It’s been a slow process—one Philly resident and avid bicyclist Russell Meddin has watched every step of the way. And on Friday afternoon, after eight years, his idea to bring Bike Sharing to Philadelphia climbed another step toward reality, passing through City Council’s Committee on Transportation and Public Utilities with a favorable recommendation.
Meddin, the founder of the city’s likely-future Bike Share program, was the second person to testify in favor of Bill 140449, introduced by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, which would approve the bike share agreements the city announced in April.
Those agreements include the creation of 60 bicycle stations around the city—from the Delaware River in the East to 52nd Street in the West; the Navy Yard in the South to Temple University in the North—where people in Philadelphia can essentially rent bikes for short periods of time, and return them to kiosks elsewhere, both complimenting and creating new public uses of transportation around the city.
“We knew [bike sharing] would compliment Philadelphia’s existing transit system as a solution to the first mile – last mile conundrum of fixed route train, bus and subway lines,” said Meddin in his testimony. “We knew that it was a way to increase physical exercise levels of ordinary Philadelphia citizens and thus reduce obesity levels and the occurrence of Type 2 diabetes.”
The idea, noted Meddin and others who testified (including Andrew Stober, Chief of Staff of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities; Alex Doty, Executive Director of the Greater Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition; and Nathan Hommel of University City District), when Philadelphia’s Bike Share system is introduced and in operation in Spring 2015 (a likely begin time), we’ll join more than 700 worldwide cities with Bike Share systems, 50 U.S. cities, and “65 other U.S. cities either constructing or planning systems for the near future,” according to Meddin’s testimony.
According to Stober, the 60 kiosk stations planned at the program’s birth is just the beginning. Within the first two years, he expects the system to grow to 150 to 200 bike share stations and 1,500 to 2,000 B-Cycle bikes.
We’ll also be the first city in the country to launch B-Cycle’s (a company formed through a partnership with Trek) newly designed stations. The city has selected Bicycle Transit Systems—a Philly-based company—to operate and maintain the system.
Philadelphia just received a new $3 million grant helping bring Bike Sharing to low-income neighborhoods around the city. That’s in addition to the approval of $3 million in City Capital funds, $2 million in federal and foundation funds, and, potentially, $8 million in already-submitted grant applications.
It was stressed throughout the hearing that low-income residents and neighborhoods may benefit the most from the program, launching kiosks in several neighborhoods outside the business district.
In getting low-income people on bikes, there are ideas to make sure we don’t run into the same problems as have other cities, and the potential to create individual community programs around their bike share kiosks to help low-income utilize the program, although specifics were not yet finalized.
Either way, this is happening, one way or another. The horizon looks good for Philadelphians interested in this venture, according to Next City, partially because it took so long to get here. Some of what the people putting this together “has to do with a reaction against other cities’ models, deciding to make different choices to create a bike-share that’s not only widely used, sustainable and largely glitch-free, but, critically, fitted to Philadelphia,” noted Nancy Scola in a story from last month.
Part of that learning process has been realizing we need two things from the start: make the system accessible to everyone, and obtaining all capital costs up front.
The bill now goes to full Council for consideration.