A Portland nonprofit wants to make it easier for residents, commuters and tourists to get around the city on two wheels.

Portland Bike Share intends to launch in the spring of 2018 with 50 bicycles at four stations. The group is lining up private partners and raising $400,000 to cover startup costs and the first year of operations.

Bike-share programs, which give people the opportunity to use public bicycles with a long-term membership or short-term passes, have exploded in popularity in the U.S. and overseas.

Portland shares many traits with cities where such programs have been successful, said Samantha Herr, board president of Portland Bike Share.

Samantha Herr is board president of Portland Bike Share, a nonprofit that aims to launch with 50 bikes by spring of 2018. Staff photo by Derek Davis

“The question isn’t ‘Is Portland good for bike share?’ It’s ‘Why doesn’t Portland have bike share yet?’ ” she said.

Portland Bike Share plans a system that would use so-called smart bikes. Riders could book a bike using their computer or smartphone and unlock it with a keycode. That technology gives riders greater flexibility to plan routes for chores, work or going to an event, without having to lock it at a specific dock.

“The tech is located on the bikes themselves. It essentially allows you to park them anywhere in the system area, instead of having to find a station,” Herr said.

So far, Portland Bike Share has lined up one station on a Washington Avenue commercial property in the East End. Landlord Jed Harris, owner of North Atlantic Properties, said a bike-share program would be attractive for hundreds of office employees headed downtown to the bank or for lunch, and for nearby restaurants and stores.

“This neighborhood is really going through a renaissance. To have another means to connect people here to the rest of the city is really attractive to us,” Harris said. “I think it makes a ton of sense for Portland.”

Portland Bike Share also wants to place stations in high-visibility locations such as Monument Square, East Bayside, the West End and the waterfront.

A robust bike-share program could help ease traffic and parking issues, improve health and make streets safer, according to Portland Bike Share. The system would be set up to encourage ridership from students, commuters, residents and tourists, Herr said. The group intends to offer incentives for low-income residents, such as subsidized memberships, free helmets and combined transit and bike passes.

New York City’s Citi Bike program is flourishing. It is the nation’s largest bike share program, with 10,000 bikes and 600 stations across Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Jersey City. Photo from CitiBike website

Depending on the success of the first year, the system could expand annually, Herr said. Portland Bike Share projects that in three years the system could have as many as 200 bikes and 30 stations in Greater Portland and 6,000 riders a year.

“We’re not dropping a complete system – this is a pilot year,” Herr said. “Let’s use it, talk about it and have some fun.”

PLAN IN MOTION

Portland has contemplated a bike-share program for at least five years.

A 2013 feasibility study said Portland had many characteristics supportive of a bike-sharing system, but some factors, like low transit ridership and availability of inexpensive or free parking, could limit demand. Designing a regional system with stations too far away from one another would also be likely to underperform, according to the report.

“What it said is that it was really only feasible on the peninsula,” said Jeff Levine, Portland’s planning and urban development director.

The city issued a request for information for a bike-share program, but none of the submissions were responsive, Levine said. Officials were not interested in putting a lot of money into a new system and preferred that a nonprofit spearhead the project with city partnership, he said. The city works with Portland Bike Share for planning and fundraising support, but has not yet put any money into the initiative.

A short-lived bike rental service at the Portland Transportation Center was the city’s only experiment with public bike sharing. In 2013, the Amtrak Downeaster hired Zagster, a bike-share company, to place 10 bicycles at the bus and train station. The service was not well publicized and never attracted many users, Levine said. It was canceled in 2014.

“What we learned from the Downeaster experience is that you can’t just put it out there and hope it works,” Levine said.

Although hilly terrain might deter people from riding, Herr thinks the system can get around harsh winters by running the program only eight or nine months out of the year. Having more bikes on the street could also encourage development of Portland’s limited bike lanes and parking, she said.

“You see over and over again that biking infrastructure didn’t exist, and because of bike share, it moved up in priority,” she said.

Within the past decade, bike sharing has grown to more than 100 cities in the U.S. and successful systems operate in cities such as Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. In other cases, programs haven’t worked. Seattle recently dismantled its Pronto system after several years of unimpressive performance. Programs in New York and Washington, D.C., stumbled initially, but improved and gained popularity.

The trend isn’t confined to metropolises. Communities with populations of less than 100,000 – like Roanoke, Virginia; Bend, Oregon; and Salem, Massachusetts – have also launched bike-share services.

“I want to bust a myth that bike share is just for big cities,” Herr said. “Portland in particular is really well-aligned in a number of ways.”

Correction: This story was updated at 3:53 p.m. on July 11, 2017 to correct Samantha Herr’s title.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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