Rochester Bike Share for Dummies

Recently, the City of Rochester announced bike share will be coming to Rochester in the Spring of 2017, a move that is music to the ears of downtown development advocates.  But what is bike share, and how will it affect you?  Many hear the words but don’t fully understand the benefits of this increasingly popular urban amenity.

Rochester’s bike share will initially have about 25 stations across the city.  Each station will have several bikes that users can “rent” for a flexible  amount of time.  Rochesterians and visitors can walk up to any one of these stations, unlock a bike with an app on their smartphone and ride for transportation or leisure.  When the user is done riding, he or she can return the bike to the same station, or any one of the 25 stations.  A small usage fee will be charged to a credit card linked to the rider’s smartphone app.

Zagster, the company that will put this program together for Rochester, already provides service to nearby Rome, New York.  Zagster focuses on successful bike share solutions for small to mid-sized communities, making them unique in the packages and services they offer.

These are the basics.  Let’s delve into the real benefits of having bike share, including the “quality of life” factors we might not consider.

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Zagster bike on path in, Rome, NY

Transportation

By no means is bike share intended to be a comprehensive transit “solution.”  Part of this stems from the fact that it will only be usable about three-quarters of the year due to our harsh winters.  What it does do is add a healthy transit option for Rochester residents as well as visitors from out of town.  It can provide point-to-point transportation, or be used as a “last mile” option connecting transit such as RTS to locations that might not be directly adjacent to a bus route.  Since bike share is a relatively inexpensive mode of transit, it is approachable for people regardless of socioeconomic status, making it a popular option for everyone.

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Typical Zagster bike rack

Leisure

How about this… you finish up dinner at Dinosaur BBQ and you feel like taking a nice evening ride along the Genesee river as the sun sets… but your bikes are back home in Brighton.  No problem, just grab a bike from the nearest bike share station and ride ’till your heart’s content.  Looking for a spontaneous, healthy way to zip around the city on an early Fall evening?  Bike share will give you that opportunity.  As a cyclist, I can confidently say there is simply no better way to experience Rochester than on bike, and burn a couple more calories while you’re at it!  Hey, we could all use a little bit of that right?

Community Impact

Studies have shown that cycling infrastructure has a strong correlation with socioeconomic growth.  In fact, many reports imply that simply installing visually appealing bike racks in in a commercial area increases foot traffic and public perception of that area.  Bike share programs go several steps further, giving riders the opportunity to experience their city at “street level,” putting them in close touch with where they live and thus increasing community awareness and local pride.

Bike share also shows a commitment by city government to public health and wellness, an increasingly important topic in a country with a serious problem of obesity and lack of regular exercise.

Cost Effectiveness and Sustainability

The beauty of bike share is that it is a relatively low cost, extremely high potential reward implementation.  While taxpayers often gasp at forward thinking quality of life or transit infrastructure investments, this is a chance to “chip away” at the need for both simultaneously, and with surprisingly little taxpayer money.  The cost of implementing and maintaining bike share is in large part offset by corporate sponsorship, and maintenance work is often “farmed out” to local cycling stores and repair shops.  Because of this, many bike share programs are self self-sustaining and most require very minimal local government subsidy.

From a maintenance perspective, bikes don’t require fuel, and the cost of general maintenance is low.  From an alternative or “last mile” transit perspective, the impact of riding a bike on roads and bridges is significantly less than driving any sort of automobile.  It would take over 20-30 riders on bike to equal the impact of 1 car on existing infrastructure.  Want to really see tax expenditures go down?  Simple… bike more, drive less.  Look at your local road and highway maintenance budget and you’ll understand.

Again, I am not implying every Rochesterian should ditch their cars for bikes every day.  It’s simply not going to happen.  But developing a culture where a higher percentage of residents make that choice more often actually can save taxpayer money in places you might not expect.

Millennials

Whether you believe they are the pioneers of the future or the whiny, degenerate stereotypes that we as a society universally attribute to generations younger than us to help us feel a sliver of relevance, millennials are a group we have to work hard to keep in Rochester.  If there is one thing we know about millennials, it’s that as a whole, they do not share the same passion for the white picket fence in the suburbs with 2 SUVs in the driveway… at least not to the extent that their parents did.  In 2014, 76% of people ages 20-24 had a drivers license, down sharply from 91% in the early 1980’s.  There are many reasons for this, but what we do know is young people are demanding better and more comprehensive mass transit choices in the cities and regions in which they choose to live.  Millennials are some of the biggest bike share implementation advocates out there today, as it fits the increased desire for a healthy, inexpensive automobile alternative.

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Data also shows that millennials are choosing to move to cities with a diverse array of transit possibilities to get them to where they are going.  Whenever I talk to people over 40 about this subject, they often laugh and say something to the effect of “hah, let them go, we don’t want them here anyway!”  They usually stop laughing when I remind them their child or grandchild is a millennial.

Visitor Impact

A few months ago I published a piece on my Urban Phoenix blog about using bike share in nearby cities, Rome and Buffalo.  I purposely traveled to these cities without a car to experience bike share as a connectivity piece to local attractions.  It was a fun and easy experience and I was truly impressed with how bike share allowed me to get around these cities quickly!

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Bike share station outside of Fort Stanwix National Monument in Rome, NY

Furthermore, having a bike share program is an attraction in itself to visitors and tourists alike.  It is one more thing that our Rochester Visitors Association can boast, giving us an edge over other New York cities that do not have bike share.

We’re Not The Only Ones… By Far.

New York, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Washington DC, Minneapolis, Nashville, Salt Lake City, Buffalo and scores of other cities across the country all have bike share programs.  Think this is a service that only big cities can enjoy?  Sandusky, Ohio and Rome, New York beat Rochester to the punch, already boasting successful bike share initiatives.  I have used Rome’s bike share many times, taking Amtrak to the city and biking the rest of the way into town where I can visit historical attractions, get a bite to eat and ride the Mohawk River Trail.

Embrace It

Even if you yourself won’t be riding our new bike share program, I encourage you to embrace this urban amenity for the reasons mentioned above.  Sometimes it’s the additions that we don’t think affect us and our cities that create the greatest impact.  The possibilities that come with this project are so numerous, while the cost is relatively low.  Beyond the dollars and cents, this addition says something big about the commitment to the health of our city as well as the health and happiness of it’s residents and visitors.  Get ready to ride Rochester, this is gonna be fun!

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