By Claire Byun
Neighborhood activists who are concerned about the future of the city’s new bicycle share program are working to ensure their voices are heard.
The city’s new bicycle share program has drawn some ire from Faubourg St. John residents who are concerned about program officials putting bike stations in residential neighborhoods. Several worried neighbors are putting together a committee – through the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association – to research the best station locations that don’t directly impact quiet areas.
Robert Thompson, who initially brought up the issues to FSJNA members, said he’s concerned Social Ride and city officials will put bicycle stations on greenways or on quiet streets. He’s also questioning the size of the stations and whether they’ll fit on smaller streets.
“I wanted people to be aware of a possibility of a bike location in their neighborhood,” Thompson said.
Dwight Norton, urban mobility coordinator with the city, assured residents there will be public input opportunities on station locations. Program officials are using a 2014 feasibility study to help narrow down station locations, though it’ll mostly be used as a “reference document,” Norton said.
“It’s very misleading in how the maps were generated” Norton said.
The map blocks out high-traffic areas around the city and features little blue dots at the most popular locations. Norton said those dots don’t represent where stations will actually end up, though officials are planning to place stations “places where people go.”
For Faubourg St. John, those places are along Esplanade Avenue and tucked in some side streets with popular businesses, such as Pal’s Lounge on N. Rendon Street. Lauara Grannen, FSJNA member, lives near Pal’s and said she doesn’t want another commercial business in the area – especially on her usually-quiet block.
“I’m all for bike sharing, but I don’t think it belongs in a residential neighborhood like that,” she said.
Norton said that while the feasibility study is just a landmark, officials are generally looking to put stations in residential neighborhoods because that would be most convenient to residents. The key to a successful program is keeping stations equidistant so people won’t have to walk five blocks to get to one, he said.
The program, which is already in place in several major cities, is primarily meant for residential use, Norton said.
Thompson doesn’t buy that.
“The stations aren’t in poor neighborhoods, they aren’t fit for the elderly or the sick or those who can’t ride in 100 degree weather, Thompson said. “They are for tourists.”
Norton and his team are planning six neighborhood meetings to gather public opinions about where the stations should be located. There will also be an online poll for residents with a plan to develop a draft map by May. The draft map will then be up for public comment before final approval by the city.
Dates for those public meetings haven’t been set yet.
FSJNA established a 10-person committee meant to stake out the best locations for the stations and father resident’s concerns about the program to bring to officials. Greg Jeanfreau, FSJNA member, encouraged Norton to include all the neighborhood organizations before committing to station locations. Otherwise, Social Ride may have a fight on their hands.
“I’d highly recommend that moving forward, you guys include us as a neighborhood because if you try to just put it somewhere, we’re not good with that,” he said.
The 700 custom-designed bicycles will be placed at 70 stations designated at locations in neighborhoods around the city, with a built-in lock keeping them secure until a rider with an account card “hires” the bike, Norton said. The cyclist will then ride the bike to the station nearest his or her destination, lock it up again, and the rider’s account will be automatically debited for the time spent riding.
The cost of a card will be $15 per month, which will give each rider a total of 60 minutes per day. Any time over that will cost $8 per hour, which is the same rate that tourists will be able to buy the card for. Meanwhile, the city will also offer low-income residents a pass that costs only $1.67 per month (a total of $20 per year), so that all residents have access to the program.
The program will be operated through a five-year cooperative endeavor agreement with a company called “Social Bicycles,” financed partly through the direct revenues and partly through sponsorships.