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Austin Prepares for Spring Launch of Bike Share

by: Karl-Thomas Musselman

Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 03:43 PM CST

Over two years ago Downtown Austin Blog, er, blogger Jude Galligan spoke up to urge Austin to join the growing tide of American cities installing bike-sharing programs. This spring, Austin will finally see the fruits of that labor as it rolls out 40 bike share kiosks with up to 400 bikes in the initial system.

Some details from Jude...

We can expect a draft map of the locations within the next couple of months.

I've learned that City staff's process of identifying possible sites for bike share kiosks is based on several criteria:

  • Proximity of bike infrastructure such as bike lanes or cycle tracks
  • High employment density
  • Nearby parks, recreation facilities, tourist attractions, or other destination
  • Favorable topography
  • Public transit services

Get it out there.

The city would be wise to also take into account analysis that has already been done in other cities, like D.C. which arguably has the nation's best system. And thanks to open data (another thing that Austin should prioritize, especially given the local tech community), we can see what factors have been found to be important in D.C.

My recently completed master's paper analyzes the factors behind the number of trips at different Capital Bikeshare stations. I created a regression of trips in October 2011 that began at stations in the District. After controlling for 14 variables, the analysis concludes that 5 key factors primarily determine a station's usage:

  • The population aged 20-39
  • The level of non-white population
  • The retail density, using alcohol licenses as a proxy
  • Whether Metrorail stations are nearby
  • The distance from the center of the CaBi system

All that said, it's important for policy makers and the public to understand who bike-sharing systems are really targeted at. The following comment by a reader summed it up as follows.

I'm living in DC now, which has "the best bike-sharing program in the United States". I use Capital Bikeshare most days, and Phil uses it as his primary mode of transport.

Here's the thing, though, that I think is important to get buy-in in Austin, and get people excited: I don't consider myself a cyclist. I'm lazy, and I don't like going long distances up hills.

But Bikeshare isn't really for the people who already own bikes and think nothing of commuting 12 miles. It's gotten people like me on a bike, it's made distances that would be annoyingly long to walk be fun and take 1/4 of the time. It's great for getting to an area that's a bit away from a bus stop. It's an awesome utility if you're going somewhere where you don't want to have to drive/ride home or schlep your car/bike home.

For example, if you're going out drinking, you ride your bike to the place, dock it, and you're done -- no trying to cram your bike into your friend's trunk, or drunk-biking home, or slurring "I gotta move my car." It's also awesome for going to places where parking is limited (UT, downtown, South Congress, music festivals).

My point is that "selling" this entails talking to the non bikers, and also explaining it in a way that doesn't suggest people use it as their only mode of transit -- it works best in conjunction with buses, walking, taxis, and/or cars.

In DC, the irony is that bike shops were initially wary of Bikeshare, because they thought it would undercut their business. But it's had the opposite effect -- it's gotten a lot of people who wouldn't have been cyclists into biking, and some of them buy equipment & gear, and some of them graduate into buying their own bikes.

Anyway, I'm thrilled to see it coming to Austin!

This point is an important one as bike-sharing opens up cycling as an option to those who an open to using it for some trips but currently don't due to various barriers (having to buy a bike, safety concerns, road confidence, etc). Our bike-share program is intended to grow the number of folks getting on bikes beyond the far left end of the following spectrum.


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