Salt Lake's GREENbike program using winter downtime to prep for 2014

Published: Saturday, Dec. 28 2013 8:30 a.m. MST

Riders submitted hundreds of pictures of themselves using Salt Lake City's GREENbike as they were out on dates, running errands, traveling to meetings and experiencing downtown in the bike share program's first year.

Downtown Alliance

SALT LAKE CITY — Last April, Ryan Evans hopped on one of Salt Lake City's GREENbikes on his way to work in hopes of saving a little time and doing his part to clean up Utah's air.

After just a few rides he was hooked, logging the most trips in the bike-share program's inaugural year — 407.

"I surprised myself," said Evans, a Draper resident and Salt Lake Chamber employee. "I knew I would like it and I knew and I would use it a lot, but little did I know I would like it that much and get that much usage."

Evans made the bikes part of his daily routine, riding Frontrunner up from Draper and then using GREENbike to pedal between work meetings, lunch and errands he had around town.

"Generally any business appointment I had downtown, I tried to utilize the GREENbike to get there rather than trying to drive, find a parking spot, go to that business appointment and then do it over again," Evans said. "It was a great way to get around, use UTA but then be able to use the bikes downtown."

A successful start

From aficionados like Evans to curious one-timers, 6,100 users biked 26,000 trips in 2013, making GREENbike the most used bike-share program in the country among programs with fewer than 50 stations.

"Really the metrics were just seeing how the public would react to it," said Ben Bolte, GREENbike director for the Downtown Alliance. "That was incredibly important to us that it got political and social buy-in, and people love it."

Riders submitted hundreds of pictures of themselves using GREENbike as they were out on dates, running errands, travelling to meetings and "experiencing the city," Bolte said.

"It forces people to interact and engage with their city in a way that is impossible to do in a car," said Bolte, who gave up his car two years ago to better experience downtown living. The GREENbike program has become part of his everyday life, he said.

The numbers surpass the program's first-year usage goals of 5,500 users taking 25,000 trips, setting a high bar for 2014. In response, seven new stations will be in place by the time the bikes return in April as GREENbike strives to double the number of trips and riders. Locations for the new bike stations haven't yet been announced.

GREENbike, a nonprofit companion to public transit, is a sharing program rather than a rental program, Bolte explained. To support this goal, downtown bike stations are positioned close together where they will reach the most people and can function as a natural extension to TRAX, Frontrunner and busses.

"If you think about it, the first mile and the last mile are the biggest hurdle for public transportation," Bolte said. "The TRAX stop, the bus stop, it's three blocks, five blocks or six blocks from where you are or where you want to be. … If you can just hop on one of these bikes that are available 24 hours a day and they're everywhere, you can connect immediately to where your bus is or the (train) is."

For Bolte and his team, managing the GREENbike program is a constant effort as they inspect each bike, which happens every other day; clean the stations; and move bikes around to make sure there is a balance between available bikes and open docking slots at each station.

A lot of work happens in the office, as well, including public engagement campaigns and grant writing to keep GREENbike funded. As much of 30 percent of the program is funded through ridership, while the rest of the cost is covered by sponsorships. The program must expand to 75 stations before it will be self-sufficient.

Plans for the future

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