Grand Rapids city commissioners narrowly approved an expenditure of $100,000 to study a bike-share program, for which the city would pay up to $2 million to initiate, providing approximately 20-35 bike stations for sharing. That’s a lot of taxpayer money — paid to the order of the same firm the city paid for its parking study, Sam Schwartz Engineering of Chicago (which recommended a bike share study at the time it made the parking recommendations).
Some city commissioners indicated support of the program as one method to alleviate the issues related to a parking system now at 95 percent capacity — a plan they approved and then assisted with systematic sale of city parking areas to developers. The Business Journal has reported for more than two years the growing concerns of business owners and office building owners. In mid-February, the Business Journal again reported several downtown business owners increasingly described abandoned plans for large office tenants now moving to the suburbs and business owners who reversed planned expansions within downtown. By summer, another 595 parking spots will disappear south of the Van Andel Arena for development of the mixed-use movie theater and residential complex. Even suggesting the bike program “helps” all attendant issues related to the absence of commuter parking is as arrogant and cavalier as offering gloves to help a person with no arms.
Business Journal research of studies in New York, Chicago and several of the 54 U.S. cities with such programs all show bike share users predominately are young, white males. One could argue those demographics do not reflect the more than 62,000 commuters who drive to work in downtown. Those studies from planetizen.com, bikeshare.com, salon.com and journalistsresource.org also show those who use bike-share programs previously were public transit users, not motor vehicle drivers. The city must consider the loss of more riders on the subsidized The Rapid DASH transit system, including the Silver Line BRT still absent a full deck. Even selling off parking lots has not pushed downtown commuters onto buses (which might have been expected to assist the cost of The Rapid services). All bike-share programs continue to operate with subsidies, despite the length of time the service has operated.
The Business Journal has additional concerns regarding building a system for a precise demographic, which is aging to changing lifestyle decisions in the time it takes to create the program. It begs the question of lake effect living through winter blizzards and summer heat.
The Business Journal finds the comparison of bike sharing to “parks” poor, since parks are available to all users, at every age and gender, whether disabled, low or no income.
Business owners make decisions for the health and sustainability of their company (not about a single individual’s personal preference), and the Business Journal supports answers that sustain that economic growth and stability in the city.