May 7, 2013

Forum to roll out facts, figures on Portland's bike-share program

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Residents on Wednesday will get a chance to learn more about the city's efforts to bring a bike-share program to Portland.

BIKE-SHARE FORUM

5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday

State of Maine Room at Portland City Hall

Bike-share programs provide free or affordable access to bicycles for short-distance trips in cities. The goal is to reduce automobile congestion, noise and air pollution while promoting personal health and environmental health.

Portland is one of five communities selected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from a nationwide pool of 121 applicants to receive technical assistance to explore setting up such a program.

An EPA official and private sector experts will be in Portland on Wednesday and Thursday to tour the city and meet with stakeholders.

A public forum is scheduled for 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in the State of Maine Room at Portland City Hall. A daylong, invitation-only work session will take place Thursday.

"Before you spend a lot of time designing a system, you need to know what people want from it," said Jeff Levine, the city's Planning and Urban Development director.

Local businesses are still assessing the impact such a program would have on their bottom lines.

Dave Palese is the general manager of Gorham Bike and Ski on Congress Street, which rents bikes for $25 to $40 a day. Rentals are a "substantial source of revenue," Palese said, noting the business rented 900 bicycles last year.

"I don't believe it will help our rental business, but I don't know what, if any, negative impact it will have either," Palese said.

Palese said a city-backed bikesharing program could lead to infrastructure improvements for all bicyclists. The business supports any initiative that gets more people on bikes, he said.

That sentiment was echoed by Eddie Quinn, who owns CycleMania on Federal Street, which rents roughly eight bikes a day during the summer for $25 to $75 a day. A bike-share program may eat into those profits, which are a small part of his overall business, he said.

"The one thing about bike rentals is it's good money," Quinn said, noting the low labor and overhead costs. "It's pretty profitable."

Levine said the city should have a feasibility report and recommendations from the EPA and its experts by the end of the month or early June.

Levine believes the city could support 10-20 bicycle stations. Bikes cost about $1,000 each, he said, and a basic station would cost about $10,000. People would have to use a smartphone to rent a bike and return it to the same station it came from.

More advanced stations cost around $100,000, Levine said, but have built-in technology allowing people to pay for their bikes on site and return them to any station.

After the report is issued, the city will have to decide what type of system – if any – it wants, and then figure out how to pay for it.

The city would look to fund the system through grants, business sponsors and user fees, Levine said.

The two private-sector experts assisting the EPA are from Portland, Ore.-based Alta Planning and Design. The firm is owned by the same company that has a three-year, $6 million contract to run Boston's bike-share program, called Hubway.

City Councilor Kevin Donoghue said he has been impressed with bike-share programs in Montreal, Boston and Washington, D.C. Any similar program in Portland would have to cater to a diverse set of users, he said.

"User profiles will differ from city to city, but ours will certainly include an element of tourism and it may be part of a response to the challenge of bridging our transportation centers and the city," Donoghue said.

The prospect of a bike-share program is generating excitement from the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, even though Maine is known for its long, cold winters.

"I think the city is ripe for it," coalition spokesman Brian Allenby said. "We live in Portland, but we're not living in Alaska."

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings

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