Spokane Journal of Business

Spokane gets wheels turning on bike-share program

Consultant could be selected yet this week

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The city of Spokane hopes to select a company to research and design a potential bike-share program here this week. 

Bike-sharing programs are designed to provide users the ability to pick up a bicycle at any self-serve bike-station and return it to any other bike station located within the system’s service area.

Brandon Blankenagel, an engineer with the city who has been leading efforts to start such a program, says, “Through the application process, we hoped to draw a combination of vendors and transportation planning consultants, in order to hear ideas for a program that accounts for both current markets as well as feasibility. We’ve received a good mix of both in the proposals that were submitted.”

While he estimates the city could have a bike-share program in place as early as 2019, Blankenagel says that there is still a long way to go before that point. 

“This project is going to take a lot of outreach and understanding from everyone involved,” he says. “But we’re hopeful we can design a program that offers an easy-to-use, effective, transportation option for a variety of users.” 

Blankenagel says the city has been discussing creating a bike-share program since 2015, when it was awarded an $80,000 federal air-quality grant to be used toward the study and design of such a system.

However, he says recent advances in technology have made it possible for bike-sharing programs to be designed a bit differently, with what are called dockless systems. 

In a dockless system, bicycles can be parked within a defined district at a bike rack or along the sidewalk, and can be located and unlocked using a smartphone app. Within a dockless system, the bike itself functions as the kiosk and includes technology that enables riders to pay their fare, as well as guide them to pick up and drop off points. 

“Some of these systems help to guide users toward good behaviors,” says Blankenagel. “If say you park outside of the designated area, or bring the bike into a building, you could be charged more.”

Blankenagel says the type of program the city ultimately chooses may be either a traditional kiosk system, a dockless system, or a hybrid of the two.

“A big part of which system we choose also will depend on whether we can get partnerships for sharing the cost of the program,” he says.

Because bike-sharing programs aren’t self-sustaining, Blankenagel says the city would need to find a way to pay for the program through a combination of sponsorships with advertising, data mining (selling information that is tracked by the bikes), and user fares.

Blankenagel says costs for bike-share programs vary widely but can include the cost of kiosks, bike repair and maintenance, management of bikes (including transporting abandoned bikes back to kiosk locations), operational costs, and the cost for phone applications or payment structures.

“It’s a lot to manage and deal with, so we need to plan carefully to be sure the city infrastructure is ready for that,” he says. “Vendors also have their own costs to run and operate these programs.”

Blankenagel says the cost of a traditional bike-share program can start at $9,000 for one 10-bike kiosk station, while dockless programs typically cost less. 

“In the past, we’ve received offers from vendors to set up a dockless program here for free,” he says. “However, that still leaves us with the costs of managing the program, and for that we need to have necessary infrastructure, and trained staff in place.”

Blankenagel says the city would need to allow for enough space to park bikes or set up kiosks, and provide education for users on how best to operate the system as well as information on local laws concerning bike use.

“We still need to determine which areas or neighborhoods might lend themselves to kiosk or parking locations,” he says. “The city also continues to research how certain laws, including the helmet law and the law that prohibits riding on downtown sidewalks, will affect the program and whether any adjustments can be made.”

Blankenagel says the city has reached out to various groups that might be interested in partnering with the city to help manage or better coordinate a bike-share program, including Greater Spokane Incorporated, the Downtown Spokane Partnership, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the University District, Spokane Transit Authority, Spokane Regional Transportation Council, and local governments.

He says the city is also speaking with local businesses to determine their level of interest in sponsorship and advertising opportunities, or whether they might consider hosting a kiosk or bike parking.

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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