Regional Bikeshare for Los Angeles County?

Metro agency logoWill bike sharing finally come to the Los Angeles area? That’s the question rolling off the tongue of observers who have seen other major cities (New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Denver and Long Beach) move ahead with the grab-a-bike initiative while here at home in the Southland electeds simply jawbone about it. When Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s poorly thought-out Bike Nation deal collapsed as his term came to a close, it opened a new opportunity for a regional approach (which it should have been all along). Now Metro steps up to lead with a transit-centered regional bikeshare proposal for the Southland.

Metro could be the catalyst to finally bring a bikeshare program to the Los Angeles region.  Individual municipalities like Santa Monica and West Hollywood have taken initial steps by securing grant funding and examining how a sponsored program (e.g., Bike Nation) plays with local ordinances. But to scale up to a regional system will take coordination, and what better regional partner than a heavyweight transit agency like Metro? After all, San Francisco already offers a model of regional transit-agency coordination.

Why regional? We need any bikeshare program to span across local governments. For example, imagine living in West Hollywood and working in Beverly Hills. These neighboring cities make bike commuting very convenient. The occasional visitor might only need a bike once in a while, though. Were each city to use different systems, it would be impossible to pick up a bike here and drop it off there. That may be OK in a city the size of Los Angeles, but our smaller, fragmented municipalities need a jurisdiction-spanning program.

Metro service areas map
Metro’s geographic reach and access to one-third of California’s population can make bikeshare a viable transit option.

Why Metro? The regional transportation agency has the geographic reach, deep pockets, and political heft to make regional bikeshare a reality. The agency serves nearly 10 million people throughout a 1,500 square mile service area, for example. Through Measure R funding, we voters have given Metro very deep pockets to build out tomorrow’s transit system (and bikeshare is a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to megaprojects like I-405). Metro will go back to the voters for more, of course, and bikeshare should be on the menu of future investments.

Then there’s the political heft. The Metro Board of Directors is composed of political heavyweights. All of the LA County supervisors sit on the board, as do LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, Mike Bonin and Paul Krekorian (LA City Council) and Pam O’Connor (Mayor of Santa Monica). The latter city has taken the lead to promote cycling by creating a bike station and securing funding for bikeshare at the municipal level.

And then there’s efficiencies of scale. Metro is a huge agency with great purchasing power that can to some extent dictate the terms of any bikeshare program agreement. That means lower costs for hardware that could accept a metro farecard, say.

Perhaps the best reason to have Metro take the lead is that we need to close that last-mile gap (the trip from transit to office or destination, for example). Bike share is a natural complement. If one-third of California residents live or work within Metro’s service area, we’ve got to give them a reason to take transit by making the last leg of their journey convenient. Bikeshare can fit that need.

Why not a smaller system? For a while the Westside Cities Council of Governments bluffed about coordinating bikeshare system for the greater Westside. But that was never going to happen. This organization, a joint powers authority for Beverly Hills, Culver City, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Los Angeles and the County, has made scant progress on any problem that affects the Westside. It’s bike rhetoric has rung hollow. (We were skeptical from the beginning anyway.) And for most of the past year the Westside COG was moribund anyway. One could always count on the Westside COG for a delicious lunch but that won’t get us from here to there.

Much Left to Discuss

It’s too early to say what role Metro will take in regional bikeshare. Metro leadership under Garcetti at the Executive Management Committee (10/17) meeting took a first key step by touching on some of the challenges ahead. Namely, how a bikeshare would be funded, how it would roll out, and what role Metro would play. The committee directed that Metro lay the groundwork for a countywide RFP by beginning with a bikeshare industry review (i.e., survey of existing programs and vendors) and assess local government policies and how they would be affected by an advertising- sponsored system.

Coordination is another issue. How would rollout proceed? Santa Monica has funding in hand to start its bikeshare program. Can the city defer its grant until Metro can create an coordinating structure? Should it? At the meeting, LACBC’s Eric Bruins suggested that equity needs to be a key concern in any rollout. A sponsor-funded system may focus on high-revenue areas but not reach all potential users, he said. Bikeshare should reach every neighborhood.

Read more about the motion in Metro’s Source blog, about the whole bikeshare story in Streetsblog, and the merits of regional bikeshare coordinated by Metro in the LACBC blog.

Perhaps as significant, the Metro Board Executive committee recommended that Metro “adopt as policy” the support of bicycles as a formal transportation mode. That’s a posture that could prove very instructive to cities like Beverly Hills where even our transportation officials don’t recognize that cycling is transportation. It’s not merely a recreational pursuit. Without that recognition, however, it will be a challenge indeed to persuade policymakers to create the bicycle lanes and other safety facilities that we need to encourage greater uptake of cycling. Maybe here Metro really leads the way!