Biking through Madison, Wisconsin, was my first experience using a bike share program. I was in town for a conference, and we got to use the bike rental program for a couple of days. I needed to run to the store to buy something I’d forgotten, so I hopped onto a bike to run my errand. While in Madison, conference participants had a mobile bike tour, and I enjoyed exploring the city during a break. I left feeling, “What a great community!”
Raleigh has the opportunity to join cities like Salt Lake City, Austin, Denver and Madison to create a bike share program. Bike shares are becoming staples of forward thinking and equitable cities across the globe. A federal grant designated for this investment is already approved and ready to go, subject to Raleigh City Council’s endorsement. This is the next step in our community’s effort to get more people biking, which will improve public health and strengthen our economy. Bike share programs have become an expected piece of the transit system in growing and dynamic cities.
Bike share is a solid investment and would be a natural progression in becoming a national hub of innovation, job growth and sustainable development. Bike share is a proven model being implemented in 71 U.S. cities – cities we compete with for employers and the best job talent. The millennials we all want to live here are demanding healthy amenities like bike access. These programs are also a great gateway for new riders and a convenient alternative for visitors to explore a new city. Imagine the convention attendees from Salt Lake City who hop onto bikes and take in all Raleigh has to offer. They go back home and say, “What a great place Raleigh is!”
One of my biggest concerns is that bike share should be available to everyone. Raleigh is uniquely laid out to ensure that bike rentals downtown to NCSU would be accessible to Southeast Raleigh residents, college students and professionals alike. Bikes should be priced to be affordable for people of all income levels to rent, and we can learn from the experience of other cities. With the cost of a car at $9,000 per year, bike rental would provide another affordable option for transportation.
The obesity epidemic is staring us in the face. Imagine a community where people of all ages are riding bikes to get to work, go shopping and run errands. We could all use the health benefits of a more active lifestyle that comes with biking. And with more people biking, a stronger network for safe cycling is created. Raleigh has recently invested in a network of bike lanes, and bike share would get more people using them.
The benefits outweigh the modest cost of bike share to Raleigh – just $425,000 as a 20 percent match, with the federal government putting in 80 percent to build the initial system. The vast majority of the annual operating costs would be covered by private sector sponsorships and rental fees. But if Raleigh City Council doesn’t act now, we lose this federal grant. The council is due to vote on this Tuesday.
Building a bike share now is also timely. Wake County is poised to invest in major improvements of our transit system. In November voters will consider funding increased bus service and commuter rail. We have to make getting to and from transit stops as easy as possible for as many residents as possible to maximize the benefits of our transit investments.
As the number of downtown commuters, residents and visitors continues to increase, Raleigh must find a way to provide more transportation options to keep us flowing effectively. Bike share is a strong solution.
Danny Kadis is president of Centrex Properties and chair of the Land Use & Transportation Committee at WakeUP Wake County.