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Slick Tony’s Bike Share Charade

RETHINKING LA - In the midst of CicLAvia’s bike/ped euphoria, Mayor Villaraigosa stood up and announced his plans to bring a $16 million bike-share program to Los Angeles, prompting LA’s cycling community to swoon like Sally Fields at the Academy Awards.

“You like us, right now, you really like us!”
It’s hard to be critical of municipal transportation programming during CicLAvia, the high holy day of bike/ped activism, but now that the dust has settled, it’s reasonable to take a close look at Villaraigosa’s bike-share gift. It’s also reasonable to ask the tough questions.

Villaraigosa’s bike-share proposal consists of a partnership with Bike Nation that would place 4000 bicycles in 400 stations distributed in areas that include downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, Westwood and the Westside. Bike Nation would not seek money from the City of LA and the contract giving them public advertising rights would last for ten years.

Sounds great!

But, why Bike Nation? Is it really necessary to leave the city in order to find qualified bike-share operators?

LA is already host to many bike-share operators and organizations qualified to participate in a bike-share program, if only they were given an opportunity to bid on a contract such as this.

In fact, if the Mayor really wanted to stir the local economy, he could have used this as an opportunity to create a network of businesses and co-ops that could work together to overcome two of the biggest obstacles in bike-share programming, maintenance issues and redistribution of bikes.

At first glance, it appears that the Mayor is completely unaware of the existing bike-share infrastructure in Los Angeles.

LA’s film studios are densely populated villages that are filled with bikes, some of them custom made for the production companies and the shows on the lot. The bikes come with a maintenance contract so that they can be stored, maintained, and accessed when needed.

Golly, it’s just like a Bike-Share program!

LA’s Universities are densely populated villages that are filled with bikes, some of them very inexpensive commuter bikes that students acquire for the duration of the semester. From UCLA’s Bike Library that allows students to rent to the bike shop next to USC that sells used bikes and agrees to buy them back, students and faculty have access to affordable bikes on a temporary to long-term basis.

Large companies with campus style facilities have a tremendous track record for encouraging cyclists, sometimes offering bike safety classes to complement the use of the loaner bikes that are distributed throughout the facility. These programs are often complemented with education and encouragement, resulting in organizations such as the Aerospace Cycling Club.

Again, it’s just like a Bike-Share program.

From Hollywood Blvd. to Griffith Park to the Westside to Topanga, there are bikes for rent, offered by individual companies that eke out an existence as individual operators, sometimes with a concession agreement, typically catering to niche audiences. They maintain the bikes, they offer advice on local destinations and attractions, and they typically carry helmets for cyclists.

From afar, it looks a bit like an informal bike-share program.

LA’s leading jobs generator is tourism and LA’s hotels have been in the bike-share business for a long time. Why? Because it works. Le Montrose in West Hollywood caters to tourists and locals alike with packages wrapped around local events and supported with a bike-share program that allows guests to enjoy the neighborhood on a bike.

For all practical purposes, it’s beginning to look like LA already has a bike-share program.

LA even has real estate set aside for bike-share programming, including two of Hollywood’s Metro stations. There are storefront spaces at the Hollywood & Western station and Hollywood & Vine station, set aside for bike-share programs but they are both still empty, years after the ribbon was cut. Why? Red tape for local operators.

Sounds like LA has the infrastructure for bike-share but no leadership willing to overcome Metro obstacles.

The City of LA entered into a contract with CBSDecaux several years ago, one that offered LA several choices in return for the street furniture contract. One of the choices was a bike-share program like the ones in Lyon and Marseille. LA passed on that opportunity and then went on to demonstrate the difficulty it has in administering oversight of street furniture contracts, prompting the question, “What makes Villaraigosa think LA is in a better oversight position with Bike Nation, a company with no track record of success in bike-share?”

Looks like LA has bike-share options that go back for years.

Bike-share companies have tried to engage local operators and hosts with their products, offering electric assist bikes, bikes with GPS units that prevent theft, and bikes with wayfinding tools that guide tourists. Typically, the greatest obstacle has been attempting a citywide campaign without the blessing of LA’s red-tape factory.

It appears that bike-share has been knockin’ but nobody at City Hall has been answering the door!

Now, with little or no public participation, Villaraigosa announces a deal with a company that has no track record, that has no relationships with local bike-shops, that has no connection to local advocacy organizations, that has no connection to local providers of bike safety education, that has no connection to the cycling community.

Sounds like a bike-share press conference opportunity that comes with little in the way of local benefit and lots in the way of mayoral benefit.

Bike Nation may very well be a great company, one that buys its bikes locally, contracting with local bike shops for maintenance and redistribution, stirring the local economy by partnering with local hotels, and supporting a bike maintenance program at Trade Tech.

But we don’t know much about Bike Nation other than that they are owned by First Pacific Holdings along with Median Nation and Media Nation Outdoor. Oh, yeah. They’ve never done this before.

The City of Los Angeles is the largest city in a county of 88 cities. The Mayor has an opportunity to engage in a bike-share program that brings the county together or he can continue to operate as if LA is an island.

LA’s bike-share programming should be based on a commitment to the local economy and to connecting surrounding communities into a regional bike-share opportunity

It is the pinnacle of arrogance to stick a ribbon on a contract and then present it to the people of LA as if it is a gift, expecting the public to fawn over the hastily contrived public-private partnership as if it is evidence of a commitment to the pursuit of effective transportation solutions.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net. You can also find him on Twitter and on Facebook.) –cw

Tags: Stephen Box, RethinkingLA, bike-share, Bike Nation, Los Angeles, CicLAvia





CityWatch
Vol 10 Issue 32
Pub: Apr 20, 2012


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