Nonprofits, Sustainability, and Travel & Tourism

Nonprofit launches Grand Rapids bike-share program

June 19, 2015
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Downtown getting $41K worth of bicycle parking equipment
Bike racks are part of the Grand Rapids DDA's bike-related funding in the city. Image via parkcatalog.com

Grand Rapids will see its first bike-share program in July when a nonprofit launches a pilot bike-sharing program downtown.

400 bikes

Jay Niewiek, executive director of The Spoke Folks in Grand Rapids, said if everything goes as expected, the city will go from an initial 66 bikes this summer to 400 bikes by spring.

“We are going to start out with a geographic focus on downtown in the pilot, but with the 400, we’ll have enough bikes to go into neighborhoods and be citywide,” Niewiek said.

A private, for-profit donor is taking care of the initial costs for the bike-share program, and The Spoke Folks will manage the day-to-day operations, including bicycle maintenance.

App-based system

Niewiek said the bike-share program will be app based, similar to the Uber app in how it works, and will not include specific stations for picking up and dropping off the bikes.

“Everything will run through your phone,” he said. “It’s as simple as saying I want to ride, and the app tells you here is the closest bike, and you go over, unlock it and ride it to where you need to go. You’ll be able to ride the bike right to your destination and be done with it.”

The bikes will all be branded for easy identification and include baskets for carrying items.

All rides will cost a flat fee of $1 and then 15 cents per minute, and there is no monthly or annual membership fee.

Bike density

Niewiek said the key to making the program work in Grand Rapids is having the right density of bikes based on the population.

“We looked at national data around population density, how many bikes per thousand people, and we are right in the middle with the 400,” he explained. “If we find we are getting more people we can add more.

“What’s nice about it being app based is we can look at where people are making their requests from, so we can put the bikes where the demand is coming from.”

Breaking even

In order for the program to break even or turn a profit, the bikes need to be used at a rate of 12 minutes per day or more.

“Most people, based on national data, go for rides of about five minutes, so we are looking at about two to three rides per bike per day,” he said.

Bike infrastructure

Whether the city has enough bike infrastructure to support the bike-share program is still to be seen.

Niewiek said his organization hopes to work closely with the city to ensure the bike-share program is a success.

“We want it to complement what the city has been doing,” he said.

The Spoke Folks' announcement of the bike-share program came the same morning the Grand Rapids Parking Commission was receiving draft recommendations from a consulting firm hired to look at parking and mobility in downtown Grand Rapids, which included the recommendation that the city pursue a bike-share program.

The recommendation, provided by Sam Schwartz Engineering, calls for the city to launch a bike-share system with an initial 20-35 bike-share stations in the downtown area and with a percentage of the bikes being electric assisted.

“It is strongly recommended that the system be as dense as possible, while covering as much area,” the recommendation says.

The recommendation includes on-street bike infrastructure improvements to support the system, which the firm estimates to have an initial startup cost of between $500,000 to $2 million.

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