On Wednesday, the Metro Planning and Programming Committee approved funding to expand Metro Bike Share in 2017. Operated by Bicycle Transit Systems, Metro Bike Share opened in downtown L.A. in July. In 2017, Metro would expand bike-share to new service areas in Pasadena, Venice, San Pedro, and Wilmington.
If the bike-share expansion plan is approved by the Board next week, Metro will allocate $42 million to continue and to expand bicycling in L.A. County. Any expansion of bike-share is welcome. Unfortunately, some of the new locations raise questions as to whether expansion plans are more political than strategic, and more focused on tourists than on local riders.
Bike-share mobility is optimized when docks are located in a contiguous area where one can ride a bike to numerous other docks. Compared to disconnected islands, larger service area “blobs” present exponentially more destinations. Larger areas are also less costly to operate and maintain. In the words of NYCDOT bike-share architect Jon Orcutt:
Plans to launch bike-share systems in separate geographical areas or nodes are almost certainly a recipe for low usage.
Small bike-share systems are generally low performers. Breaking a finite amount of bike share resources into smaller pieces needlessly sacrifices the utility and productivity of stations/bicycles.
Watch Orcutt’s explainer video for a good visualization of these points.
A NACTO report found lower-performing bike-share systems in cities with more spread-out systems. Many cities bow to political pressure to spread stations over a wide geographic area in order to accommodate various constituencies. Metro is poised to make this common mistake.
Metro’s initial bike-share pilot was planned for downtown L.A. then Pasadena. After Pasadena, the plans were more tentative, with possible expansion in numerous areas pending further study. Locations designated for further study included Koreatown, MacArthur Park, Echo Park, Hollywood, West Hollywood, Venice, Marina Del Rey, North Hollywood, Huntington Park, and East Los Angeles. The Port area did not make the initial study list.
Expansion is not entirely up to Metro. Metro’s policy mandates cost share arrangements with local jurisdictions, so, to a large extent, expansion follows funding. This is especially true for planned expansion to the Port of Los Angeles locations in San Pedro and Wilmington.
According to testimony from Metro Deputy Executive Officer for Active Transportation Laura Cornejo, the Port system would primarily cater to tourists. Metro staff reported that other bike-share systems driven by tourist use are “quite profitable.” Cornejo stated that the Port was interested in implementing bike-share and was considering a “neighboring provider.” The provider went unnamed, but clearly it has to be CycleHop, which runs Long Beach Bike Share. The Port comes to the table with money. Up front, the Port and Metro would each pay $334,000 in initial capital costs for 120 bikes at 11 stations, tentatively seven in San Pedro and four in Wilmington. Subsequent ongoing operation costs are split with the Port paying 65 percent. Metro approved a conservative scenario for its share of the Port system capital costs plus six years operations for a grand total of $4.9 million.
These Port systems – with four and seven stations, and very little in the way of transit connections – could see very little usage. Bike-share systems in the Orange County cities of Fullerton and Anaheim failed with eleven and three stations, respectively. Cornejo characterized the Port of L.A. system as an “interesting pilot.” Time will tell if it turns out to be nearly $5 million in limited Metro bike-share funding well spent.
The Pasadena and Venice systems are more fully-featured and more likely to be successful. Read more…