Recently, I had a chance to respond to a commentary piece published in the Roanoke Times. The essay shared some concerns about our upcoming bikeshare program, and I appreciated the opportunity to address some of those concerns on the pages of the Times. In case you missed it, I am reprinting my response in full, below.
In her March 6th commentary piece (“Bikes Should be for All”), Natalie Patterson makes a number of excellent points about mobility and connectivity within the Roanoke Valley and expresses some concerns about the proposed bikeshare program that RIDE Solutions is bringing to the region. As Director of RIDE Solutions and an advocate for all forms of mobility, I wanted to take a moment to address those concerns and explain more fully what we hope to accomplish through the implementation of bikeshare.
First, it is important to note that the planned bikeshare program is not a program of local government and will not, at this time, be supported by public funds with the exception of a single station supported by RIDE Solutions itself. Our program will be funded by sponsorship from private organizations, and these organizations, in turn, will work with RIDE Solutions to meet both their needs as well as and the needs of the community. For example, many of our partners will be property management firms who will want stations located close to their properties so as to provide service to their customers. Of course, a bikeshare system, to be successful, requires a well-planned network of stations located in a number of important residential, commercial, and employment activity centers. To that extent, we will work very closely with sponsors, neighborhoods, and other stakeholders to make sure the network offers as much coverage as possible.
It should also be noted that this system, receiving financial support from community-minded sponsors, will be less reliant on rider fees to remain sustainable. This will give RIDE Solutions the flexibility to work with organizations throughout the region to provide access to the system to folks who may not otherwise have the financial means to purchase memberships.
Second, while it’s true that Roanoke’s rapidly growing downtown will be a focus on the system launch, we fully expect to expand the system as quickly and responsibly as possible. As rider revenue is collected and more sponsors come on board, we will expand the system beyond its initial footprint into more neighborhoods and more employment centers. It is also worth noting that while the residential growth in downtown has been remarkable and is certainly a driver for downtown station locations, it also remains the highest concentration of employment in the valley across a number of industries, from service to healthcare to industrial to nonprofit. This means the stations that we will launch in surrounding neighborhoods like West End, Old Southwest, and Southeast will provide transportation options to those residents to employment in and around downtown.
Finally, Ms. Patterson makes the important point that mobility is more than just cycling. As a mobility advocacy program, implementing bikeshare is just one of the efforts RIDE Solutions is undertaking to improve transportation options in the region. We have long worked with employers and local jurisdictions to improve pedestrian access, public transportation capacity, carpooling, and more. As a program of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, RIDE Solutions is part of a spectrum of efforts the Commission participates in to expand transportation access. For example, the recently completed Transit Vision Plan is an important step in reevaluating and redesigning our bus system to better serve a wide variety of citizen needs. Further, we recognize that, in transportation, a multimodal approach is necessary; that is, bikeshare alone may not meet everyone’s needs, but bikeshare stations located in proximity to bus stops can fill important last-mile gaps in the transit network.
RIDE Solutions is well aware of the limitations that lack of mobility can place upon our citizens. Every day, we work with individuals whose only barrier to employment, health, recreation, and civic engagement is the lack of an automobile. We strive to bring to bear those services we can to fill these gaps, and to work with our local governments and corporate partners to educate and encourage new programs where our services are limited. We hope the bikeshare program will make some progress towards improving equitable access to mobility, and are confident that we will be able to expand it to meet the wide variety of needs our citizens face.