October 2013 Featured Article
AFFORDABLE BIKE ACCESS PROGRAMS:
A GROWING PHENOMENON FOR COMMUNITIES OF ALL SHAPES AND SIZES
As the availability of funding for construction of multipurpose trails and multi-modal corridors remains steady, opportunity for municipalities to meet new demands for use of these new facilities is also available through affordable bicycle access programs. These programs seek to make bicycles accessible and affordable to individuals wanting to use them to get to or from work or other community destinations. Programs such as these reduce traffic congestion, protect air quality, promote healthy lifestyles and expand the transit choices available to workers and residents.
Major cities like Washington D.C., Chicago and New York have initiated bike access programs through the recent completion of a comprehensive network of bike rental stations. Each station is complete with kiosks for processing rental transactions, thus enabling convenient citywide bike access. However, the reality for smaller municipalities is that they do not have the population or revenue to justify a 3+ million dollar bike rental program. Recently, several of New Jersey’s municipalities have been able to provide similar services at a fraction of the costs through a bike share.
At their core, bike shares promote multi-modal mobility for a wide range of residents at essentially any income level. Typically, participants are allowed to borrow bikes at designated locations for an extended period of time in exchange for a small fee established by the local bike share. The bikes are catalogued before they are a signed out, similar to the way books are signed out of a library, and operate on an annual budget of a few thousand dollars using a handful of volunteers.
The bikes themselves can be purchased through federal, state or local funding, or can be donated by private residents or through a bicycle refurbishing program. Metropolitan Planning Organizations like NJTPA have been able to appropriate federally funded bike share programs, such as was done in Newark, through its Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality’s (CMAQ) Local Mobility Initiative. Camden County’s Division of Environmental Affairs leverages its existing funding stream to include the refurbishing of discarded and abandoned bicycles, in addition to its responsibilities in waste management, recycling, open space and other green initiatives. The bikes are then numbered and distributed to Camden County participating municipalities.
The repurposing of older bicycles also keeps startup costs for a local bike share to a minimum. As result, each municipality gains greater flexibility in determining its own rental fees and the policies that work best for its residents. The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) was among the first state DOTs to adopt an internal Complete Streets policy. Complete Streets funding gives communities roadway infrastructure that encourages zero emission transportation alternatives that lower vehicular trip generation. Demand for using these facilities also require attention as its capacity can be met through the bike share model.
The NJDOT has historically offered a number of programs to assist with the development of bicycle improvements. Funding bicycle trails, bike racks, way finding programs and other related infrastructure have been eligible through the Bikeways, Transportation Enhancement and Centers of Place programs. Of course, the New Jersey Green Acres Program and other recreationally based agencies at the state and federal levels offer funding for similar initiatives.
As the cost of transportation rises, bicycle trips for work, day to day errands and other travel are likely to increase. Providing the infrastructure, an access to bicycles and a convenient system for monitoring and administering, bike sharing programs will not only promote multi-modal transportation opportunities, but improve a community’s quality of life by expanding consumer choices.
Large and small communities across New Jersey have embraced the concept of bike sharing. Some examples of communities with active projects include: Collingswood, Red Bank, Camden City and Princeton University (U-Bike).
Published October 2, 2013.