Perhaps you heard a rumor spinning around town that Boise Bike Share Program--the much-anticipated initiative to move more people on fewer wheels around Boise's downtown core--was in a bit of trouble. That's not exactly accurate. In fact, BBSP continues to roll toward a 2014 roll-out.
Since early 2012, Boise Weekly has been chronicling how a bike-share program could put as many as 140 bikes at 10 stations throughout Boise's downtown and the campus of Boise State University (BW, Citydesk, "Recycle," April 18, 2012). And while bike-share advocates continue to engage with key stakeholders on the location of the bike-share stations, while securing more than $300,000 to operate the program, BBSP is closer than ever to reality.
But when the Idaho Statesman wrote, "Boise Bike Share Negotiations Hit a Snag" earlier this month, saying there were "misunderstandings" and "problems" with the company that BBSP had chosen to design its custom-built bikes, rumors swirled.
"I'm about 95 percent sure that we'll wrap this up," BBSP Director Dave Fotsch told BW on March 24, following a meeting with an attorney representing Valley Regional Transit, the program's parent agency. "We had a very candid conversation with the folks at Social Bicycles [manufacturers of the bike-share system] and we talked about a lot of things that would happen once we finalize the contract. So, I think there's an assumption on both our parts that we're going to sign a contract."
Fotsch doesn't just talk the talk or even walk the walk; he rides the ride. After working 10 years as a reporter and another 13 as a spokesman for the American Red Cross and the Central District Health Department, he was asked to take the handlebars of Boise Bike Share in September 2013. Even before officially joining the program as its director, Fotsch was already a high-profile advocate for alternative transportation, serving on the board of the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance and the Ada County Highway District's Bicycle Advisory Committee.
"From the day we sign a contract, I'm counting 150 days to launch the bikes into Boise," said Fotsch.
And when they launch, 140 shared bikes would launch all at once, not incrementally as had been talked about in 2013.
"The system that we're looking at now costs less; it's that simple," said Fotsch. "And it's all about how Social Bicycle designs its system. These will be smart bikes versus smart stations. All the brains will be on the bikes."
Simply put, each bike will be equipped with its own solar-powered GPS system. Cellphone-type technology will tell program administrators where every bike is at anytime, day or night. The same technology will allow the program to study usage and travel patterns. From a rider's perspective, a customized smartphone app will allow cyclists to socialize their rides with friends and family and to instantly communicate with program managers in case of maintenance issues.
"We'll know where you are at any time and head right there if, for instance, you have a flat," said Fotsch. "We'll also be able to circulate the bikes from station to station, to make sure that there's an adequate supply where they're needed most."
Dr. Pengyu Zhu has a pretty good idea of where some of those bikes will be needed most--not far from his Boise State office, where he serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Regional Community Planning.
"I know that there will be two stations here on campus, one of them opposite the Student Union. That's a perfect location for us," said Zhu.
Another bike-share station is expected to be installed on Boise State's new pedestrian-bicycle mall, to be constructed this summer.
"I actually keep a bike right outside my door," said Zhu from his office in Boise State's Environmental Research Building on University Drive. "I use it quite often to ride over to the administration building all the time."
Meanwhile, at Boise City Hall, which has donated office space to BBSP to secure a downtown presence, Fotsch continues to brainstorm ideal locations for the rest of the bike-share stations. In addition to a station in front of City Hall, the program is looking at the U.S. Bank Building which, soon enough, will be the location of a newly proposed multi-modal transit center; a spot in front of the Boise Art Museum; to the west, BBSP is looking at space outside of Idaho Power's headquarters and the YMCA; to the east, they're looking at the campus of St. Luke's Boise Medical Center and the Washington Group Plaza on Parkcenter Boulevard.
"Plus, we're looking at the Borah Post Office; there are some nice wide sidewalks there. And maybe the Boise Co-op; that could be ideal," said Fotsch.
A bike-share program is a significant cog in the greater machine that is spinning Boise toward more alternative transportation and new ways of moving people through the city. Fotsch was one of scores of citizens and stakeholders who packed a March 13 ACHD open house where planners gathered feedback on plans to convert more of the city's one-way streets into two-ways, and even a proposal to remove a lane of traffic on Capitol Boulevard in favor of a buffered bicycle lane.
"I really like that idea of a protected bike lane, for the primary reason that I expect a lot of casual riders will participate in the bike-share program. When you provide a buffer between riders and traffic, they're much more comfortable," he said. "Boise State is having a bigger presence all the time downtown and there's going to be more and more traffic on Capitol."
That's something that Zhu knows all too well. He teaches two evening classes in Boise's BoDo district. He said his department even talked to students about the possibility of offering a shuttle service linking the main campus to BoDo.
"Not many of the students were interested. But if they could use the bike share, it would be so easy," he said. "This is certainly going to reduce travel time and a lot of automobile traffic too that's just unnecessary. And parking is getting that much harder, with the new Trader Joe's nearby."
As for the cost of the bike share, Fotsch said he's still putting a fine point on details, but BBSP is thinking about a $75 annual membership and a $5 one-time fee.
"We're still debating on whether that will be 30 minutes or 60 minutes," said Fotsch, adding that he expects tourists and visitors to access the program in addition to Boise State students and staff and downtowners who need a quick, cross-town, albeit alternative, form of transportation.
Purchasing a membership or one-time rental could be processed through an app, at select kiosks and, in a few instances, a dedicated laptop device at a nearby business or employer.
The next big announcement from Boise Bike Share Program? The unveiling of a primary sponsor, which is expected sooner than later.
"One of the challenges with any startup is getting people to believe in your dream," said Fotsch.