The Central District Health Department (CDHD), based in Boise and serving Ada, Elmore, Valley and Boise counties, is seeking to embark on a new mission: the bicycle-for-health business.
In an elaborate, 45-page document entitled the “Boise Bike Share Program,” the CDHD has crafted a proposal calling for the acquisition of 140 bicycles and the establishment of 14 automated “bike stations.” Estimated cost for the project is $651,000, but no sure sources of funding are identified in the plan.
The bikes and stations would be placed throughout greater downtown Boise and on the campus of Boise State University. Under the plan, riders would be invited to check out the bicycles for what is described by the department as a “low cost” and to use them for short rides around town.
While the CDHD has proposed to pay for portions of the program’s costs, its plan indicates that user fees would likely provide 25-30 percent of the revenues necessary to launch and maintain the program. CDHD officials have also invited several other governmental agencies and multiple private organizations to collaborate with them on the project, including Valley Regional Transit, Ada County Highway District, the city of Boise, BSU, Treasure Valley YMCA and Idaho Smart Growth.
The plan states in its “executive summary” section that “there is currently a shortage of alternative transportation in downtown Boise.” CDHD spokesperson Dave Fotsch told IdahoReporter.com the agency’s “goal is to get bikes on the street.”
The CDHD lists a variety of health-specific agendas on its website. The agency’s offerings include child immunization, tobacco cessation, communicative disease prevention and cholesterol screening programs; it does not list any transportation programs.
However, the CDHD’s foray into transportation may very well fit within the broadly defined intentions for the agency. According to Idaho Code, district health departments “provide the basic health services of public health education, physical health, environmental health, and public health administration,” yet the law also stipulates that “this listing shall not be construed to restrict the service programs of the district health department solely to these categories.”
When asked about the agency’s proposal involving transportation, Fotsch said “This is a public health program as much as it is transportation. With this program we will get people out of their cars and riding bikes. That will get people exercising, and it fits our anti-obesity mission. It will also result in less air pollution, which is a legitimate public health concern.”
The proposal notes that the city of Boise already has a “well-established bike culture and improving infrastructure for bicycling.” Fotsch said of that statement, “This only accounts for privately owned bikes. There are no public bikes available. People ride their bikes to town and lock them up, and you can’t just borrow somebody else’s bike for a short 30-minute ride. We’re aiming to provide an added convenience so you can use a bike for a short distance.”
Boise City Councilman Ben Quintana told IdahoReporter.com that the council will soon hear an informational presentation about the program, but that the council is a long way off from voting on whether to collaborate with CDHD on it or to spend Boise tax revenues to help fund it. Fotsch noted that the CDHD is seeking both governmental and private funding sources.
Bike sharing is both an international and national program with varying levels of success and approaches to the idea.
The city of Long Beach this summer approved a 10-year, $12 million contract with Bike Nation to furnish bikes and kiosks, and operate a program for the city.
Bike Nation, which hopes to establish programs throughout the nation and has six cities under contract in California, charges a membership fee as a condition for using its bikes with the membership good in any Bike Nation location nationwide. The first 30 minutes are free when a 24-hour membership is purchased for $6, with small decreases in costs with more day purchases. For examples, three days is $12, weekly is $25, monthly is $35, yearly is $75 and yearly student/senior rentals is $50.
In the United States, Washington, D.C.’s, program was closed down after two years because of low ridership blamed on a lack of stations. Green Bay, Wis., abandoned its bike-sharing experiment due to vandalism and maintenance issues. The program, however, was free of charge and used refurbished bikes.
Bike sharing is considered a success in two international cities, Dublin, Ireland, and Barcelona, Spain, but other international communities have experienced problems.
Montreal taxpayers in May had to bail out its program at a cost of $108 million after just two years. More than half the 15,000 bicycles in Paris’ program disappeared and were presumed stolen within the first 18 months and nearly all had to be replaced, according to a BBC report.
Photo courtesy of Bike Share Philadelphia