Running in Cycles

Written by Wayne Michael Reich Category: Valley News Issue: September 2015
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PHM0915PFVN02aBoosted by success in Downtown Phoenix, the Grid Bike Share program prepares to expand to Mesa and Tempe.

Musician David Byrne of Talking Heads once noted, “On a bike, being slightly above pedestrian and car eye level, one gets a perfect view of the goings-on in one’s own town.” It’s an observation that rings especially true for users of the Valley’s Grid Bike Share program.

The Grid Bike Share program consists of a series of public stations – many in close proximity to Metro Light Rail stops and local businesses (see map) – where bicycles are available for short-term rental. The program, which operates exclusively on private funds, launched last November, and has been lauded for its sustainability while growing to serve 5,600 regular users. Its success in Phoenix has inspired the cities of Mesa and Tempe, which will be introducing their Grid Bike Share programs in early 2016.

Spearheaded by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton in 2012, Grid Bike Share was conceived with both long-term community input and development in mind. “We knew that creating a bike-friendly city was critical to attracting and keeping a talented 21st-century workforce,” Stanton says. “We are competing with other cities for the best and brightest from the Millennial generation, and bike sharing is a big part of the urban experience – which includes light rail and other transit options – that they desire. Grid Bike Share is not only a fun and easy way to get around Central Phoenix;  it’s critically important to our economic development.”

Bicycles can be borrowed at the bike racks, or reserved at gridbikeshare.com or via the Grid Bike Share smartphone application (see “How It Works” sidebar). The rental rate varies: Per-hour cost is $5, but there are options for passes, including an annual pass for $79 ($59 for students), and a $30 monthly pass. Each gives the user 60 minutes a day; anything beyond that incurs an overage fee of $3 per 30 minutes, up to a daily maximum of $25.

The distinctive bright green bikes, manufactured by New York-based company Social Bicycles, are state-of the-art: height-adjustable, GPS- and mobile software-equipped, and virtually theft-proof due to their proprietary design. That is, there are no transposable components that would allow a kitchen version of the Huffy Green Machine. Specifically calculated to be impervious to the harshness of Arizona’s climate, the bikes are outfitted with Kevlar tires and quickly-cooling seats and grips.

Lisa Parks, community outreach manager for Gridbikes.com, owns three bikes of her own, but frequently uses the Grid Bikes instead. “I find them to be super convenient for one-way trips or for those times when I don’t want to worry about locking up my own bike. And I use them all the time to commute to work,” she says. “It’s so fun to have people smile and wave when I ride by, or they stop me and ask about the bikes. They’ve really enhanced the sense of community and place around Downtown Phoenix.”

Similar bike share programs are successfully running in cities including Seattle, Wash.; Tampa Bay, Fla.; and Salt Lake City, Utah, with new ventures planned for others including Santa Monica, Calif., and Louisville, Ky.

PHM0915PFVN03In the Valley, plans are in the works to eventually branch the Grid Bike Share program out to South Phoenix, a step toward realizing Mayor Stanton’s vision of providing access to all citizens – a major issue Grid Bike Share presently faces. Rentals currently require a debit or credit card, which can be problematic for those Phoenicians who don’t have them – many of whom, ironically, depend largely on public transit to get to work.

A practical solution for this “un-banked” demographic is being discussed. “Being un-banked should not limit your mobility options,” Charlene Reynolds, deputy street transportation director for the City of Phoenix, says. “Making our system equitable translates into making it accessible for community members, and as we continue to expand Grid Bike Share in Phoenix, access to the system remains a priority.”

There are currently 500 Grid Bikes spread over 39 depots in Central and Downtown Phoenix. Reynolds says the number of bikes available will ideally rise to 1,500.  

In the first quarter of 2016, Tempe and Mesa will launch their Grid Bike Share Programs.

While both are taking cues from Phoenix’s program, Mesa’s situation requires very few “tweaks,” Niel Curley, management assistant with the City of Mesa, says. In relation to the “un-banked” question, Mesa is considering partnering with nonprofits to help resolve the issue.

The current challenge in Tempe revolves around funding, as city code prohibits corporate branding, so no logos can be placed on the bikes or the stations (Phoenix’s program offers sponsor logo space on bike baskets and advertising panels at stations). According to Eric Iwerson, principal planner for the City of Tempe, a $1.3 million federal grant was the main source of capital, and the timing for Tempe is “perfect.”

“Tempe’s long-term investment and commitment to sustainable transportation, combined with smart land use decisions, has created a city advancing to being a national leader for bicycling,” Iwerson says.

Back at City of Phoenix headquarters, public information officer Monica Hernandez preps for a planning meeting, and talks about what she hopes the Bike Share program will achieve: “I want people to have options, and I want access for all. I want them to be free to see all that Phoenix has to offer.”