In Portland, even the bikesharing systems are weird.
At least, that’s what City Hall just promised.
A publicly subsidized Zipcar for bicycles is coming to Portland in a few years, but only after the city committed to a process that could make bikesharing in Portland look a bit different than it does in Paris, London, D.C., Minneapolis and Montreal.
Portland’s bikesharing system, a public health advocate said Tuesday, will be designed with the help of a "community engagement process" that would look for ways to make bikesharing useful for poor people, people of color and people outside the central city.
Why? Because to find the money for the project, the city reached for a pot of money available only to projects that "serve underserved communities."
"The other cities that did this didn’t do it with money that had an equity criterion attached," Heidi Guenin of Upstream Public Health said in an interview before Wednesday’s council vote.
Guenin, whose group had threatened to oppose the plan, said she’d been swayed by city staff’s promise Tuesday night of this robust community process. (Another factor: the city’s deadline-free commitment to spend $750,000 of as-yet-unidentified money on safety improvements to SW Barbur Boulevard.)
What could come out of this process? Three concepts I heard from Bicycle Transportation Alliance advocacy director Gerik Kransky:
- Putting some bikesharing hubs near "essential services" downtown, rather than where they’d bring in the most money.
- Employing at-risk youth to maintain the system.
- Working closely with social-services nonprofits such as Central City Concern to make it easy for people experiencing homelessness to have bikesharing accounts.
On Monday, The Oregonian reported the city was looking into putting satellite bike-sharing stations in locations such as Hillsdale, Multnomah Village and the Killingsworth MAX station.
Kranksy urged people to contact the city with their own suggestions, which he said will shape the city’s outline for its future bikesharing program.
Could a well-intentioned political process undermine a bikesharing model that’s been successful in cities around the world? Portland’s many fans of bikesharing (Guenin, Kransky and me included) are hoping not.
"It’s not going to be easy," Guenin said.
As I left City Hall, I asked Nate Gulley of OPAL, an East Portland transit advocacy group (and, full disclosure, a partner of Portland Afoot), if he thought bikesharing could be reinvented with "equity" in mind.
He doubted it.
"It’s going to be for crunchy spandex folks," Gulley predicted. "If Portland could be the first city to have a non-crunchy-spandex bikeshare thing, that would be phenomenal. … But that’s not what I hear the major proponents saying. It’s not what I think they’re thinking about."