The popularity of bike sharing programs is growing across the country. During a recent visit to Minneapolis, I decided to try out their bike share system and ended up really getting to know the city, riding more than 20 miles over a couple of days.
Bike sharing programs bring a number of pluses to a community. It is a healthy transportation option and an affordable alternative for people with flexible transportation needs. It’s also a great way for tourists to get acquainted with a city. Bikes are generally well maintained and users don’t have to worry about locking them up as long as they stop at a bike share station.
I was excited when I learned that my hometown of Tucson, Ariz., would be getting a bike share system. The City of Tucson is considered a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly City by the League of American Bicyclists and has one of the most bikeable downtowns in the nation.
Launched Nov. 17, 2017, the program, called Tugo, has all the elements to ensure success. It’s starting out with 36 stations and 330 bikes, with plans to expand. The city has river parks, bike boulevards, and cycle tracks as well as more traditional bike lanes. Bike stations are strategically placed to take advantage of Tucson’s existing bike infrastructure and, in this first phase, are largely centered on the University of Arizona and Downtown Tucson.
It is often said that the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure’s (www.sustainableinfrastructure.org) Envision sustainability rating system can rate any infrastructure project. Given my interest in biking, bike infrastructure, and sustainability, I was curious to see how Envision would assess a non-traditional or unique infrastructure program such as a bike share. I made a call to the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Ann Chanecka, and we agreed to work together on using Envision to assess Tucson’s program.
Upon completion of our review, the program was rated at the Envision Gold Level for a number of reasons. It rated well above the Platinum level in the Quality of Life category. A few highlights include:
QL1.3 Develop Local Skills and Capabilities — Conserving: While the number of local jobs created wasn’t large, the city is working with Second Chance Tucson, which finds jobs for people overcoming prior convictions, to employ workers for the bike share program. In addition, Shift (the operator of the bike share system) only has four national employees for all of their bike share systems. The rest are locally sourced.
QL2.4 Improve Community Mobility and Access — Conserving: The City of Tucson went through an extensive assessment of community needs, including meeting with local business owners and local jurisdictions to coordinate adjacent facilities when selecting locations for the stations.
QL2.5 Encourage Alternative Modes of Transportation — Conserving: The project provides additional opportunities for public transportation, including $5 annual fares for those with low incomes.
The bike share program performed at the Gold Level in the Leadership, Resource Allocation, and Natural World categories. A few highlights include:
LD1.4 Provide for Stakeholder Involvement — Conserving: The city performed a crowdsourcing survey to help determine anticipated high-use station locations and held numerous public and neighborhood meetings on the project.
RA2.2 Use Renewable Energy — Conserving: To conserve energy, stations are solar powered and hub generators power bike lights. In the future it is planned to use bicycle trailers to redistribute bikes between stations rather than vehicles.
NW1.7 Preserve Greenfields — Conserving: 100 percent of the sites were located on previously developed areas (greyfields), with no concrete pads needing to be constructed.
One of the difficulties in rating unique infrastructure projects like a bike share program is deciding what is applicable versus not applicable. As with any project, while some criteria are obviously not applicable, some are more difficult to determine. With the bike share project, the applicability of credits came into question much more often.
Most of the time, deciding which credits are applicable is rather easy to determine. For example, in this situation it was easy to decide that Divert Waste from Landfills (RA1.5) and Preserve Prime Farmland (NW1.7) were not applicable. Since the bike share stations were located on existing built locations such as wide sidewalks, plazas, and parks, there was no grading, demolition, or removal of obstructions; therefore, there was no waste to divert. There was also no farmland in the vicinity of the stations.
Some of the more difficult credits to determine applicability included Use Regional Materials (RA1.4) and Manage Stormwater (NW2.1). As mentioned above, there was no grading, no new concrete, etc. However, the bicycles and stations came out of Chicago. There are very few suppliers for bike share infrastructure and Chicago was the closest supplier to the project. We elected to select not applicable for this credit.
Another example would be NW2.1, Manage Stormwater, which deals with improving water storage capacity. The team selected “not applicable” since existing infrastructure was not modified and stormwater improvements would have been outside the scope of the project. However, the credit discusses increasing storage capacity. Should we have taken a “no level of achievement” instead of selecting not applicable?
Overall, the Envision rating system performed admirably in assessing the sustainability of non-traditional infrastructure like a bike share program. I would encourage review of projects using the Envision rating system, especially if the project is unique. There will likely be aspects of the project that can be easily improved and it will build a knowledge base for future endeavors.
Kevin T. Thornton, P.E., ENV SP, STP, is director of sustainability/associate with Psomas (www.psomas.com).