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 ## 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.

  • Dennis Hindman

    You can’t expect a great number of people to use bicycle sharing on busy streets in mixed traffic. There has to be a network of bikeways to ride on first. That’s one of the main reasons why New York City first put the bicycle sharing stations in lower Manhattan and upper Brooklyn where there is more of a bikeway network than the rest of the city.

    Los Angeles has little, if any, bikeways on busy streets in the areas where bicycle sharing would be most effective in attracting a large amount of users. Specifically, downtown, Hollywood, Westwood and Venice Beach.

    Politicians get all excited about saying they want bicycle sharing, but they are unwilling to make the commitment of taking out on-street parking or a motor vehicle lane in order to put in a bike lane for people to ride the bikes on.

    Bicycle sharing is most effective when the stations are spread out no more than two or three blocks apart.

  • Alex Vickers

    Just wanted to note that Divvy in Chicago is by no means self-funded and received a $22.5 million dollar CMAC grant for the purchase of the 400 stations and 4,000 bikes.

    If the City of LA wants bike share, especially one thats equitable and a functioning public transit network, they are going to need a similarly sized grant to fund it.

  • Alex Vickers

    Another thing to consider is the downfalls of pursuing a regional system. San Francisco’s Bay Area Bike Share is experiencing low usage/membership acquisition because its systems are spread throughout five municipalities that don’t connect to one another. San Francisco, the area with the most demand and bike infrastructure, isn’t able to reach a critical mass of density/coverage because the equipment has to be spread between the other municipalities involved.

    It seems like the CaBi approach of starting small (cough cough SaMo) and then incorporating new cities as interest grows is the way forward. This also could address the infrastructure issue Dennis brought up, and would give cities like Beverly Hills a chance to catch up on the bike infra front.

  • Guest

    SM should lead the way, just like Arlington did and DC joined later. No need to delay!

  • Bike_Share_Enemy


  • james

    LA, much like Long Beach, seems to be far more interested in shiny, media event worthy, photo-op friendly symbols of change than the nitty gritty that really gets to be done. How about the morons in this shit hole manage to produce half of one bicycle boulevard before anyone gets another photo op or another ribbon to cut.

  • Irwin Chen

    Regional approach is good if it ensures uniform system. But it is not necessary as long as all the municipal systems inter-operates. Bike shares systems in the region should accept the same payment system (even better… accept the same payment system as other transit systems… as much as I hate TAP, it is the defacto standard payment system). If I rent a bike in Santa Monica, I should be able to return it in Venice without blowing up the system. If I get on a bike at Hollywood/Highland station, I should be able to return to a kiosk on Sunset Blvd in West Hollywood.

    The danger of letting Santa Monica roll out its bike share system without a bigger regional/county vision is that it will be too difficult to expand. It has taken us nearly 80 years to get all the municipal bus systems to get back on the same page after the streetcars were dismantled… the last thing we need is another dysfunctional and patchwork municipal lead/operated bike share disaster.

    I’m not opposed to municipal operated bike share. But the County has a responsibility to set down some rules so all the bike systems can operate as a single service to the public.

  • With yourself? I always suspected…

  • I’m not up on Divvy, but I think her point was that it’s not requiring a public investment after the installation.

  • Alex Vickers

    While interoperability is a great goal to pursue, its somewhat “pie in the sky” to expect it to actually work in reality. All these vendors have different locking mechanisms, and while they may look exactly the same to the user they function very differently. PBSC (NYC, SF, CHI) has a single locking mechanism below the handlebars, B-Cycle has a dual locking mechanism in each side of the fork, SoBi uses a U-Lock on the back on the bike. It’s not simply companies refusing to “play nice,” its the significant investment in R&D it would take to make a standardized lock between multiple companies.

    The only way around this is choosing one vendor.

  • Alex Vickers

    Well regardless SoCal still needs a way to fund the equipment and installation…

  • Juan Matute

    What? Nice things that we don’t currently have aren’t free? I’m shocked!

  • Bike_Share_Enemy

    (done debating)

    In essence ….

    Occupy LA > Livable Streets LA

    Occupy + Livable Streets LA > Occupy LA > Livable Streets LA

  • I’m not sure this is coherent…

  • Bike_Share_Enemy

    It makes sense to me, but I can’t explain it so that it makes sense to you. On a related note, did you read David Byrne’s recent article…..

    I find it ironic that he says the following:

    “…I’m a huge supporter of the bike lanes and the bikeshare program, the new public plazas, the waterfront parks and the functional public transportation system. But the cultural part of the city – the mind – has been usurped by the top 1%…”

    Then he goes on to say the following:

    “…Unlike Iceland, where the government let misbehaving banks fail and talented kids became less interested in leaping into the cesspool of finance, in New York there has been no public rejection of the culture that led to the financial crisis. Instead, there has been tacit encouragement of the banking industry’s actions from figures like Mayor Bloomberg. The nation’s largest financial institutions are almost all still around, still “too big to fail” and as powerful as ever…”

    See the irony?

  • Bike_Share_Enemy

    I gave it some thought, so let me try to explain…

    I’ve been working on these game-changing-highly-feasible ideas for quite some time now, ideas that would contribute significantly to the livable cities/streets movement. And, I was thinking how Eric Garcetti could implement these ideas sooner rather than later. But, I realized I would have no assurance that those who don’t have the people’s best interests would not also benefit from these ideas. So, instead, I’m thinking I have to take an Occupy-esque approach to getting these ideas implemented. It’d be like “killing two birds with one stone”.

  • Erik Griswold

    What? Another photo op that led to nothing? Funny, there were alot of those in the Villaraigosa era, and not just involving him.


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