RVA is one step closer to a public bike share program

by | Dec 16, 2014 | POLITICS

Richmond is one step closer to having its own bike share program after a city council committee approved a paper to consider accepting VDOT funds today.

Richmond is one step closer to having its own bike share program after a city council committee approved a paper to consider accepting VDOT funds today.

The resolution by Richmond’s Land Use, House, and Transportation committee paved the way for Council to “execute all the necessary agreements between the City and the Commonwealth of Virginia relating” to bike share.

Jakob Helmboldt, Richmond City’s Pedestrian Bicycle and Trails Coordinator, explained the program is intended to launch with 300 bikes and 30 docking stations, with hopes to expand depending on success of the system.

Today’s vote will allow City Council to move forward with talks with the state to accept over $1 million in CMAQ funding to support the program.

This money will help complete the first year of operations with a vendor, “so they can get it up and running and allow [the city] to hand the keys off to them once it’s up and running,” said Helmboldt.

The CMAQ grant total is around $1,064,000 for the first year with 600K for capital costs and 300+ for operating costs.

“[The number] falls in line with the estimate provided by the fourth generation vendor we’re working with,” said Helmboldt.

Operating costs will be covered by the city, but the program is expected to cover itself with revenue from users, sponsorships, and advertising on bikes and bike share stations.

“That’s the typical revenue streams,” said Helmboldt, who stressed bike share programs in other cities, especially those with university student populations, often covered 100% or more of their costs within the first year.

Councilwoman Ellen Robertson called the project “pretty cool” and “amazing,” before expressing concerns for those who might end up on bikes without knowledge of street laws, as well as concerns about drivers’ knowledge of how to handle bikers.

“Do we have a plan to support bike traffic and if there’s an education component included in there?” she asked Helmboldt.

“We’ve got a number of projects in the works now… and this [paper] will give us a framework for moving forward,” said Helmboldt. “It does have some content on encouraging education… to address some of those education and awareness issues, but unfortunately that education issue is something we don’t have a lot of control over.”

Helmboldt mentioned the city’s Complete Streets program, which should help manage bike traffic in the city, hopefully solving some of the safety concerns.

Max Hepp-Buchanan, Director of Bikewalk RVA at Richmond Sports Backers, said he and his group look forward to the city achieving the long-rumored goal of providing a bike share system to residents.

He knows a thing or two about the process – he helped found Seattle’s Bike Share program, Puget Sound Bike Share, back in 2012. He said that city had public bikes available Fall 2014. “Aside from building infrastructures, this is one of the best ways to get people on bikes – you’re putting 300 bikes out there for public use.”

Alicia Zatcoff, sustainability manager for Richmond’s Green City Commission, sent a liaison to support the paper. “It’s one of the 55 initiatives in the city’s RVA green sustainability plan,” said the liaison. “They want their support to be on the record.”

So what’s the timeline for seeing bike share in Richmond?

“Bike share depends on business model, the operations model,” said Hepp-Buchanan. “I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility to have an operating bike share program on the ground in Richmond by September.”

September has become a looming deadline for many projects around the city (see Welcoming Walls RVA) as the city preps for the 2015 UCI Road Wold Championships, an international bike race which is expected to bring 450,000 spectators to the River City.

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

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