a detailed recap of each speaker’s presentation.
1. Shannon Hake, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA)
Shannon Hake is a transportation planner for the SFMTA, where she leads all the communication and planning for San Francisco’s Slow Streets program. Her presentation consisted of a behind-the-scenes look into what it took to implement this program in her city.
Slow Streets in the Bay Area was a fast-moving program that developed after the shelter-in-place order. Two things inspired Shannon’s team:
1. SFMTA is the transit provider and the overall transportation provider that caters to bikes and access for all people. During the shelter-in-place order, SFMTA reduced service to protect public employees and maintain what Shannon says is “the most critical infrastructure in the city.” With fewer options on the streets for those who typically use public transit services with either reduced or eliminated service, Shannon and her team realized they needed to step up the other transportations options in the area.
2. Additionally, there’s no easy way to stay 6-feet apart on San Francisco’s narrow sidewalks, making it difficult for bikes and pedestrians to ride and walk safely.
The plan was simple — just allocate more space for bikes and pedestrians particularly during the shelter in place order. Since Oakland successfully implemented a Slow Streets program earlier in April they served as a blueprint for San Francisco to accomplish a feat they’d never considered before COVID.
On April 21, SFMTA announced the Slow Streets program with 12 streets and 21 corridors in the city. Because of the fast-moving process, gaining community input wasn’t accomplished right away — but they did recognize the importance.
The usual process for a project of this magnitude consists of community, planning, review, approved, implementation, and maintenance. Due to time constraints, SFMTA went from concept to implementation in one week and had three streets built within the first 10 days of the program being announced.
Here’s where community input comes in: With limited access to social outreach tools, Shannon and her team pushed out an online survey through social media with the help of community organizations. The responses from San Franciscans were outstanding.
- More than 1,700+ residents shared feedback
- 89% of the comments were positive, for instance, a resident said, “This is really giving me a sense of freedom in a really unexpected time.”
- 7% of the responses were neutral and 11% were negative
- Received thousands of suggestions for new Slow Streets corridors
From this point, Shannon and her team sourced ideas from advocacy organizations and established community organizations they had a relationship with to develop the next network of closed streets. While building the first phase, they already started working on planning the second phase due to increased support from residents.
Of course, there were barriers, and not every street made it to implementation. But their efforts were to reprioritize space to pedestrians and bikes, and they’re seeing that come to fruition as people continue to claim the open space as their own.
Shannon noted that she heard from many people who didn’t realize how much of our streets are taken over by vehicles. “Slow streets are what we’re doing to allow people the space in an effective socially distanced way to really enjoy our streets and enjoy our city.”
2. Nicholas Oyler, City of Memphis
The Bikeway & Pedestrian Program Manager for Memphis, Nicholas shared tips to show shared micromobility operators how to help their host cities, assist people in the streets, and use their access to advance infrastructure and the community.
Memphis’ Explore Bike Share launched in 2018 as a nonprofit organization that owns and operates all its equipment an d manages all the planning and daily operations. Based on his experience, here’s how he says operators can best champion better infrastructure and advocate for safe streets:
1. Use GPS tracking data to show the city where your usage is occurring and where the gaps are in your network.
Nicholas explains that while most cities require this data, the municipal staff has limited capacity and may not be able to analyze the data as they’d like. Because of this, it’s beneficial when operators can analyze the data and show city officials where the gaps are, and they can make recommendations for where infrastructure can be improved.
2. To expand the network and expand higher-quality infrastructure, follow the development of the new infrastructure and see the new infrastructure with your users.
The City of Memphis Bikeway Network consists of multiple facilities: bike lanes, shared lanes, and protected bike lanes. However, these facilities aren’t all low-stress and high-comfort because they’re not accessible to people of all ages or people of all abilities. This is something the city actively continues to work on expanding.
3. Nurture advocacy in the communities you serve. By opening those eyes and showing them the value of street improvements, you can then make better demands for the better infrastructure that’s needed b/c you’re creating advocates.
Explore Bike Share and the City of Memphis are partnering to complete the Hampline project. This project has been in the works for more than 10 years, though Nicholas anticipates construction to be completed by the end of May. Created for a neighborhood that is forgotten and disinvested in, the Hampline project will connect two of the city’s most popular streets and it connects to the most popular greenway path as well as to a favorable greenway path.
For Nicholas, the true measure of success will be reflected in who will take to the new paths instead of how many. The neighborhood is largely people of color, non-native English speakers, and low-income residents, and Nicholas wants the actual residents of the area to embrace Hampline rather than just passersby. To ensure community participation, Explore Bike Share led the charge by calling a meeting and inviting city officials to scout docking station sites that would best serve the community. They will also partner with a local nonprofit in the neighborhood to open a community bike shop/office staffed by Explore Bike Share. “It’s about actually being engaged in the neighborhood with the residents there,” says Nicholas.
4. As an operator, as much as you can publicly champion and advocate for better infrastructure yourself. Don’t wait for the local bicycling club. Be an active participant in the planning design process, go to public meetings, and speak up.
Nicholas explained that Explore Bike share has been instrumental in getting the message out about the need for safer streets and better infrastructure in Memphis. The operator has even seen a significant increase of 285% of new users signing up for memberships — this came after Explore offered free rides during COVID.
The City of Memphis also partially closed the popular Riverside Drive, which overlooks the Mississippi River, and Memphians wasted no time in using the space for biking, skating, walking, riding, and generally, enjoying the street in a new way.
For Nick, these measures are all connected to better infrastructure, largely because more requests keep coming in for more closed streets and safer streets. The people have spoken, and operators need to listen and act.
3. Erin Potts, Healthy Ride
Erin is the Director of Marketing and Community Outreach for Healthy Ride, a community-driven program that’s owned and operated by Bike Share Pittsburgh.
If you’re unfamiliar with Healthy Ride, the team’s here are some stats:
- May 31 will be the system’s fifth anniversary, and it is still the only bike share system in Pittsburgh.
- It has accumulated more than 420,000 rides and more than 70,000 active registered users.
- 31% of all trips use ConnectCard — this allows all transit pass holders to access unlimited and free 15-minute bike share trips, which helps promote bike share as a first/last mile resource.
- Healthy Ride has 133 stations and 550 bikes in more than two dozen Pittsburgh neighborhoods (out of 90).
- In 2019, Healthy Ride saw a 47% ridership increase, and t heywere on track to exceed that before the COVID pandemic.
Erin says over the years, Bike Share Pittsburgh and Healthy Ride have proven their ability as an operator and an important piece of the bicycling community and transportation network. Since their inception, leadership has made important connections to stakeholders, business leaders, community groups, and they rely on these partnerships to build the best bike share program for Pittsburgh.
To approach better infrastructure and safer streets, the Healthy Ride team is focusing on their partnership with the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility & Infrastructure (DOMI) to support their new plan, the Bike(+) Plan.
Launching soon, this plan has been in the works for more than five years. Leading with better bike infrastructure, this project aims to create a network of bike lanes, neighbor ways, local infrastructure, and all different kinds of micromobility devices for pedestrians and people who live along those corridors.
Erin highlights the importance of safety for residents of Pittsburgh, noting that as riders are newer to biking, many will only ride if they feel safe. According to her, safety is the number one barrier to why community residents don’t use bike share or ride personal bicycles — oftentimes, it takes dedicated facilities for people to even consider it. “The more dedicated infrastructure, the more people we can get on bikes,” she says.
The Better Bike Share Partnership is a JPB Foundation-funded collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the PeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Story tip? Write firstname.lastname@example.org