Five big lessons to help small cities expand shared mobility

[quote_right][feature_box title=”OPTIONS OPPORTUNITIES” title_color=”fff” header_color=”369″]With large-scale, creative thinking, transportation agencies in smaller cities can offer effective shared mobility options to lower-density areas.[/feature_box][/quote_right]Discussions on shared mobility often focus on transportation solutions for high-density city neighborhoods.

But most of the recent growth in the U.S. – and by far the greatest share of urbanized land – is now in suburban areas outside the urban core, as well as in smaller, lower-density cities.

This issue was addressed recently at the national shared mobility summit, “Move Together,” in Chicago. Hosted by the Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC), where I work, the summit featured several panels with transportation officials from smaller cities who discussed how new models of shared mobility have been effective in serving low-density areas with diverse needs and demands. These successes yielded several lessons upon which other smaller jurisdictions can build.

  1. Even if you are a small (or mid-sized) city, you can still think big

Suzanne Carlson, transportation and mobility project manager for Memphis, Tennessee, is working to create a mode shift by altering transportation behaviors in this car-reliant city. Nearly 80 percent of Memphis residents drive alone to work. Carlson hopes to change that by “thinking big” with a large bikeshare pilot of 60 stations with 600 bikes, instead of the handful of stations as many smaller cities have done. Hamilton, Ontario, has already successfully done this: starting with 110 stations and 750 bikes, a relatively large pilot for a mid-size city. Carlson says that this model is necessary to shift mindsets in Memphis, so that people see bikesharing as a viable public transportation option. By starting big, Memphis can also ensure its system has the station density needed to be successful. This large-scale pilot could serve as a model for other mid-sized cities hoping to have a large impact and tackle a major mode shift goal. To substantially alter mobility habits, Carlson also notes that cities have to implement a comprehensive strategy that integrates a portfolio of multimodal options, not just one service.

  1. Leverage street space for shared mobility

Even cities with limited curb space can work to prioritize street use to increase visibility and usage of carsharing, bikesharing and other shared modes of transport. Francie Stefan, strategic and transportation planning manager for the city of Santa Monica, argues that past regulatory frameworks for designating street space are outdated, and that new models are needed that take into account each mode’s sustainability, capacity, and ability to reduce vehicle miles traveled. Integrated into Santa Monica’s Land Use Circulation Element (LUCE), for instance, this methodology has begun to pave the way for a regulatory process more conducive to a connected and equitable shared mobility network within the city, and sets an example for other small cities to follow.

The Move Together conference in Chicago

  1. Pursue first- and last-mile solutions

For suburbs and mid-sized cities – such as Pasadena, California and Evanston, Illinois – that have well-established rail and bus routes, shared mobility can act as a catalyst for connecting and enhancing existing assets. Often, shared mobility options serve as a first- and last-mile solution for public transit, which can help reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips to and from suburban areas. Even for low-density communities that have limited public transit infrastructure, shared mobility can provide a greater network for underutilized assets. For example, Stefan hopes that new shared mobility services in Santa Monica, such as Breeze Bikeshare, will increase ridership and provide connections to light rail stations and Big Blue Bus lines. To make this happen, cities must be proactive in creating zoning changes and strategic plans that support new shared mobility services. Carlson from Memphis and Pasadena Transportation Administrator Mark Yamarone have successfully implemented major mobility goal overhauls through their cities’ general plans, focusing on enhanced livability, active transportation, and economic vitality. These general plans can set in motion road diets, bike lanes, designated carshare parking, and other improvements vital to creating shared mobility networks that work for small cities.

  1. To increase impact, take a regional focus

Many large metropolitan areas are expanding their bikeshare systems beyond the urban core to surrounding smaller cities. Chicago’s Divvy Bikeshare system is being extended to Evanston and Oak Park, Illinois, and San Francisco-based Bay Area Bikeshare will soon have stations in many satellite cities, including San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville. To support expansion, these cities were able to tap into federal or regional funding sources. Evanston is receiving eight stations through Chicago’s grant from the federal Transportation Alternatives Program, and Bay Area Bikeshare draws funding in part from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a San Francisco-based regional planning organization. To smaller cities, using a regional focus to expand funding opportunities and grow ridership is an important goal. These expanding regional bikeshare systems can also capitalize on connections to regional, fixed-rail transit in order to build upon networks of denser metropolitan areas.

  1. Build strong private-public partnerships to secure funding

Even in suburbs such as Evanston, which are transit-rich and located near larger cities, it is important to be strategic with its limited resources. Ylda Capriccioso of Evanston has maximized public funding for the city’s Divvy bikeshare expansion by securing additional support from the private sector. According to Capriccioso, Evanston will be able to add two additional Divvy stations to its network through private funding from Northwestern University. For a small city, these extra resources can make or break a shared mobility system. Or, as Capriccioso put it, “big partners make a big difference,” as partnerships with local companies can help offset infrastructure and implementation costs.

SUMC is currently working to help benchmark and expand shared mobility in several small and mid-size cities through a partnership with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. The organization has an online toolkit for cities that includes a shared mobility policy database and interactive mapping tools.

Photo: Bay Area bikeshare riders in San Jose (top), via Richard Masoner, Flickr

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