Last week, I visited Indianapolis for North American Bike Share Association’s (NABSA) 2019 conference: How We Move. I was invited earlier this year to share some of the work I’ve done around equity through New Orleans’ bike share system, Blue Bikes, and was excited to encourage other programs to strive towards equity in their own systems. In addition, last year’s conference offered a lot of information on the changing landscape of bike share and other micro-mobility options, with changes coming to New Orleans I hoped to learn lessons from cities that have already gone through similar changes.
“Micro-mobility” is a term referencing light weight vehicles that are used for short-distance trips. Within the scope of this association those include: bike share, E-Bikes, electric scooters, and variations of those modes specifically designed for differently-abled individuals. The scope of this definition is just one example of the expanding horizon of NABSA. In addition to no longer just focusing on “Bike Share” NABSA has expanded to include members throughout Central and South America as well as many representatives from Europe. As the industry expands, demand is sure to hit New Orleans. We know that New Orleans will not be a great fit for every new vehicle available but knowing what is working and what challenges have arisen is something that I, as an advocate, feel it’s important to be plugged in to. New Orleans City officials have previously put a halt on electric scooter share entering our city, citing our narrow sidewalks and lack of infrastructure, but are making leaps in regulating e-bikes as Blue Bikes prepares to upgrade to an e-bike fleet.
I began my conference experience by getting to go on a long ride on an e-bike. I haven’t had much experience on E-Bikes, just test riding a couple for a block or two each time, and am a bit of a purist so I’ve never been the biggest fan. I do understand that many people who would never usually ride can be converted by the ease of these vehicles and, more importantly, these allow people who would otherwise be unable to use a bicycle to expand their options. I’d signed up for a guided tour of the greenway and Cultural Trail in Indianapolis to see the infrastructure and city. Especially with the hope of the Lafitte Greenway expanding, I was excited to join this 12 mile ride. It was a unusually hot day in Indianapolis so I was actually quite relieved to hear the BCycles had rolled out e-bikes specifically for the NABSA conference. Once everyone who truly wanted an e-bike had got on one there were still a couple left so I jumped on one.
We began our ride going through the heart of downtown. The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is not only the manager of the local bike share (operated by BCycle) but also a physical trail, built at sidewalk level as part of a largely extended curb which runs throughout the city. With over 25 people in our group, we were tightly bunched during this section and had frequent stops for pedestrians and lights. As we made our way towards the University and Medical center I noticed that the motor on the bicycle made pedaling infrequent and I had to use my brake quite a bit. While others riding traditional bikes had a tougher time starting and stopping, they seemed to be more fluid than the motor during a slow roll. We made our way across a large street to a small bridge that began the greenway. Running along the White River, we continued for several miles, only once cutting back through a residential area, over mostly paved terrain with certain spots being made of loose gravel. We stopped halfway through the trail to visit a contemporary art center in the middle of a large green space where a new bike share station had just recently been installed. Managers of the space came out to introduce us to their campus, show us some of the installations, and answer any questions. During the ride back I got out ahead of the group to see how fast I could get the bike to go. It seemed that the motor cut out at 18mph and with the design of the bicycle, that was a difficult pace to maintain. I’d worried about these bikes allowing one to go faster than it should, as an experienced rider I found that the max speed is not really a concern on these particular e-bikes. On the ride back I was thankful that I had chosen an electric bike for this ride, others on the ride were struggling with the long haul back (I did offer to switch with a few of them) though I was happy to easily travel so far while still being on a bike path, I noted that there was a negligible amount of exercise involved, something that is certainly seen as a benefit of bike share by many.
Cultural Trail Cross Walk
Indy River Trail
The majority of the conference leading up to my panel was a lot about the new technologies being introduced to the micro-mobility industry. E-Bikes, scooters (both sitting and standing options), and data collection technologies were all on full display during the event. My main focus at the conference was around bikes but I did learn some interesting things around scooter systems while there. Meg Young, who used to work for the City of New Orleans, has recently moved to Baltimore to work for the city and one of her projects is a dockless program (primarily scooters). Baltimore had previously tried a bike share system which failed and was removed. Since re-launching with a focus on scooters, the ridership has gone way up and has been received by locals a lot more. The conference was full of stories similar to this and the numbers don’t lie – innovation in the vehicles and operations have greatly improved use. Though I agree that New Orleans is not ready for dockless scooters, and worry about our narrow sidewalks if the city ever does adopt them, I was swayed a bit towards the usefulness of scooters and e-bikes.
I wrote last year about the NABSA conference with a focus on an equity focus. Though there were a few panels focused on equity and a great keynote speaker, this year’s conference was shifted a lot more towards innovation. For that reason I was really honored to sit on a panel and present the work I’ve done through our Bike Share for All program. I talked about many of our community partners which we work with to serve under-served communities and individuals and shared some success stories around these efforts. In preparation for the presentation, I was reflecting on many of the individuals who have expressed their appreciation for Blue Bikes. Two of the contributing factors for many of them have been being able to get exercise and the affordability of the Reduced Fare Program. With an e-bike fleet replacing the traditional bikes, both of these are subject to be changed. Learning from others sitting on my panel I was able to see that the affordability has been addressed in other programs and hope that will prove true here. Though the future is uncertain, it was really great to present our efforts around what we have done. I’m optimistic that Blue Bikes will continue to serve a wide variety of individuals as they expand and look forward to staying plugged in to developments to be better informed about what may be coming to our city and how we can work with it.
On the final night of the conference members of the Better Bike Share Partnership met for a dinner, at a brewery with a bike shop inside!