In Detroit, regional transit measure, bike sharing could break the automobile’s monopoly

The Divvy bike share program in Chicago.
The Divvy bike share program in Chicago.

Two different initiatives focused on advancing alternatives to automobile-dependent travel in Detroit advanced on Thursday, and at least one seems guaranteed to become reality.

Bike sharing is coming

The Downtown Detroit Partnership and the city of Detroit announced today they had selected a vendor to supply its fledgling bike share program, which is set to launch in spring 2017. Chicago-based Shift Transit will supply 420 bikes and 42 wireless, solar-powered stations.

“Bikes are a convenient, affordable and fun way to connect people to jobs, school, services and recreational opportunities, and Detroit Bike Share will increase the number of options for people
to get where they need to go,” said Lisa Nuszkowski, the program’s executive director, in a release.

The City Council approved a three-year contract with Shift last month. The city and the DDP, a nonprofit backed by major employers in the city, said it chose Shift through a competitive bid process based on its award-winning bike design, competitive price and value, and “ability to integrate with multiple modes of transit.” The final total is higher than the 350 bikes and 35 stations originally planned because of Shift’s lower costs.

Users of a bike share program in San Jose, Calif.
Users of a bike share program in San Jose, Calif.

Shift Transit operates bike share programs in Chicago, Washington D.C., Boston and London, among other cities. It beat out other hopefuls including Detroit Bikes, the hometown bike manufacturer which recently partnered with Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Motivate to supply bicycles for bike sharing programs in other cities.

Station locations haven’t yet been chosen, but the public and other stakeholders will reportedly have opportunities beginning this fall to weigh in on that issue and matters of membership and pricing. Organizers say they’ll locate stations to link with SMART and DDOT buses, the Detroit People Mover and the nascent QLINE, or M-1 Rail.

RTA heads to the ballot

A bus rapid transit coach in Cleveland.
A bus rapid transit coach in Cleveland.

After being left for dead by last-minute objections by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, and following a failed vote a week ago, the RTA board on Thursday voted unanimously to send the regional tax plan to the Nov. 8 ballot.

I’ve written about the RTA plan before and am on the record as being in support. Today’s vote means voters in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties will vote on the 20-year, 1.2-mill tax that is expected to raise about $4.6 billion and bring better bus service, rapid bus transit, service to Metro Airport and commuter rail service between Detroit and Ann Arbor.

The RTA board agreed to make changes to its voting and funding-allocation structures to mollify the suburban leaders, who wanted more ability to sway spending changes and to include more services to its hinterlands. And that latter part still leaves me scratching my head, frankly (emphasis mine):

In the compromise, Oakland County secured about $40 million more over two decades — from $79 million to $118 million — for its 40 communities, many in the north, that have opted out of the suburban SMART bus system. The county received assurances that transit service would be granted to more communities in the master plan, including to the disabled and elderly.

If these communities already opt out of existing bus service, what makes — OK, wait, never mind. I’ll take it.

Frankly, I’ve been spending much of the past week, when it looked like all the RTA’s hard work was swirling around the drain, thinking about what exactly I was going to say about this region’s inability to look at the big picture and come together for mutual benefit. I frankly don’t know whether this proposal will pass — it will do well in Detroit and some inner-ring suburbs (like Ferndale), but not in farther-flung burbs dominated by conservative voters — but that’s a conversation for another day.

Right now, I’m just relieved it’s cleared this (unnecessarily difficult) hurdle.

Creative Commons photos via Tony Webster, Richard Masoner and Wyliepoon

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