Garcetti, Bonin, O’Connor, Zev, Knabe: It’s Time for Regional Bike Share

Bike Nation still has its supporters, but Mayor Garcetti's Plan B involves the creation of a regional system. Image from the April 2012 press conference via Bike Nation

In April of 2012, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stood toe to toe with city staff and executives with Bike Nation and announced a city wide bike share system would be coming to Los Angeles within the next year. The system would rival New York’s now wildly-succesfull CitiBike system. Many cheered, many fretted and a few even steamed that announcing a deal with Bike Nation exploded the nascent discussions underway about a region-wide bike share system.

A year and a half later, Bike Nation is on the ropes and even Villaraigosa allies concede the agreement was a well-intentioned mistake. Los Angeles watched while its peer cities New York, Chicago and San Francisco/Bay Area launched their own bike share systems while Bike Nation was uprooting its partial pilot system in Anaheim.

Perhaps the final indignity was when Santa Monica announced it was readying its own bike share “request for proposal” its Council Members sounded somewhat overjoyed to be moving faster than the behemoth to the east.

But this time, Team Garcetti didn’t wait for the zombie to wreck the best-laid plans of his predecessor, this time he took action.

On Thursday, the Metro Executive Management and Audit Committee will hear a motion for staff to study best practices and recommend a plan of action for a regional bike share system. While Garcetti’s office authored the motion, they secured the support of Board Members who have worked on bike share issues in the recent past: Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee Chair Mike Bonin, Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor, and County Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Don Knabe.

“Mayor Garcetti believes we need a regional approach to transportation.,” writes Vicki Curry, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office. “Pursuing a countywide bicycle share program through MTA is the best way to create a seamless system that crosses city boundaries so residents can easily travel from Venice to Santa Monica or Eagle Rock to Glendale.”

The motion calls for Metro staff to report back at the January 2014 meeting, in just three months, with report to the Board at the with the results of a review of the bike share industry, including a business case analysis, and recommendations on proceeding with a Request for Proposals to implement a regional bicycle share program.

It should be noted that the team represents the three parts of the county that have been most interested in bike share: Los Angeles (Garcetti, Bonin and Yaroslavsky), Santa Monica (O’Connor and Yaroslavsky again) and Long Beach (Knabe). But the hope among the sponsors is that the region-wide plan will stretch beyond the county’s most bike-friendly cities into something larger.

Streetfilms Shortie – SummerStreets 2013: Citibikes Abound! from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

“To be successful, we need to make sure our bike share program is user friendly. We can’t have a maze of competing bureaucratic regulations, standards and fees from city to city,” writes Bonin. “A single membership card and a single membership fee will provide easy access to the system, allowing someone to check out a bike in Venice and return it in Santa Monica, or check it out in West Hollywood and return it in Silverlake.”

As for Santa Monica, the city that is actively pursuing a bike share RFP is very interested in creating a city-wide system that plugs into a regional one. O’Conner, who doubles as the only car-free member of the Metro Board of Directors, and Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a former Santa Monica City Council Member, have been working on a regional bike share system before, and during Los Angeles’ discussions with Bike Nation.

“It’s something Richard and I both thought are overdue,” O’Connor told me over the phone. “We’re all trying to move forward on a bike share program that works for everyone.”

Bloom is holding meetings on creating regional bike share in the wake of Santa Monica’s announcement last month. The first of those meetings, being sponsored with the Westside Council of Governments, will be held tonight in Beverly Hills.

Last week, O’Connor was in Chicago as part of the American Public Transit Association (APTA) annual conference where she saw Chicago’s Divvy Bikes bike share system first hand. She left impressed with what she saw and what she heard.

“Chicago’s program looks to be a self-funding program, so we’re looking more into the different models that are out there operating. An ongoing self-funded program is ideal, but we’re going to look at everything that’s working and not working,” she continues. “What are the strengths and differences? What is the best way to get this up and running our region?”

Of course, funding is the largest issue. The difference between Bike Nation’s promises in April 2012 and the reality of what is occurring on the street is a difference of opinion on whether or not the city’s outdoor advertising deal with CBS Decaux would give the advertising giant the rights to advertising on the kiosks that Bike Nation would set up throughout the city. Without some flexibility, or a major sponsor similar to Citi Bank in New York, it’s hard to see how a regional bike share system could be revenue neutral or positive without kiosk advertising in Los Angeles.

We should also note that nothing in the motion’s language rules out Bike Nation and Los Angeles moving forward. All Bike Nation asked for was a permit system that would allow them to create a bike share system for Los Angeles. That hasn’t changed. If Metro decides to release its own RFP next year, Bike Nation could certainly apply along with other bike share providers.

So while Los Angeles hasn’t cut ties with Bike Nation, this time the mayor is improving on the work of his predecessor rather than letting the zombie lurch forward. Nobody, not Garcetti, nor O’Connor, nor Bonin can declare that a bike share system is around the corner. But at least the groundwork is being laid for a regional, rather than a piecemeal, long-term solution.