Bike-Share and Car-Share Programs Reduce VMTs

Young People Shy Away from Driving

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Matt Sandstrom is business development manager for the Clean Energy Coalition in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Stratis Giannakouros is assistant director of the Center for Sustainable Communities in Decorah, Iowa.

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Posted: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 2:57 pm

Kids everywhere are taught at an early age that sharing is the right thing to do, but as we grow up not many of us think about sharing our bikes or cars.

Two representatives from Midwestern college towns shared their thoughts about planning and funding bike- and car-sharing programs to help reduce vehicle miles traveled in their communities.

Matt Sandstrom, business development manager for the Clean Energy Coalition in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Stratis Giannakouros, assistant director of the Center for Sustainable Communities in Decorah, Iowa, both work in what could be termed small towns, although Ann Arbor’s population is about 115,000 while Decorah’s is just 8,000.

Both are making investments in improving green transportation options for their residents and visitors.

Bike Sharing in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Bike sharing programs are relatively new to the U.S., with the first one launched in 2010. Currently 16 cities have programs and another 15, including Ann Arbor’s, are under development. Bike share programs can be key components of a city’s sustainability efforts, Sandstrom said, as they reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality; increase mass transit use and intermodal connections; encourage healthy and active transportation; foster vibrant communities and increase a sense of place; improve economic vitality; and provide novel and exciting transportation options for visitors.

The city of Ann Arbor has made significant investments to its bike infrastructure in recent years, with 20 miles of bike lanes added and six miles of roads marked with shared use arrows (aka “sharrows.”) This has contributed to a 46 percent increase in the number of residents biking to work in that time. Work to add a bike sharing program fits in well with these efforts, and a great deal of effort has gone into educating Ann Arbor officials and residents about what a bike sharing program is, what it is not and how it works. However Sandstrom emphasized that the real work is in planning the bike share system; this planning is absolutely critical, but it is easy to skimp on planning and can be hard to fund.

The planning process is where decisions about the scale of the bike share system (how many bikes, how many stations, etc.), the business model (who owns and who operates a system) and funding must be grappled with. During this time, community partnerships must be developed, whether they are with colleges and universities, other municipalities or levels of governments, transit authorities, non-profits, or businesses. Many of these potential partners may benefit from a bike share program and have some funding to contribute. In Ann Arbor, for instance, the University of Michigan agreed to contribute $200,000 per year for three years as they believe bike sharing will contribute significantly to their sustainability goals and the campus as a whole.

The city of Ann Arbor has also contributed financially and with in-kind support through outreach to residents as well as by developing a streamlined permitting process for the siting of bike share stations and changes to the city’s sign ordinances to make way for the advertising on stations that generates much of the system revenue.

The city itself does not own or operate the bike share system. Instead the Clean Energy Coalition, Sandstrom’s employer, is doing that and Sandstrom believes there are good reasons for having a non-profit organization like CEC own and manage the system as it “removes financial liability from the jurisdiction and places it on the non-profit which remains the organization responsible for fundraising and program implementation.” Not all bike share programs in the U.S. use this business model. Some, like Washington, D.C. and Boston, have municipally owned and managed systems, but Ann Arbor is following the lead of places like Boulder, Colo., and Minneapolis, Minn.

Of course nothing like this happens without funding, and while the Ann Arbor bike sharing system has received some public funds, CEC is actively seeking private support as well. Sandstrom said the group hopes to provide funding for 12-15 bike share stations and 100-130 bikes in the system and will have an estimated total capital budget of $750,000 and another $1.2 million to cover the costs of planning and three years of operating expenses. These dollars will come from a mix of public and private sources, as most systems’ have. Kansas City, however, launched a bike sharing system in 2012 that was 100 percent privately funded, according to Sandstrom.

To date one of the primary sources of funding has been from the healthcare industry with Blue Cross Blue Shield, hospitals and others stepping forward to sponsor systems and individual sharing stations because of the potential for public health benefits. Other sectors, though, are also potential investors. Local businesses and downtown associations may see the economic benefits. Real estate developers may see the value bike sharing can bring to neighborhoods. The tourism and hospitality industry may see the value of branding a city with greener options. Large businesses and banks may see sponsorship as an opportunity for good publicity and community involvement. Sandstrom stressed that reaching out to each of these sectors was critical but it required a targeted approach; a one-size-fits-all pitch to a variety of sponsors would not likely be successful.

Success is not guaranteed in anything and it remains to be seen whether Ann Arbor’s bike share system (or any of the others started in recent years) will be successful over the long term, but changing priorities and demographics make it likely that bike sharing will become more commonplace in cities across the country.

Car Sharing in Decorah, Iowa

In the second half of the session Giannakouros discussed efforts to improve transportation options on the Luther College campus and in greater Decorah community. Luther, with its 2,500 students, has received significant national recognition for its sustainability efforts and is well on its way to becoming a net zero campus through the installation of a 1.6 MW wind turbine and one of the state’s largest solar photovoltaic arrays. Because it is a small town that is “100 miles from anywhere,” according to Giannakouros, and is very bike friendly (it supports two bike stores). Once on campus, students rarely need a car as they are rarely more than a 10-minute bike ride from anywhere in town.

Still, there are times when students, faculty or staff need or want a car, and the college works with U Car Share (a division of U-Haul) to provide cars for lunchtime trips to the medical clinic across town or for a weekend trip to Rochester, Minn., or one of the other “big cities” nearby. One of the reasons Luther chose to work with U Car Share is that there are no administrative costs to the college; everything is handled by the company and everything needed to access a car is done online. This is in contrast to other car sharing programs that have monthly costs of $1,500 or more associated with them or that require some sort of local staffing presence. Luther currently has two cars available on campus and as hourly usage rates exceed 30 percent for each car another car is added by the company.

Giannakouros said that as Luther has made a push to “de-center cars from campus life” and offer wellness incentives, they have seen a strong downward trend in the number of students bringing cars to campus, a rapid ridership increase on the college’s break shuttles (which take students to and from various larger cities before and after spring break, Christmas break and others), and far more bikes on campus as evidenced by the number of bikes in racks and the number of people using the college’s winter bike storage facility.

The college, like many others, long had a little-used bulletin board in the student union that helped students share carpool opportunities. Students and faculty have worked to build an online ride-sharing portal that enhances that concept and which interfaces with Facebook. There are efforts under way to expand that ridesharing portal so that Decorah community members not affiliated with the college can also connect.

“College campuses are the canaries in the coal mine,” said Giannakouros, who cited a recently released University of Michigan study that showed there are strong generational changes happening with dramatic declines in the numbers of young people who want to drive. Colleges and cities that are able to attract – through bike or car sharing programs, strong transit services or other options – a new generation for whom driving simply isn’t cool will have a competitive advantage over those that remain car-centric, he said.

Sandstrom and Giannokouros spoke during a workshop at the 6th annual Growing Sustainable Communities Conference held recently in Dubuque, Iowa.

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