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PikeRide bike sharing coming to Colorado Springs, at last

Getting our share

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The new PikeRide bikes will have high-tech features. - COURTESY DOWNTOWN PARTNERSHIP
  • Courtesy Downtown Partnership
  • The new PikeRide bikes will have high-tech features.

Colorado Springs leaders love to trot out all the reasons the city is No. 1, but what it isn't, at least not usually, is first.

Prime example: In 2015, when Downtown Ventures, the 501(c)(3) arm of the Downtown Partnership, hired Toole Design Group to work on a feasibility study for a future Colorado Springs bike share program, it took a look at some of our peer cities. The Colorado Springs Chamber & Economic Development Corporation provided five "business attraction" peer cities, while the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau provided 10 "tourism comparison" cities. Of those, only two didn't have a bike share: Huntsville, Alabama, and Estes Park. Huntsville has since started one.

Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership, doesn't deny that the Springs is behind the curve, but says, when it comes to bike shares, there are advantages to being late. "The old bike share was all about the bike," Edmondson explains. "The new bike share is about software and technology."

Other cities eager to jump on the bike share trend have often opted for programs that claim to be cost-neutral only to struggle with stolen, vandalized and inconveniently abandoned bikes; excessive maintenance problems; and the need for expensive staffing to oversee programs.

But Edmondson says the Springs will forge a new path with PikeRide, the city's first bike share, set to launch in June under Downtown Ventures. After years of careful research, PikeRide promises to use innovative technology and sound oversight to avoid the problems other cities have had while adding an attractive new transportation option.

In other words, the Springs' program may not be first, but it's still aiming to be the best. Jill Gaebler, City Council president pro tem and one of the major early proponents of the system, touts the benefits of bike shares, from increased health and wellness to decreased congestion and increased transit ridership.

In preparation for the system's launch, she says City Council will consider an ordinance in April to set rules for bike shares, among them that a bike must be tethered to a rack and cannot be left in a right-of-way. The proposed ordinance won't prevent additional bike share companies from entering the Springs market to compete with PikeRide, but it will institute a permit for all programs and create penalties for a poorly run system.

For now, Gaebler says she's simply relieved to see PikeRide hit the streets. At this point, she says, cities just have bike shares — it's almost weird not to. "Bike share is expected when you go to a world-class city," she says, "and we are a world-class city."

According to a history of bike shares by CityLab.com, the first program started in Amsterdam in 1965. Called, the Witte Fietsen, or White Bikes, the program consisted of regular bikes, painted white, and left out for everyone to share. It didn't take long for the idealistic program to fail, as the bikes were stolen or damaged. (This reporter remembers a similar program in Boulder around the turn of the millennium that quickly met a similar fate.)

It wasn't until the mid-'90s that a European city tried bike shares again, first with a coin-operated system and then with cards that allowed the bikes to be tracked. Through the mid-2000s, more European cities began adding systems, further refining bike share technology. In 2007, Paris launched its Vélib' system and Spain introduced Bicing in some of its cities. In 2008, Washington, D.C., became the first U.S. city with a modern bike share program with its introduction of SmartBike DC; Montreal added a pilot system from Bixi; and Hangzhou, China, started its first system.

In the coming years, more companies got in on the bike sharing game, introducing new technology, and by 2010, bike shares were appearing all over the world from South America to Australia to Denver, which added BCycle in 2010. By 2015, CityLab.com reports, there were an estimated 1 million bike share bikes worldwide, with the vast majority in China. In October 2017, Wired reported that "bike sharing has exploded seemingly overnight, thanks to an influx of venture capital and a model that eschews docks."

Let us explain. One of the quagmires of share systems is bike parking. Many systems use "docks," or official stations, where bikes must be dropped off and locked. The stations generally include a kiosk (similar to an ATM) for paying and checking out bikes. But docks sometimes run out of bikes, or are parked full — forcing a rider to find another dock for pick-up or drop-off. China revolutionized "dockless" systems, meaning the pay/checkout system was housed on the bikes, which could be left anywhere because they lock themselves.

The purple area is the Phase 1 operating area; the orange is the Phase 2 expansion. - NO CREDIT
  • No credit
  • The purple area is the Phase 1 operating area; the orange is the Phase 2 expansion.

Dockless smart-bikes are connected to the Internet and take credit cards; often they may charge $1 per ride. Usually, they're paired with apps, allowing a user to locate a bike easily.

With local government approval, dockless bike companies — often based in China or Silicon Valley — can simply drop off hundreds or even thousands of bikes in major cities and allow the programs to more or less run themselves. The systems have been quite popular. The 2017 Wired article notes that Mobike, then a 2-year-old Chinese startup expanding in the U.S., was valued at $3 billion, and that Washington, D.C., now had five dockless bike share companies (and one docked company) competing for market, much like ride-sharing in the early days before Uber took over.

But dockless systems aren't without problems. The same month that Wired article was released, The Washington Post ran an article with the headline "Hey, you can't park there! Dockless bike-share bikes ending up in inappropriate places." The story explored problems with bikes parked on sidewalks or at national monuments, along with vandalism. In what may be one of America's most bike share friendly cities, the article seemed to suggest, many see the bikes as a nuisance.

One month later, a November 2017 article in The Guardian noted the D.C. dilemma and also pointed out, "In China, where there are some 16 million shared bikes on the street and MoBike alone now has over a million, the authorities have been forced to clear up ziggurats of discarded bikes. Residents of Hangzhou became so irritated by bikes lazily dumped by riders, and reportedly sabotaged by angry cab drivers, that the authorities were forced to round up 23,000 bikes and dump them in 16 corrals around the city."

Dumping is just one problem. Other cities have noted issues with bikes being hacked, stolen, vandalized or even turned into public art projects.

Alex Armani-Munn, the Downtown Partnership's economic vitality coordinator, says Colorado Springs wanted to avoid such pitfalls.

"Where you see really shortcomings or issues with dockless systems is with companies deploying such large fleets at one time, the bikes are often cheaper and more flimsy and less maintainable than traditional bikes in a station-based system, so you start to see issues with bikes early on — bikes breaking, bikes being inoperable — which leads to bikes being left in public spaces such as sidewalks," he says.

With a lack of needed staff support, he adds, cities often end up spending money to manage the systems.

Thus, the Springs started by researching shares back in 2015, under the lead of the Bike Share Steering Committee, which included representatives from the Downtown Partnership, Colorado Springs City Council, city staff, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, Colorado College, YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region, Urban Intervention/Altitude Land Consultants, Bike Colorado Springs, HB&A, Bicycle Colorado, Walker Asset Management Realty and the Independent. (Disclosure: Indy Publisher Carrie Simison sits on the PikeRide Advisory Committee and the Independent and our sister paper, the Colorado Springs Business Journal, are sponsors of the upcoming program.) That team then gathered information from more than 20 other organizations.

The stakeholders decided that, aside from the aforementioned issues, a profit-driven dockless bike share company didn't do enough to meet the committee's goals of boosting economic development, spurring more bike infrastructure, bringing more attention to the city as a sports and health mecca, and providing better connectivity (including for transit riders who often must walk the last mile to a destination).

Ultimately, it was decided that Downtown Ventures would run the program initially, and a separate nonprofit or organization would be created to run it after it was established. Downtown Ventures is in the process of hiring an executive director and other key positions for PikeRide, which could have a staff of perhaps four to seven, including some part-timers.

After a request-for-proposal process, the city and Partnership opted to partner with Wisconsin-based BCycle to provide equipment and technology. Owned and operated by Trek Bicycle Corporation, the company has 47 programs across the nation, including in Denver and Boulder, with five more starting this spring. The Springs is among the first (along with Memphis, Tulsa and Jackson, Wyoming) to try the company's new product, the Dash smart bike, which is meant to compete with dockless systems.

"All the smarts that you may see on a dock in say Denver or Boulder are on the bike," Laura Andrews, BCycle marketing and communication manager, explains. Dash bikes feature a color touchscreen that leads customers through checkout and gives audio turn-by-turn directions, as well as data like calories burned, miles ridden and carbon offsets.

But this is the real bit of genius: Colorado Springs will have geofenced docks (called "hubs"), but riders won't have to use them. Customers can choose to leave bikes at a hub for no additional charge, or pay a small fee and lock them up anywhere within the operating area. In other words, the system is both docked and dockless.

Currently, BIKETOWN in Portland is the only similar program, though Tulsa is set to launch a "hub-based smart bike system" as well.

The Springs will deploy 208 purple BCycle Dash smart bikes for its June launch, and install 26 hubs throughout its operating area, which extends north to Fillmore Street and east to Memorial Park, and is geofenced (an alert goes out to PikeRide and the rider if a bike leaves the area). Six of the hubs will feature racks and a kiosk. The rest will be simple bike racks. The program will have a vehicle that can be used to redistribute bikes if too many end up in one area.

Armani-Munn says he doesn't expect PikeRide to suffer from the same abandonment issues that dockless systems are plagued by, because the system requires riders, who must input their payment information, to lock the bike up before leaving it. By comparison, he notes, "With the dockless bikes you can pick up one of those bikes and throw it in a river without ever having to check it out."

Dash bikes, which cost about $1,900 each and are expected to have at least an eight-year lifespan, also come with other features to prevent theft and vandalism. They're sturdy and heavy — made for short rides, not a long haul. They require proprietary tools to work on or disassemble, and their hardware is mostly encased. They're tracked at all times through GPS and will be regularly maintained. Dash bikes include front and rear lighting (the program will run 24/7), eight-speed shifting, baskets and locks. The bikes and kiosks are solar-powered.

Rides can be purchased with a credit card or member card or on the BCycle mobile app, and members can ride any BCycle system, including those in Boulder and Denver. Prices aren't set in stone yet, but an annual pass will probably cost around $80, monthly around $20 to $30, and 24-hour about $8, with corporate discounts available. Rides are limited to 30-60 minutes, though riders can pay more for extra time.

In many ways, the June launch is just the beginning of the program, which will expand in size, scope and capabilities in coming years.

When the initial operating area was being determined, considerations included topography, bike infrastructure, and density of housing, employers, schools, transit, and tourist attractions. While the system will never expand to include the whole city — the Springs lacks the density to make that sustainable — the plan is to phase in a larger area with added bikes. A second phase will add Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs and Ivywild; a third phase calls for adding the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Printers Parkway; and a possible fourth phase could include the Broadmoor area. Armani-Munn says program administrators could choose to allow the bikes outside of the normal zone for a day to pilot an expansion.

Plans are also in the works to offer discounted memberships for income-qualified individuals, as well as working with partner organizations to offer access to the system to those who don't use credit cards. That system, called PayNearMe, would allow people to buy memberships at a local business, for instance, using cash. There are also plans to try to link memberships with transit passes.

The Dash smart bike has many features. And yeah, there's an app for that. - COURTESY DOWNTOWN PARTNERSHIP
  • Courtesy Downtown Partnership
  • The Dash smart bike has many features. And yeah, there's an app for that.

On the tech side, the bikes already have some cool features: A rider can briefly "pause" a ride to grab a coffee, for instance, and the bikes can suggest safer routes. But Andrews says more features will be added because the bikes were designed with software that can be updated, unlike some dockless bikes that become obsolete as technology advances. "Because sustainability is one of our huge beliefs, it doesn't mesh well with bike share to just eliminate a product," Andrews says.

BCycle works with its communities to come up with innovations, and Springs leaders are already brainstorming. One ask: Bikes that can lead riders on special tours, like a First Friday art gallery ride, a tour of the Legacy Loop or a cruise of local breweries. "We expect that with these other cities that are launching the same system we are, that we're all going to come up with ideas and feed them back to BCycle," Edmondson says. "And they'll be like, 'That's a good idea; let's get our programmers on that.'"

As new bikes are added in Phase 2, there are plans to introduce a new bike model to the fleet. BCycle is currently developing an e-bike, powered with the assistance of a motor, to allow those who may not be as fit to use the system. That model may be available as early as the end of the year.

"What I've been telling people recently is that dockless bikes were the disruption of 2017, but that's old news now," Armani-Munn says. "The disruption now is e-bikes. So in a year or two, if your system doesn't have e-bikes, I'm not going to say it's totally obsolete, but like it's the next big thing."

In September 2015, Birmingham, Alabama, became the first city in the U.S. to launch a bike share system that includes ebikes.

PikeRide will rely on user revenue and sponsorship dollars to generate approximately $600,000 in start-up funds, and about $200,000 a year in operational needs. Sponsors are offered brand placement on bikes, hubs and in print and digital materials, as well as discounted memberships. So far, sponsors include Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College, Nor'wood Development Group, Catalyst Campus, Convention & Visitors Bureau, Penrose-St. Francis Hospital and others.

While sponsorships (which range from $1,200 to over $50,000) are still available, there does appear to be enthusiasm for the system. Kaiser Permanente, the title sponsor, also sponsors bike shares in Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins. Holly Kortum, Kaiser Permanente Southern Colorado executive director, says via email, "We are thrilled to be the title sponsor [of] this ground-breaking bike share program that promotes an active mode of transportation and healthy lifestyles. With our focus on promoting healthy communities, this is a great fit for Kaiser Permanente and we are very excited to get involved early on to bring bike share to Colorado Springs!"

PikeRide has also received other money. The Downtown Development Authority, another branch of the Downtown Partnership, put $100,000 toward capital costs; the Colorado Springs Health Foundation gave a $100,000 capital grant; and the city's Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax, which often funds tourist attraction, gave a $250,000 grant.

The Springs has a model similar to those used in four bike share peer cities — Boulder, Denver, Salt Lake and San Antonio — examined in the feasibility study. Three of the four programs were run by nonprofits, while Salt Lake's program is run by a public-private partnership. Donations, sponsors and grants play major roles in sustaining the systems.

Over five years, the local feasibility study estimates that each PikeRide bike will be ridden .66 times per day in the Springs, compared to the average in those four peer cities of .97 rides per day. That equates to a fare box recovery rate of 54 percent with suggested fees — higher than the 47 percent recovery averaged in peer cities.

Armani-Munn says the program is planning on at least $147,000 in user fees and 41,428 rides in the first year. But it's tough to predict those numbers because the system selected for the bike share is brand-new. Data collection, he says, will be key, and PikeRide will stay in close contact with the other Dash systems, updating projections as the numbers roll in.

"We think, with the smart bike, that will increase usage because it's more nimble, but that will be a live and learn," Edmondson says. "What's great about this: We will have so much data. We will see exactly what routes are people taking, where are they going, how long, and be able to adjust."

Colorado Springs may have a reputation as a healthy city, and one where many enjoy cycling, but bikes are more popular as a means of recreation than transportation here. The 2015 feasibility study found that only 0.7 percent of workers age 16 or older commute by bike, and the League of American Bicyclists lists the Springs as a Silver Level Bicycle Friendly Community. That may not sound so bad, but four Colorado cities have earned a Gold rating and both Boulder and Fort Collins have achieved the Platinum level.

Less than 1 percent of locals commute by bicycle. - DATA COURTESY TOOLE DESIGN GROUP
  • Data Courtesy Toole Design Group
  • Less than 1 percent of locals commute by bicycle.

Adding more commuters with a bike share could boost the Springs' ranking, especially if it ushers in improvements to urban trails and bike lanes. Edmondson notes that the Downtown Partnership is aggressively working to see better bike infrastructure in the city's core, as required by the recent downtown master plan. The bike share will add one upgrade to infrastructure: wayfinding signs within its operating area.

That means the share could help boost biking in the Springs. The feasibility study also suggests PikeRide could increase economic development (and tourism) and create better transportation options, including for lower-income and transit-dependent people. For instance, the study found that tourists, visitors and casual users generally account for two-thirds of user-generated revenues with bike shares, and in the tourism-heavy Springs it's thought that visitors will account for a larger share.

According to the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Pikes Peak region attracts 23 million a year, and tourism is the region's third largest industry, accounting for more than 17,000 jobs. Spokesperson Chelsy Offutt says that the CVB is excited about the bike share and will have a hub at its offices.

"We just think it's a great way to attract new visitors and connect people to the downtown experience, and it's environmentally friendly," she says.

But PikeRide isn't just for tourists; the study found that several Census tracts within the ultimate footprint of the share have a higher percentage of people living in poverty than the city average. The area also includes racially diverse tracts within the city.

"We're launching with a phase one [that includes] adjacent downtown neighborhoods which are a mix of income levels, but include Hillside, Mill Street, Roswell," Edmondson notes. "Those are all areas we'll be serving."

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