Tacoma could hire a consulting firm later this year to study if the city is ready for a bike share program.
The move comes after citizen requests for a loaner bicycle network prompted the city to spend $7,213 last year on a study by Portland-based Alta Planning.
Bike share programs provide short-term bike rentals, usually through a monthly subscription or a one-time pass. Users pick up and return their bikes at automated stations strategically placed to cater to commuters or tourists. Seattle’s system has 500 bikes and 50 stations.
Alta, which has experience in developing bike share programs throughout North America, estimated that a 15-station bike share system would likely provide good coverage of downtown and possibly Point Defiance. The cost for installing and operating such a system for five years: $2.8 million.
For $5.6 million, the network could be expanded to 30 stations, permitting greater coverage into neighborhoods such the Proctor District, Sixth Avenue and the Stadium District, Alta said.
The firm also pointed out some obstacles, among them gaps in bike lanes and trails, narrow sidewalks, limited space for stations and Tacoma’s hills.
Diane Wiatr, the city’s active transportation coordinator, acknowledges that Tacoma has a ways to go to create a bike-friendly environment.
The pedal-assist bikes that could help bike riders navigate downtown Tacoma’s steep hills are costly , and gaps remain in connecting bikeways, such as Dome to Defiance Trail, the Prairie Line Trail and the Schuster Parkway Promenade along Ruston Way.
But a bike share program could also help solve some problems, she said.
“As the city grows, we’ll be growing downtown — residential and commercial base — but streets have finite width, parking is limited and we will feel the need more and more to have a more sustainable city, more sustainable transportation,” Wiatr said. “... This is another tool for expanding public transit.”
Downtown on the Go Executive Director Kristina Walker says she’s seen the 2014 study, but isn’t particularly hopeful. “It’s an exciting prospect, but it’s probably years away ... these programs cost a lot.”
Bike share programs can be funded at first through corporate sponsorships, such as Alaska Airlines’ support of the Pronto bikes in Seattle, and through federal grants. Once established, the systems also rely on user fees for additional funding.
Alta suggested the city could pursue one of several ownership models, including a publicly owned system that is privately run, or one owned and operated by a nonprofit or private company.
The report also urged the city to establish priorities creating bicycling routes between key destinations.
Noah Struthers is the executive director of 2nd Cycle, a used bike and repair shop in the Hilltop. He says he sees more people riding bikes each year, although he’s not sure Tacoma has the tourist volume most bike share programs require.
The city estimates it would spend $60,000 to hire a firm to go deeper by looking into general interest for a bike share program in Tacoma, possible locations for bike pickup and drop-off and potential funding sources.
Wiatr said the study would be designed to explore options.
“It is not a definite that we will (bring bike share to Tacoma)” Wiatr said, “but the analysis will definitely help City Council to move forward.”