DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - As the center of the regional transit system, Downtown is already one of Los Angeles’ easiest neighborhoods to navigate. Now, for those willing to use pedal power, it’s about to get even easier.
The City Council last week approved a new permitting process that officials say will pave the way for a robust bike share program in Downtown, Westwood, Venice and Hollywood.
Run by Irvine-based Bike Nation, the system would be comprised of stations situated on sidewalks where users can check out a three-speed, chainless bike. Users pay a fee that varies depending on the length of their trip.
Eventually, the system will consist of up to 400 rental stations with 4,000 bikes furnished at no cost to the city by Bike Nation. In the Downtown area, Bike Nation has approvals to eventually permit and install 125 stations.
For now, the company has identified 10 Civic Center locations that will function as test facilities for the first 60 to 90 days after the facilities notch permits, which is expected in the coming month. During that initial period, only a select group of public employees from the city, county and state will be able to access the two wheelers.
In order to work out the inevitable kinks in the program, city officials requested that Bike Nation implement a testing period before opening the system to the general public, said Derek Fretheim, chief operating officer of Bike Nation.
“We’re really creating new territory,” Fretheim said.
The stations could be ready as soon as May, but the timeline for use by the general public is uncertain, said Fretheim. He hopes to have it open to the public during the summer.
Bike Share programs are not yet common in the United States, but the concept is slowly gaining traction. Washington, D.C., operates a 1,800-bike system that was launched in 2010, when smaller networks were also established in Denver and Minneapolis. Boston launched its 600-bicycle system in 2011, and last year saw the implementation of a share program in Kansas City, Mo. Bike share has been popular in European cities including Paris for several years, and the largest system in the world is in Hangzhou, China.
The sharing system is generally geared toward daytime populations of workers and tourists in dense areas. Fretheim said those two groups, along with Downtown residents, are the target audiences.
One key constituency could be the tens of thousands of people who commute to Downtown from relatively far distances via Metrolink trains, then need to travel an additional mile to their job locations, said Eric Bruins, planning and policy director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Those same users might also ride a bike back to Union Station at the end of the workday.
“Bike share is really, really good at first and last mile of transit,” Bruins said. Using as an example people who may work a few blocks from the subway stop at Pershing Square, he added, “Imagine you’re trying to get that last mile from Union Station to your job, and you don’t work at Pershing Square. It’s probably a lot faster to just take a bike than to take the Red Line.”
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Bike Nation started in 2009 and currently has one program in place, in Anaheim, where it operates three sharing stations with 30 bikes. It reached an agreement with Long Beach in March to operate 250 stations with up to 2,500 bikes.
The company earns revenue through usage fees, plus advertising and sponsorship of its stations, Fretheim said.
In Los Angeles, users will pay $6 to access a bike for 24 hours. On top of that, customers incur additional fees for any ride longer than 30 minutes, with every extra half-hour costing $1.50. At first, riders will only be able to pay with a credit card, though Fretheim said the company is looking into selling pre-paid cards that could be purchased with cash. Those looking for unlimited access could buy a $75 annual membership.
It is uncertain how long it will take Bike Nation to grow its system in Los Angeles, in part because getting a station permitted won’t be a simple task even with the council approval.
Standard stations require a 3-by-40-foot space on a sidewalk, so locations will be limited to areas that can fit a Bike Nation rack without blocking the public right-of-way.
The bikes are not meant to be locked or stored anywhere other than stations. To protect against theft, the company installs tracking systems on every two-wheeler. Also, Bike Nation will call users who haven’t returned a bicycle. If a bike can’t be recovered, it will be treated as a theft and handled by authorities, Fretheim said.
Because the bikes are only intended to be locked and stored at official stations, a system’s effectiveness is closely tied to how many stations are in a dense area, Bruins said.
“Small systems don’t work,” Bruins said. “People don’t have a lot of tolerance for walking on either end of the trip. If you have to park it and still walk awhile to get where you’re going, they won’t use it.”
Bike Nation plans on installing 125 stations in Downtown and will target employment and retail centers. The company also wants public input on facility locations. Users can download a mobile application to identify preferred station points.
Fourteenth District City Councilman José Huizar, who helped usher the program through the city approvals process, said he thinks the bike share system will fill a gap in the local transportation fabric. But he said it will also benefit those who don’t choose to ride.
“Whether you’re a user or not, if there are less people in cars it’s going to make more parking spots available and ease up congestion, so everyone benefits,” Huizar said.
For more information about the program, or to suggest a station location, visit bikenationusa.org/suggest/losangeles.
Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©Los Angeles Downtown News.