Companies, colleges could follow city lead
Businesses across Tucson may not know it, but 2008 could be the year bicycles become part of the work day.
Employees may be riding to meetings or even to lunch on company-owned bikes.
City Hall, the University of Arizona and Tucson’s biggest private business, Raytheon Missile Systems, all have bike sharing on their mind.
A few dozen city employees have climbed aboard the new City Cycle bike-sharing program of the city Transportation Department, and the numbers are expected to grow.
City Cycle started rolling in a few city offices four months ago. City workers can check out bikes and helmets at eight downtown locations and use them for work or lunch.
Public bike sharing a la Paris is not in the game plan yet, but can it be far behind with Tucson rated as one of only seven gold-level bike-friendly cities in 2006 by the League of American Bicyclists?
The official motivation for City Cycle is improving air quality and reducing fuel consumption, but that’s not all Tom Thivener is shooting for as the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.
“Tucson is a bike-friendly community,” Thivener said. “We want to get people who don’t normally get on bikes to get on bikes to get the spinoff effect of more people maybe riding bikes to work”
Thivener put the full fleet of 23 KHS 3-speed Manhattan Green bikes in service in early January and widely announced the program to city employees in early February. City Cycle is funded with $5,500 from a Federal Highway Administration alternative modes grant awarded to the Pima Association of Governments.
The way Thivener sees it, bigger businesses in Tucson may also catch the bike-sharing bug – mainly because he’s going to plant the seed.
In coming weeks, Thivener will have a blueprint ready to supply to businesses interested in starting company fleets. Tucson’s biggest businesses – 294 with more than 100 employees – will receive Thivener’s blueprint as part of participation in PAG’s Travel Reduction Program.
“It’s a four- or five-step process to get off the ground,” Thivener said. “One: Management approval. Two: Get risk management to buy in. Three: Purchase bikes. Four: Develop rules for bike users. Five: Establish a checkout procedure. It could be as simple as buying one unisize bike with an adjustable seat.”
Raytheon is the first business to give Thivener’s vision a try.
Raytheon is buying 19 three-speed Giant bicycles after about 20 riders gave one bike a test run starting in mid-December.
The 20-bike fleet should be in place by mid-April, said Randy Rogers-Gardner, Raytheon’s energy conservation manager.
Raytheon also has electric and fuel-driven carts but Rogers-Gardner wants more people to switch to company bikes.
“It’s a good mile from one extreme of where people are in buildings to the other extreme,” Rogers-Gardner said. “In lieu of walking, it’s much faster. In lieu of riding a cart or car, it’s faster because you have to park the car. Although carts are efficient, they are not carbon neutral. They do have maintenance issues.”
Rogers-Gardner used $10,000 for 20 bikes and kit bags with helmets, locks, cables and straps for pants cuffs. He wants to bring more bikes to Raytheon and he encourages other businesses to add bicycles.
“I’d like to have this grow, from one to 20, from 20 to 200 bikes,” said Rogers-Gardner, who commutes 21 miles one way on a bike one day a week. “My sense is Davis-Monthan (Air Force Base) is a good start or the University of Arizona or Pima Community College. Other large businesses in town have that potential and that desire. There is a group of people out there that want this to happen and can make this happen.”
Among them are Thivener and Gabe Thum, senior transportation planner at the Pima Association of Governments. Along with working to make Tucson’s biggest businesses more bike-oriented, Thum met in December with University of Arizona officials on how to set up a bike-sharing program and where to look for state, federal and private grants.
UA distributes about 20 abandoned student bikes a year for employee use, mostly in the facilities management, chemistry, residence life, parking and transportation, KUAT, bursar’s, law and physiology departments and offices. No bike-sharing program exists for students, said Bill Davidson, marketing manager for UA’s parking and transportation services.
“We’re studying the possibility of implementing a more expanded bike sharing,” Davidson said. “It would be for employees and students.”
No timetable is in place for campuswide bike sharing at UA.
Northern Arizona University in October launched the Yellow Bike program with 45 bikes salvaged from those students abandoned in the spring.
The fleet expanded to 65 bikes during the fall semester. About two-thirds were stolen or vandalized, but administrators expected that, said Heather Farley, program coordinator at NAU’s Center for Sustainable Environments, where the Yellow Bike idea originated in a climate mitigation class last spring.
The student idea was presented to the university president’s cabinet and it was quickly determined that unclaimed student bikes would be the perfect pilot for bike-sharing. NAU is buying 80 new bicycles with the hope that students have more respect for new bikes, said Samuel Lettes, a sustainable environments intern.
The Yellow Bike program is as casual as it gets. Bikes are scattered across campus. People get on, ride and leave the bike in any location. There are no locks, and the bikes are not necessarily left in racks.
“As a staff member, I’ve found it nice to just find one and get on and get to a meeting faster. You can easily bike much quicker than drive or walk,” Farley said.
The same spontaneity is in play when Fred Coy grabs a City Cycle bike in Tucson.
“Usually, it’s an impulse,” said Coy, senior engineering associate in the system evaluation unit at Tucson Water. “I have to go talk to the fire marshal. I grab a bike. I don’t preplan.”
Without the bikes, Coy said, “I would have to check out a vehicle. Let’s say I’m going to the Fire Department. By the time I check out a car, drive over there and check it back in, I actually save time with a bike.”
Bicycle sharing is in vogue across Europe, where 63 cities have bicycles easily available for rental at street corners across town.
Paris in recent months became the bike-sharing darling after unleashing more than 10,000 bikes at 750 locations.
“Paris has sparked a lot of interest because of the size of it,” said Tom Thivener, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. “Nobody ever saw bike facilities there.”
No American city has a sophisticated public bicycle sharing system, although San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are working with Clear Channel Outdoor to bring the concept stateside, said national bike-sharing consultant Paul DeMaio.
He believes America is ripe for public bike sharing. He thinks Tucson could be a pioneer, if the city so chooses.
“I think it’s going to catch on like wildfire in the United States,” said DeMaio, owner of Washington, D.C.-based MetroBike. “Tucson has a ton of bike lanes. Why shouldn’t Tucson be a leader?”
Tucson is taking a lead in what DeMaio describes as a “company fleet,” bike sharing within a business. Tucson is one of more than 20 cities with city-run bike sharing programs for city employees, but Tucson is the only city that Thivener knows of that is creating a blueprint for private business bike sharing.
Nobody at this point is pursuing public bike sharing in Tucson, but there is interest in the idea.
“It works really well over there (Europe),” said Gabe Thum, senior transportation planner of the Pima Association of Governments. “I think it could work very well here. You have to have some sort of accountability. Tie a bike-sharing thing to a place of work or a debit card. The key is putting some accountability on it.”
Randy Rogers-Gardner teamed up with the city’s City Cycle program to launch RayCycle, a bicycle sharing program at Raytheon Missile Systems.
“When I do informal surveys of employees, there is a significant number of people who ride their bikes for recreation,” said Rogers-Gardner, Raytheon’s energy conservation manager. “There is a realistic expectation (that Tucson can become a bike-sharing city).”
Public bike sharing could help bolster Tucson’s reputation as one of seven U.S. cities to achieve gold status as a bicycle-friendly community from the League of American Bicyclist. Tucson will apply for platinum status in the spring to try and join the lone platinum city, Davis, Calif., Thum said.
“We have the political support (for bicycle sharing),” Thum said. “We have the personnel. I think it could definitely happen. I’ve seen from the mayor and county supervisors, they are all great supporters of bike sharing.”
Mayor Bob Walkup and Richard Elías, chairman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, spoke favorably of the bike-sharing concept.
“You bet, especially now that we have funding through the RTA to link the bike paths,” Walkup said. “If they can come up with a unique way to secure (the bikes) in some fashion, I’m in.”
Elías wants to hear from the bicycling community about bike sharing.
“I think it’s probably a pretty good idea,” Elías said. “We need to look at how we can do it safely and make use of the bike system we have. I don’t think it’s something we should dismiss outright. I think it’s something we should look into.”
Two outdoor advertising companies, JCDecaux in Europe and Clear Channel Outdoors in the United States, are the primary private sector partners for bike sharing.
Tucson could become pioneer in bicycle-sharing programs
Cities that have bike fleets:
San Jose, Calif.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
Palo Alto, Calif.
Teton County, Wyo.
Source: Kent Johnson, Ithaca, N.Y.
Interested in bringing bicycle sharing to your business?
Here’s who to contact:
Tom Thivener, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, at 837-6691 or email@example.com
Gabe Thum, senior planner at the Pima Association of Governments, at 792-1093 or firstname.lastname@example.org
ON THE WEB
Tucson bicycle and pedestrian program
Pima County bicycle and pedestrian program
Will Smart Bikes succeed as public transit?
Paul DeMaio’s bike sharing blog
European-style bike-sharing headed to U.S.
San Francisco moving to catch up with European bike-share programs