This November, we hosted “Small places, smart mobility,” the eleventh installment in our monthly webinar series Implementation & Equity 201: The Path Forward to Complete Streets. A recording of the webinar is now available. You can also download the PDF of the presentation or read the brief recap below.
A discussion recap
Robert Benner, program associate with Transportation for America’s Smart Cities Collaborative, kicked off the webinar by discussing the emerging role of new mobility in municipalities of all sizes. He noted that although urban centers get the most attention in transportation news, rural places often experience the most acute need for innovative solutions to transportation access and affordability challenges. In fact, small towns are where new technologies can have the greatest potential impact.
To illustrate this, Lisse Regeher, deputy director of outreach and advocacy for Thrive Allen County, shared the story behind Allen County’s successful, free bike share program. Allen County, located in southeast Kansas, has a population of 13,000 spread over 505 square miles. Often referred to as “the Appalachia of the midwest,” the population is poorer, less educated, and is generally less healthy than the rest of the state.
They launched their free bike share in May 2017 and have seen the program flourish. Over the last year, the program has expanded from two to five locations and the bikes have been checked out a total of 565 times. It’s been used to drum up local recreational cycling and economic activity, but has also proved helpful for locals as an everyday transportation option.
“The reality of Allen County bike share was much more than Sunday bike cruising—it was a lifeline.”
Regeher emphasized the accessibility and simplicity of the program; users don’t need a credit card or smart phone to participate and checkouts are tracked in a GoogleDoc. Keeping things simple has maintained the affordability of the program while also allowing local businesses to act as check out locations for the single speed, cruiser bikes.
Next, we welcomed another small town with a very different set of challenges. Jeff Holwell, economic development director for the City of Lone Tree, spoke about how they bridged the last mile gap between their Denver Metro light rail stations and key destinations within the city. Since 2014, the city had operated a circulator shuttle for this purpose. Last year, they partnered with Transportation for America’s Smart Cities Collaborative and Uber to put one of the vehicles into a on-demand system pilot: Link on Demand. This partnership puts the free Lone Tree Link on Demand shuttle as on option in the Uber app when trips originate and end in the city of Lone Tree.
Lone Tree Link on Demand has provided 14,268 trips since August 2017 and 1,497 trips in August 2018 alone. Holwell emphasized how the ride sourcing technology from Uber has been an invaluable part of the success of the Lone Tree Link On Demand pilot program. So successful in fact that they are looking to continue and expand the program.
We had so many great questions during the Q&A section of the webinar that we couldn’t get to all of them. We followed up with Lisse Regeher to discuss answers to some of the questions we missed.
Why did you choose to call it a “bike share” instead of a “bicycle library”?
Lisse: We debated the terminology to use and do use the terms interchangeably as we explain to users how the program operates. Bike share was a more well-known name for the program, as many had seen bike share programs in urban areas and understood what that meant. We always emphasize our FREE bike share program.
Do you think the small rural, community setting creates more of a sense of ownership and leads to better care of the bikes?
Lisse: I do. People were really excited to see this program roll out. They want amenities that attract out-of-town visitors, that enhance their friend’s and family’s visits, and that benefit residents at the same time. This program does that so well. Again, it helps that we chose a uniform theme and look for our bikes—they stand out easily and you know you’re looking at a Thrive Allen County Bike Share bike when you see it being ridden around town. If there was no continuity with the look of our bikes I believe the ownership piece would not be the same, because you wouldn’t really know if you were looking at a bike share bike or a bike owned by the individual riding it.
Do you have to return the bike to the place where you checked it out?
Lisse: The bike can be returned to any of our bike share stations.
Do you require or provide bike helmets?
Lisse: We highly encourage our riders to wear helmets, but do not require it. We want as few barriers for our riders as possible. We have written grants for bike helmets in the past and have partnered with other organizations to receive and distribute helmets, and typically have a few at Thrive if they are requested.
Who maintains the bikes?
Lisse: We started off with our local bike store maintaining the bikes. Recently a volunteer stepped forward to maintain them for free. We buy the parts from the bike store and the volunteer maintains them. We encourage partnering with local businesses or working with volunteers who are capable of bike maintenance work and want to give back to the biking community. Both options have worked well for us.
How much did the bike library system in Allen County cost to start with the first two locations? How much did expansions cost (to the factory, college, etc.)?
Lisse: We started our bike share system with 10 bikes, two racks, and locks and keys for just over $5,000. This cost does not include the time that went into developing our our tracking documents and waivers. The cost of expanding to each location was dependent on the number of bikes requested. The college has 10 bikes, so the cost for that location was around $5,000. When we expanded to Savonburg they already had a bike rack at their library, so we just used the existing rack and sent them two bikes at a cost of $800.
Has Thrive Allen County considered adding child carriers on the back of the bike?
Lisse: We have added bigger baskets and bells, as riders have asked for them. Child carriers have not yet been requested and are not something we have discussed thus far.
How many bikes are usually checked out at a time (i.e. what is your utilization rate)?
Lisse: This fluctuates depending on the season, the weather, and the location. For example there are times during the school year that the community college has most of its bikes checked out for days at a time, but when summer hits you’ll often see eight or more bikes sitting there unused due to most of the students being gone for summer break.