Portland may pave the way for bike-share services

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PORTLAND — It may soon be a lot easier for people to bike their way around the city.

With at least three companies poised to bring bicycle sharing services to the city, Councilor Spencer Thibodeau is ready to fast-track the ordinance needed for the services to operate.

The city may also move forward with its first fully protected bicycle lanes on city streets.

“We need to get this in place before spring,” Thibodeau said March 22. “These (services) are coming.”

A day earlier, his Sustainability & Transportation Committee endorsed an ordinance that may still be tweaked by the full City Council.

Thibodeau and Councilors Belinda Ray and Brian Batson were unanimous in support of the ordinance, and Thibodeau said he may seek to have a first reading, hearing and vote when the council next meets Monday, April 9.

An ordinance typically gets a first reading at one meeting, followed by a hearing and council vote at the next scheduled meeting.

City Transportation Program Manager Bruce Hyman presented the draft ordinance to the committee on March 22, but did not identify the companies interested in operating in Portland.

The ordinance will likely be amended, adding a provision requiring operators of “stationless” bike-share systems to help pay for racks throughout the city for a certain percentage of bikes they intend to rent.

The stationless approach seems the most likely to be used in the city, Thibodeau said. Instead of renting bicycles from a fixed location where they are also returned, the stationless model allows riders to go point-to-point.

Bicycles can be located using a smartphone app, rented and unlocked. Once done, the renter locks the bike at another location and leaves it.

As written now, the stationless operators with fewer than 250 bicycles would be charged a $1,500 initial permit fee and a $1,000 renewal fee. Operators with 250-500 bicycles would pay $2,500 and $2,000, respectively.

Because a rack for 10 bicycles can cost about $1,100, the city would require operators to share in the installation costs, with a possible reduction in permit fees to more closely match those for bike share operators using a fixed location for renting and returning bicycles.

Station-based operators with fewer than 250 bicycles would be charged a $500 initial permit fee and the same to renew a permit. Operators with 250-500 bicycles would pay $1,000 initially and to renew a permit.

The bike share concept has been looked at and discussed for more than five years. In 2013, the city conducted a feasibility study with $20,000 in technical assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The nonprofit Portland Bikeshare was also formed, and a bike-share service was also operated at the Portland Transportation Center, but no citywide service has ever been established.

The fully protected bicycle lanes are part of the proposed fiscal year 2019 capital improvements budget. It would allocate $100,000 to build separated bike lanes on Park Avenue that would eventually extend from State to Marston streets.

The CIP budget must first be approved by the full council. It will be reviewed by the City Council Finance Committee on Thursday, April 5, at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.

The lanes could be separated by barriers or bollards, but details on the construction and extent of the lanes have not been determined.

“We are evaluating options for a separated facility, and hope to know general direction in the next month or so,” city Transportation Systems Engineer Jeremiah Bartlett said in an email March 30. “It will be longer than that to nail down precise costs and implementation strategies.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The fiscal year 2019 capital improvements budget in Portland allocates $100,000 to build a separate bicycle lane on Park Avenue, but the funding must be approved by councilors and design details are not finalized.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.