RacingZeroANT_nero 001The City of Portland has selected Alta Bicycle Share to develop the bicycle share system in Gresham, Oregon to make getting a bike and bicycle rentals easy. The Bike Share program promises to bring bike rentals via specific bike hubs that will be accessible to members through a subscription process. The CEO of Alta Bicycle Share,  Michael G. Jones, a proponent of alternative transportation systems, stated that, “walking and cycling are the only healthy indicators of a healthy society.”

Alta Bicycle Share’s overall strategy involves three components:

1) allow for a comprehensive exploration

of ways to improve conditions for walking and

2) build support for walking and bicycling.

3) lay groundwork for the implementation,

evaluation, and monitoring of the non-motorized

transportation system.

Walking and Biking Master Plans

In order to establish criteria 1, Alta paired with Portland State University to develop a user guide to pedestrian and bicycle master plans.

Comprehensive exploration of actions is designed to generate interest in the project from the public. The idea being that if the public feels they have a say in the project, the more likely it is the project will gain the support needed to be implemented and maintained. Once the plan has been created it provides the infrastructure for which improvements and grander ideas can be made. Hence the partnership between Alta and Portland State University.

A Brief History of Master Plans in America

A master bike plan eliminates inefficiencies in the infrastructure that would otherwise be included in a general plan.  If you have distinct and clear data to present to engineers, they are more likely to change their standards with regard to creating better transportation for pedestrians and cyclists.

In 1956, the building of an interstate highway system was authorized by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956.  It wasn’t the first time legislators have tried to develop the nation’s interstate system. 75 million dollars of funds over five years were allocated for the building and improvement of the nation’s roads with the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. Woodrow Wilson signed the act at a party that was attended by the American Association of State Highway Officials, the American Automobile Association, and various farm organizations. One might assume that the American Automobile Association supplied the alcohol.

A few years later a young Dwight D. Eisenhower found himself traveling on the Lincoln Highway, the first road across America. His experience there would become the inspiration for the Highway Act in 1956. The Highway Act required large scale construction of new roads which resulted in the destruction of environmental ecosystems and existing communities; entire cities were bulldozed. This led to highway revolts all across the country including our very own Gresham, Oregon.  After growing concern about the indiscriminate bulldozing and other increasingly visible environmental problems, pressure was on the federal government to do something to protect the environment across the United States. The answer came in 1969 with the National Environmental Policy Act.  NEPA, the environmental magna carta, established assessments and impact reports. As a result of this act, the need for designing master plans for urban transportation was created.

The incorporation of bicycling and pedestrian travel as legitimate options for transportation has evolved significantly since 1990’s Clean Air Act Amendment. The Amendment sought to reduce carbon emissions from cars, pollution, and acid rain. It was followed in 1991 by the  Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act which recognized the role of biking and walking in building sustainable transportation models. The National Biking and Walking study published in 1994 made a bold statement calling for a doubling of trips made on foot or bicycle while simultaneously reducing bicycle and pedestrian crashes by 10%. It had been rumored shortly after the report was published the authors dropped the mic and left the stage.  

In 2005, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users appropriated over 200 billion dollars to the development of surface level transportation including highways, light rail, pedestrian and bicycling facilities, and freight rail operations. The bill was one of the largest investments in surface transportation ever, but it’s infamous for an altogether different reason. It is the source of the controversy known as the “Bridge to Nowhere,” as the bill apportioned over 200 million dollars for the Gravina Island Bridge in Alaska. Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential candidate, cancelled the project in 2007 and appropriated the funds to other state projects. She came under controversy in the 2008 presidential campaign when a John McCain campaign ad claimed she “stopped the bridge to nowhere.” During her announcement as McCain’s vice presidential nominee she claimed, “…I told Congress, thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere.” However, in her campaign for governor in 2006 she campaigned in support of the bridge project.  Multiple quotes, statements and photographic images of her public support of the bridge project were the first of many gaffs in Palin’s stumping for John McCain in 2008, effectively increasing the speed of the tailspin of McCain’s campaign.  Another interesting note is the bill pushed through congress by Ted Stevens, a senator from Alaska, who is infamous for his alleged abuse of political powers. He was accused of receiving investments from business men in exchange for government contracts and other benefits.

As you can see, the development of the American transit system is a rabbit hole of narratives that includes both triumphs and defeats. These stories tend to go largely unnoticed by the general public. Perhaps thats why the wildly popular HBO show “True Detective” is rumored to tackle the United States Transit system.  One can only hope that Matthew McConaughey will moonlight as Dwight D. Eisenhower in show’s infamous flashbacks.

Where are we now with bike and bicycle rentals? 

Where do we stand with regard to Portland’s Bike Share Program, yet one more component in Portland’s domination of multimodal transportation options? In March, Joseph Rose wrote in the Oregonian that the $4 million dollar proposal for bringing the bike sharing to Portland is in a “Holding Pattern.”


A primary reason for the delay is the impending bankruptcy of the supplier of the bikes, a company by the name of Bixi. Bixi has a complicated history. In 2007 the city of Montreal created the “Public Bike System Company,” in an attempt to decrease the city’s dependency on automobiles. It launched in 2009 with 3,000 bicycles and 300 stations. By 2010, the program became Bixi and outsourced its product throughout the world. Bixi costs members $78.00 per year.

The financial relationship between Bixi and the city of Montreal may have fell victim to an old adage that Portlanders and Timbers fans know too well; “Only Fools Rush In.” The details over how the city would share profits from the international business was never established.  The tune must have started as, “What’s He Building in the There?”  and upon opening the books it quickly changed to “Fix You.”   As quickly as August 2010 there became concerns about Bixi’s financial status. Montreal loaned Bixi $37 million with escalator clauses that could reach 104 million. Montreal basically bought themselves the privilege of running the business. Provisions mandated a restructuring including an appointment of a new chairman and board members that would be handpicked by Montreal’s executive committee. They also saddled themselves with the responsibility of approving Bixi’s budget, developing a three year plan, all the while assuming the financial risk of a company that manages money like a modern Bukowski. Montreal gave itself a promotion from the window office to the mail room.

In May of 2011, Bixi laid off 70 employees due to financial problems. I suppose they found no geniuses in the mail room.  It would only get worse a month later when Montreal’s general auditor filed a report that claimed,

1. The organizational structure was illegal.

2. Bixi was inadequate in it’s planning.

3. The organization lacked oversight.

Jump to November 2011, Bixi calls Montreal and says, “Hey, yeah about that 37 million dollar loan, probably not going be able to pay that back by 2014 as originally planned. We’re going through some things.”  Meanwhile, Bixi is launching bike programs all over the globe. Continuing with the theme of Bixi’s appetite for failure, 8D Technologies, the company that developed the software Bixi requires to catalogue trips, allow users to rent bikes, and run station hubs, filed a lawsuit against Bixi for $26 million dollars, alleging that they had been cut out of international  business and the relationship with a new American company would diminish their intellectual property. 8D Technology fell victim to the Winklevoss, a strategy made famous by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg by taking an idea, changing it’s context and keeping it for yourself.

Bixi mounted their massive red flag in September of 2013 by announcing a debt of $42 million dollars, a deficit of 6.5 million dollars, and a subsequent closing of their books for 2012. In September 2013 Montreal’s city-auditor claims, “serious doubts about Bixi’s ability to continue operations.” Surprising to no one, Bixi filed for bankruptcy in January of 2014. Bixi claims that the bankruptcy will not interrupt services; however, as recently as September 2013 an audit claimed to have serious doubts about Bixi’s ability to continue even prior to bankruptcy. Problems with Bixi’s new non 8D Technology software has led to delay in the implementation of the bike sharing program and disputes from numerous American cities on how much they are required to pay Bixi for it’s faulty program.

Other Concerns for Bring Bike Share to Portland

The other question about Portland’s bike share program is, Do we need it? 6% of Portlanders already commute by bike. Are people likely to rent bikes when they already own them. Additionally, according a study done at McGill University, Bixi’s environmental benefits have been “grossly exaggerated.” A claim that has been parroted by Christian Taylor Kaylor, a Portland regional economist.

Alta’s Good Judgement

A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.John C. Maxwell

Alta Bicycle Share is a local Portland company that has put the work in to bring Bike Share to Portland. Teaming up with Portland State University to develop a comprehensive plan for Transportation master plans show that they have the knowledge, the commitment, and the ambition to bring a successful bike share program to Portland.  Further, they grabbed hold of spurned 8D technologies to replace Bixi’s buggy software.

Why We Need Bike Sharing

Portland, we are great. Portland is the home of the highest percentage of bicycling commuters. We were able to make it through 2013 with exactly 0 bicycle fatalities which is a testament to our efforts to build infrastructure and put forth a serious effort in developing our cities bicycle friendly policies. The secret to striving for something great, is to never stop striving. The more options we have for multi-modal transportation, the better off we will be.

Let’s review Alta’s three components of implementation:

1) allow for a comprehensive exploration

of actions to improve conditions for walking and

2) build support for walking and bicycling .

3) lay groundwork for the implementation,

evaluation, and monitoring of the non-motorized

transportation system.

The first requirement has been completed by Alta’s Bike Share and the University of Portland. The second is on-going. The third is completely being debated in City Hall. However, as it is, City hall is contingent on the success of the second component.

So, my question for Portland is this: Do we want a Bike Share? Do you want a bike share? You live in Portland, whether it be yes or no, I know you know what to do.

Create a hashtag, get mentions for it, make them love it, get it trending more.  We are Ripcity, this is and always will be Rose City ‘Til I Die. Awareness raisers? Perhaps an existential art installation about Bike Share that goes viral. Regardless, let’s be Portland and show them how we care.

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