Good news, everyone! Last week, the Raleigh City Council approved the proposal for the Raleigh Bike Share with an 8-1 vote. Oaks and Spokes, WakeUP Wake County, and many other individuals and organizations worked tirelessly to raise this project’s visibility, and the City Council’s overwhelming support is evidence of our ability to affect change at the local level. However, the process of realizing the Raleigh BikeShare’s full potential is still in its infancy. Moving forward, here are some of the benefits and challenges we will likely encounter as the Raleigh BikeShare becomes a reality.
First, we would like to thank the City Council for supporting this new addition to Raleigh transit system. As we implement the Raleigh BikeShare, Raleigh will join twenty-seven other US cities as a transportation innovator. Having reviewed bike share programs across the country, we are confident that Raleigh’s BikeShare, which will serve citizens from all across our city, will stimulate our local economy and improve the quality of living in our city. By replacing cars or pedestrian travel for short trips and providing a “last mile solution” for those citizens who use other forms of public transit, the BikeShare will have Raleigh moving in a whole new way.
We applaud our representatives for understanding that the Raleigh BikeShare is an addition to the city’s infrastructure. As such, the costs associated with the Raleigh BikeShare should be considered relative to the costs of other elements of our city’s infrastructure. The $438,000 operating cost, which we believe will be largely subsidized by our community partners, is nothing to sneeze at. However, the price tag looks a bit more reasonable beside the adopted budget for parking in the 2015-16 fiscal year, which was $17,849,615, or forty times as much. The cost seems less outlandish next to the numbers for stormwater management, which received $17,748,688 in the 2015-16 budget. We’re not here to criticize these programs; rather, we hope that these numbers help concerned citizens put the price of this new piece of infrastructure into context.
We agree with the Council’s conviction that the Raleigh BikeShare must be a transportation solution. For our citizens who use the bus system or park in remote decks, it makes that last mile to work shorter. For others, it offers an alternative to the hassle of congestion and parking for short trips. For those without cars, either by choice or by necessity, the Raleigh BikeShare opens doors across the city. Students from Peace and Shaw suddenly have time for lunch downtown. Young professionals and families in the Glenwood and Forest Hills neighborhoods no longer waste time circling Cameron Village parking lots. Stations on South Person and South Blount provide access across Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, opening yet another gateway to work and play in downtown Raleigh.
Finally, we reaffirm our commitment to making the Raleigh BikeShare accessible to citizens all across our city by addressing issues of location and cost. According to a 2013 publication in the Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal, bike programs that are most successful in low-income communities place stations in those communities, deploy targeted advertisements in those communities, recruit workers from those communities, and even work with local nonprofits to subsidize membership costs. The Raleigh BikeShare should strive to be equitable infrastructure; a moral bike sharing program cannot ignore those citizens who face some of the most challenging transportation problems. Nationally, bike shares have begun to help us rethink who bicycles are for. A 2011 study in Transportation Research points out that bike share users do not fit the profile of area cyclists. They are younger. They are more likely to be women. They have lower household incomes than private bike owners, and they are more likely to cycle for utility. Whether a bicycle offers relief from an unsustainable car payment or shortens the last mile, we insist that the Raleigh BikeShare can and must serve the needs of those citizens in Raleigh’s low-income communities. We look forward to working with invested members of the City Council and local partners to help increase accessibility by emphasizing the Raleigh BikeShare’s convenience and value.
The road to last week’s council decision has been long, but the journey is not over. If we want the Raleigh BikeShare to be successful, impactful, and equitable, we must all continue to contribute. Whether we are members of the Raleigh City Council, volunteers for Oaks and Spokes, or stakeholders with local partners, it is up to us to decide what the Raleigh BikeShare will be.