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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bikeshare, The Huntsville Way

In honor of the Downtown Ideas Map, here's an idea I had. Remember, the Downtown Ideas Summit is on July 21st at 6PM at the old Regions building on the Courthouse Square.

If you've been to Washington, DC this year, you may have noticed a lot of people riding on red bikes. More than likely, they're using Capital Bikeshare, DC's answer to a phenomenon that began in Paris and has spread to other cities, including Montreal and London. Nashville launched a pilot bikeshare program last year. B-cycle has "franchised" the system they built in Denver to smaller cities, including Madison, WI; Des Moines, IA; and starting this week, Spartanburg, South Carolina.

So, how would such a scheme work here? I would start with about 10 stations with 8-10 bikes each in Downtown and Five Points-- the slower and narrower streets in these areas create an ideal bicycling environment. See the map below.

My concept for a bikeshare system in Huntsville (click to enlarge). Image: Google Earth/Illustration by James Vandiver
The initial system would primarily be used by Old Town/Five Points commuters, downtown workers going to lunch, and weekend visitors going to the museums or a VBC event. Stations would be within 5 minutes (walking distance, hence the 200m radius) of each other, so if one station is full you could easily access an alternate station. Eventually, the system could expand into the Medical District, Lincoln Mill, and other urban neighborhoods as it moves out of the trial phase and as development/demand/sponsorship warrants. More stations could be installed at the city's colleges and universities, and possibly at trailheads of popular greenways such as Indian Creek and Aldridge Creek.

In addition to monthly and yearly memberships, many bikeshare systems are funded through sponsorships from major corporations, such as advertisers and banks. Regions, you've got all of those green bikes-- ball's in your court.


Nicole said...

In theory I'm all for it, but hHave you seen the way Huntsville area drivers act around bikes? Honking, swerving, deliberately trying to run them off the road -- I've even heard drivers brag about their behavior. Not a chance I'd ride on an urban road here... and I used to bike in a city of 1.2 million. To be fair, I've seen a lot of very unsafe bikers here, too.

I think the preliminary question is how to we increase driver and bike education and awareness here and reduce the hostility before expecting novice cyclists to take to the pavement? A few "share the road" signs won't do it. The mayor tries with his bike rides, but I hear a lot of hostility over them from the non-biking community; why, I don't know.

It's a thorny problem, but with gas and food prices rising we're going to see more people on bikes, either illegally on sidewalks where they exist or in lanes of traffic that are too narrow for cars to pass.

Anonymous said...


I can't speak to who you have talked to or to your cycling experiences in Huntsville. I can say that I have been biking in Huntsville for a few years now and in my opinion it is a bike friendly city. Does it have a lot of cycling infrastructure for its size? Not really, but there are plenty of safe streets to ride on and most drivers are courteous if you signal your intentions and respect traffic laws. I have lived in downtown Seattle, which is considered one of the most bike friendly cities, and can honestly say I would much rather ride in downtown Huntsville than downtown Seattle. It’s ironic; most people that I encounter that complain about how unsafe it is to ride in Huntsville do not actually ride a bike. They are use to driving their cars on Memorial Parkway, I565, University, etc, and don't realize there is a great deal of roads with low traffic. Of course, there is room for improvement (i.e. Holmes is about the only way to go to Research Park or Madison from downtown, Memorial Parkway can be challenging to cross, and crossing over Research Park Boulevard on Bradford or Old Madison Pike can be dicey during rush hour).
I couldn’t agree more with James’ idea. As I said, biking in Huntsville is good, but biking in Downtown and Five Points is great. Downtown HSV and Five Points have lower than average traffic, drivers are typically aware that pedestrians and cyclists are around, so they are on the lookout, and not to mention, it is one of the most beautiful areas of the city. My wife and I live in Five Points and bike nearly every day of the week. She rides her bike to the hospital anywhere from 2 to 5 times a week without issue.
Just the other weekend, while she was riding to work through the neighborhood, there was a Mini Cooper that was lingering behind her as she rode up a hill at 5-8 mph. She waved the Mini Cooper on. As they past her, they rolled down their window and said, “We aren’t going much faster than you, we are just enjoying looking at the houses,” and putted past her. This is more representative of the drivers in Downtown and Five Points.

James said...

To paraphrase one city official, "for every person that tells us we should be a more bike-friendly city, there are five others who tell us to get them the hell out of their way." So I do agree with Nicole that there are plenty of drivers around here that do resent bicyclists, and sadly, it's almost a game to them to harass bicyclists in whatever way they can. But Anonymous was exactly right as to why I chose Downtown and Five Points as starter areas for a hypothetical bikeshare system-- a pre-auto street design and a more favorable attitude among residents towards alternate forms of transportation.

[something witty] said...

I think that this is a great idea. I am Huntsville native and currently pursuing my PhD elsewhere. Making Huntsville more bike friendly would definitely encourage me to move back to five points as my wife and I would like to live car free or at least car lite. I, also, agree with Nicole that Huntsville drivers can be very bike unfriendly. I think that this would be helped by some active education or ticketing campaign by the city for both drivers and cyclists, both of which exacerbate the driver/cyclist tension by not obeying the laws. Also, a couple of other things that would sway my decision to move back to Huntsville are 1) a protected bike lane on Holmes from downtown to UAH and research park along Bradford (this could be accomplished by removing the turning lane on Holmes which is not really necessary) 2) more bus service along this path. Ideally this would be a loop line that started at the depot went down Holmes to UAH, then across sparkman to Bradford, made some loop through Research park then back the same way but jogging over to Clinton near downtown and possibly hitting five points and back to the depot. I think that would encourage both more UAH professors, staff, and student and research park employees to consider living downtown. It would also encourage these same people to consider lunch downtown. I know it would for me. Sorry for the long post.

Dennis said...

I would love to live car lite. For now, however, I bike recreationally. I try to stay on bikeways and avoid the streets if possible simply because of cell phones and other distractions drivers might have.

When I have ridden on the streets, I have been impressed with the courtesy drivers give bike riders.

Nicole said...

I've been thinking about the question I asked. As a kid, every year we went on a field trip to "Safety Town" or whatever it was called, which was a miniature town with streets and such. Some kids pretend bikes and some were pedestrians and some were in pretend cars, and we learned about the rules of the road. By the time we became drivers, we knew the rules, and understood they were the same for cars and bikes, although the cyclists is advised to exercise some prudence -- the bike will never win.

Granted, all the kids biked all the time back then. I don't see kids biking now -- I rarely see them even playing outside.

I don't know if Huntsville has such a setup, but if they do perhaps the education should be ramped up? And if they don't, how expensive can some sidewalks, paint and plastic car signs? The biggest expense would be the safety officer(s).

P.S. Just found a link online. We use go carts?! Ours was way less high tech, but at least as effective.

DC Rez said...

As a resident of Washington, DC, and a former resident of Huntsville, (and a bicyclist in both), I think I might be able to provide some insight. Now, it's been 8 years since I lived in Huntsville, but I've been back regularly since.

The Capital Bikeshare program has been a huge success. A big reason bicycling works in DC is because it's such a densely populated city. If you cover a mile or two, that's like driving 10 or 15 in Huntsville. There are that many restaurants, businesses, residences, packed into that tight of an area. So you can effectively get places on a bicycle, really quicker than by car because bicycles can fit places cars can't. Plus there's the whole parking issue here. For a car, people pay $20/day. A bicycle, just chain it up somewhere. Driving a car in DC is very expensive and inconvenient. The city has also gone out of their way to encourage bicycles by building bicycle lanes everywhere, to the detriment of automobile travel. In fact, in multiple ways the city has made driving in the city more of a hassle.

Contrast to Huntsville. City leaders over the years have done everything in their power to make driving easy. They've widened the roads, built bigger better roads. The problem is that building more roads just leads to more traffic because it encourages more automobile trips. It also creates more sprawl because it becomes that much easier to move further out where homes are bigger and cheaper.

People here are used to sharing the road and alternative transportation methods. On any given day, there are thousands of pedestrians. Metro logs almost a million riders everyday. The buses log hundreds of thousands of riders a day. And it's acceptable for regular people to ride them, not just the poor and destitute.

Until the mindset of a critical mass of people in Huntsville changes, transportation policy and public attitude will continue to favor automobiles.

Anonymous said...

I've seen more than my share of STUPID bicycle riders - i.e. - Riding down the CENTER lane of Memorial Parkway. Riding on the Parkway is a deathwish anyways, but if you're going to bicycle, ride in the righthand side of the right lane! I honestly think that the bicyclists should be required to register their bicycles, having a tag on the back, with the registration fees going to build bike paths. Once a good bike path system is built, require riders to stay on the bike paths, unless they are on a residential street, and I don't mean Bailey Cove. I mean a 2 lane neighborhood road. If a bicyclist is seen on a roadway that is not residential or having a bike path parallel to the road, fine them $500. Lets face it, the roads and traffic here are not bicycle friendly for the most part, and the majority of the citizens do not approve of bicyclists on the roads.