Bike-share programs spreading in Arizona

Owen Blacutt rides a share bike through downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by: Ryan Foley/Arizona Sonora News
Owen Blacutt rides a share bike through downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by: Ryan Foley/Arizona Sonora News

Bright green bikes are spreading through the state.

Last fall, Phoenix collaborated with CycleHop and Social Bicycles to launch Arizona’s first bike share program, Grid Bike Share. Members reserve one of 500 bikes from among 50 stations planted in downtown Phoenix.

Tucson, Tempe and Mesa are not far behind.

“The more people we get riding a bicycle with the understanding that the bicycle is part of a multimodal system of getting around the city and a potential part of eliminating congestion and a lot of problems that cars produce, the better,” said Giovanni Arico, manager for Grid Bike Share.

More than 600 cities around the world utilize bike share systems, according to the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy based in New York City. In the United States, 77 cities are either operating or launching a bike share program.

According to the city of Phoenix, within the first three months Grid Bike Share registered 2,250 members.

“They’re actually pretty comfortable, and also cool to have around if you’re going between places downtown,” said Owen Blacutt, a Phoenix resident and bike share user.

Grid Bike Share station along Van Buren Street in Phoenix, Arizona.
Grid Bike Share station along Van Buren Street in Phoenix, Arizona.

The state received federal funding to expand Grid Bike Share into Tempe and Mesa this year. Flagstaff has shown interest, according to Arico, and Tucson could start a program next year.

“It would make sense that the entire state has the same bike share program so that one membership has access to all bikes in state between all the cities that people travel,” Arico said.

Grid Bike Share offers memberships of monthly ($30), annual ($79, or $59 for students) and daily ($5/hour). Users sign up through a mobile app or website, both of which can also be used to locate stations, reserve bikes and track statistics.

Part of the impetus for bike share programs resulted from the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, last updated in 2013. The plan laid out 25 strategies to improve Arizona’s bicycle and pedestrian safety, infrastructure and planning.

“One goal is to double the percentage of walking and bicycling trips statewide over the next 10 years,” said Laura Douglas, spokeswoman for the department.

Arico said a benefit of the bike share program is the ability to track where people ride, which could be used by the cities to plan new bike paths along well-traveled routes.

“Phoenix doesn’t have a real solid bicyclist infrastructure yet,” Arico said.

Tucson commissioned a study in December to explore the feasibility of a bike share program, and began a three-phase plan for implementation.

Phase one would locate 30 stations with 300 bikes throughout Tucson’s downtown and university areas, near streetcar stops and in neighborhoods beyond the reach of the streetcar. Later phases would add more stations and bikes to expand the area covered. No specific date has been set for the program to start in Tucson, but the goal is for 2016, according to Ann Chanecka, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the Tucson Department of Transportation.

“We’re already a bicycle-friendly city, so we have a lot of the infrastructure that will make it easier for people to get around on a bike share bike,” Chanecka said.

In a recent survey conducted by the city, 75 percent of 271 responders thought that a bike share program is a good idea for Tucson.

“There are many cities across the country that have implemented successful bike sharing programs that are used mainly by business people to get from one side of the city to another,” said Carlyn Arteaga, mechanic and youth programs coordinator for the Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage in Tucson. “I personally would love to see Tucson consider an even wider scope of users, such as families, tourists, and low-income residents.”

Eric Post, president of the Greater Arizona Bicycling Association, said he’s seen how well the bike share system works in Washington, D.C., which is considered the most successful bike share program in the nation, and he hopes similar programs will be successful in Arizona.  

“However, what it comes down to is a wait-and-see approach,” Post said.

In Phoenix, Grid Bike Share is solely privately owned and operated, funded by system revenues, sponsorship and advertising. Tucson is attempting to obtain federal funding before the program begins so more options will be available, Chanecka said.

“I think that we’ve seen other cities really take advantage of the economic opportunities that bike share brings,” Chanecka said. “I think Tucson can use any opportunity to increase our economic advantage.”

Ryan Foley is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at rfoley@email.arizona.edu.

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