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City supports bike share program, offers $100,000

by Alberto Tomas Halpern // July 11, 2013 // Government

  • El paso bicycle atlas

    This maps shows the existing bikeways, in blue, and proposed bikeways, in red, throughout El Paso as prescribed in "Plan El Paso," the city's comprehensive 25-year long planning policy guide. (City of El Paso image)

  • Bike show downtown 7

    Korina Navarro sits in her downtown bike repair shop, Biciklo. Navarro is a supporter of the bike share program, speculating that it will generate more bicycle traffic in central and downtown El Paso. (Anthony Martinez/ Newspaper Tree)

  • Bike show downtown 7

    Esteban, a bike repairman at Biciklo in downtown El Paso, fixes a used bike. The store's owner, Korina Navarro, says that a bike rental service is needed, especially in dowtown El Paso. (Anthony Martinez/ Newspaper Tree)

  • City1

    City Manager Joyce Wilson, left, and Mayor Oscar Leeser, right, have a chat before the start of the July 9 meeting. (Alberto Tomas Halpern/ Newspaper Tree)

  • City2

    Mayor Oscar Leeser and City Representative Michiel Noe discuss city business during a break in the meeting. (Alberto Tomas Halpern/ Newspaper Tree)

El Paso city representatives voted their support this week to develop the community’s first-ever bike share program. City representatives unanimously authorized Mayor Oscar Leeser to sign an interlocal agreement between the city, the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority (CRRMA), and the El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), in which the city will provide $100,000 for a $2 million bicycle kiosk project. The $100,000 was budgeted as part of the city’s environmental services.

The main funding for the project comes from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program in the amount of $1,512,000. Other funding sources include $276,000 from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Rider 8 program; $88,000 from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Surface Transportation Program (STP); and $24,000 from the University of Texas at El Paso’s (UTEP) green fund.

Mathew McElroy, the city’s Deputy Director for Planning and Economic Development, explained the program to city officials, at a City Council meeting on July 9, saying that the bike kiosks are not intended to be amenities necessarily, but that they serve a greater function in planning the city’s mass transit system.

“There’s been quite a bit of research to see how far people will walk to transit stations,” McElroy told Newspaper Tree Wednesday afternoon. Typically, he said, people will walk a half-mile or 10 minutes to a transit station. A transit station may be for bus, subway, or some other mode of transportation. “You want to put transit stations so [people] can capture as many stations as possible,” McElroy said. The provision of bikes, he believes, will make it more likely that more transit stations can be used.

McElroy added, “Without bike share, maybe you’re willing to walk to a station and then have lunch. With bike share, maybe you can go to a station, have lunch, take a quick ride, and then get back on a bus.”

At the council meeting, McElroy added that the benefits of the bike share program would include a reduction of carbon emissions from vehicles, reduction of traffic and congestion, promotion of multimodal transportation, improvement of the physical health of residents, and an increase in tourism and access to businesses.

The bike share program, McElroy said after the meeting, conforms to the city’s 25-year planning policy guide, Plan El Paso, which was adopted by the city on March 6, 2012. Overall goals of the plan include developing El Paso “to become the least car-dependent city in the Southwest through meaningful travel options.” The overall plan also calls for providing public services and facilities that will meet the physical, recreational and health needs of the community.

The comprehensive plan includes strategies for developing bicycle planning as an alternative and viable mode of transportation. According to the two-volume city planning document, “Compared to many North American communities, bicycle planning has a relatively long history in El Paso.” The Plan cites a 1982 bike plan created by the El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization called The Comprehensive Bikeways Plan, and the 1997 Regional Bikeways Plan.

Those plans call for implementing and institutionalizing bike-friendly plans, including the creation of bikeways and bike lanes throughout the city, and fostering a bike-friendly community.

Speaking to city officials, McElroy cited a study conducted in Kansas City referencing the benefits that city experienced through a bike share program.

“Local businesses surrounding bike shares improved their sales by about $150,000 per year because of the bike share provision,” he said.

“The important part about this is it will not cost us any additional funding and it will be able to fund itself,” Leeser said at the meeting. McElroy agreed, saying that revenue from bike share memberships and sponsorships would make the program self supporting.

McElroy said that typically, bike share users enter into a daily, monthly or yearly membership for use of the bikes. According to city documents describing the project, “a total of 200 bikes are anticipated with 10 bicycles per stations preferred.” Bike kiosks could include locations throughout the city in the west, downtown, central and east transit terminals and at UTEP and its surrounding neighborhoods. The actual locations will ultimately be determined throughout the course of the project planning phase by the regional mobility authority, CRRMA.

District 5 city representative, Michiel Noe, said he supported the program, but questioned the costs, in particular the price of individual bikes in the event they will have to be replaced. McElroy said that the specific bikes have not been selected yet, “but when you’re talking about 200 bikes for $2 million, that’s $10,000 per bike if you will, but that includes the installation costs and the system costs. When you get down to the individual bike, and this is ballpark, you’re talking about between $1,000 and $1,500 or even $2,000.”

McElroy defended the individual bike costs, explaining that they will be heavy-duty bikes. He added that they will have thorn-resistant tires and automatic transmissions.

“I understand that El Paso is the safest city in the universe,” Noe said, “but they’re pretty expensive bikes.” Noe expressed concern about the security of the bikes, saying he had heard that in some cities with similar programs all of the bikes had been stolen.

McElroy acknowledged that early bike share systems did result in stolen bikes, but explained that current systems are far more advanced and include global positioning satellite or GPS tracking capabilities. Another theft deterrent is that the bikes would have to be rented using a credit or debit card, which could automatically be charged with additional fees if a bike is not returned on time.

District 7 city representative, Lily Limon, asked what the daily, monthly and yearly fees would be for bike sharers. McElroy answered that fees had not yet been determined and that it would be conjecture to give a figure at present.

Limon also cited a June 11 New York Times article which highlighted flaws in that city’s bike share program. “It’s not working,” she said. The Times reported that some kiosks were difficult to access and that bikers had to go to multiple kiosk stations before being able to return the bike. According to the article, “Many docking stations have proved temperamental, refusing to accept bikes or process credit card information. Others have at times shut down altogether. On some occasions, passers-by have been able to pull a bike from a station without paying, probably because the last user was unable to lock it back in place.”

Limon said, “I’m just worried about building something and people won’t come to it. If we had some kind of survey, that might be a little bit more comfort before buying the bikes.”

McElroy said that his staff did conduct a survey and that out of 441 responses, “eighty-seven percent said they would use a bike share if it was available.”

El Paso resident Lisa Turner, the only private resident to speak on the issue at the city meeting, raised concerns over liability, whether or not helmets would be required, and where the kiosk locations would be, either on city property or not. She was also concerned about sidewalk space.

“There’s not a whole lot of room on the sidewalks now,” Turner said. “I think we need to look at this a little bit more before we go forward. I think we need to look at the safety requirements. Do we need helmets, and if so, do we rent those?”

McElroy said helmets would not be required, but Leeser suggested that out of concern for safety it should at least be looked into. Regarding liability, City Manager Joyce Wilson said, “I want to clarify that this is an interlocal agreement.” She emphasized that the CRRMA would have operational and programmatic oversight. “We’re only a partner in that we’re providing a local match.” Issues pertaining to liability, she said, should be directed to the mobility authority.

District 4 city representative Carl Robinson, too, questioned the cost of the bikes, asking, “One thousand dollars for a bike?”

McElroy and Wilson said that the figure is typical. Wilson added, “This program is institutionalized around the world. It’s not that it’s a cutting edge program. Typically, it functions well.”

After the vote was taken, Leeser said he felt the concerns raised by Limon, Noe, and Robinson were adequately addressed.

Korina Navarro, owner of Biciklo, a downtown bike shop, said the bike share program was on her radar and that she supported it.

“Yeah, of course. Totally. Obviously, it’s good for business. It’s good that we’re catching up to bigger cities. I know that bigger cities have these and we’re barely getting there,” she said.

Navarro sees the bike share program as being viable in central or downtown El Paso. “We get people asking us if we rent bikes and we don’t have that service.”

Asked whether or not she would use the public bikes, Navarro said, “I have a bunch of bikes of my own, so I probably wouldn’t use it, but I would recommend it to customers.”

In other city business, representatives:

  • Voted to award Casa Ford, Inc. $1,380,000 for an initial term of three years with the possibility of a two year extension to support the maintenance and upkeep with Ford brand vehicles owned by the city. According to city documents, Ford brand vehicles “make up about 60 percent of the City’s current light vehicle fleet.” The city’s purchasing manager, Bruce Collins, said Casa Ford, Inc. was the best value bidder.
  • Voted to award $389,740 to Farber Specialty Vehicles of Reynoldsburg, Ohio for two public library outreach vehicles, including one to replace the library’s Bookmobile. According to Dionee Mack, the city’s library services director, the old Bookmobile will still be used for outreach programs, but needed to be outfitted with better technology.
  • Terminated a ground maintenance contract with Evergreen Lawn Services for not upholding their end of a performance bond. Representatives awarded replacement contracts to two vendors, Three C’s Contractors and Ransom Lawn Service, Inc., for an estimated $814,944.
  • Voted on a resolution to award an estimated $664,425 over three years to Albert J. Varela, doing business as Center for Employee Assistance, to provide stress management services to firefighters. According to city documents, the stress management services are required for fire department personnel under their collective bargaining agreement. The contract for stress management services had expired in January 2013 and was extended on a month-by-month basis. The service includes psychiatric, psychological, and counseling services, as well as training for new and supervisory personnel. In addition, the contract includes alternate services such as massage therapy, yoga, Tai Chi and meditation.
  • Voted in a split-decision to appoint Mayor Leeser to serve on the Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board (TPB); and to appoint Representative Noe to replace former Representative Steve Ortega and appoint Representative Cortney Niland to replace Representative Robinson on the TPB. Robinson, upset at Leeser over the move, expressed his frustration, saying he had never had an opportunity to discuss being replaced. “I guess some things don’t change,” Robinson said, “I’ve said many times, it’s not what you do it’s how you go about doing it.” Looking at Leeser, Robinson added, “If you’re going to make changes, and it’s your prerogative to do so, out of courtesy I should have an opportunity to discuss it.” Leeser responded by saying that the city will continue to respect people moving forward. Representatives Ann Morgan Lily, Larry Romero, and Noe voted in favor of the changes to the board, while representatives Robinson, Eddie Holguin and Limon voted in opposition. Lesser cast the deciding vote to approve the changes.

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