City seeks input in placing bike-share stations

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Like cartoon thought bubbles, a series of bold, red decals will be appearing on sidewalks around Philadelphia this week.

City transit planners are hoping the decals will inspire passersby to think about - and give feedback on - the potential of the 85 tagged sites as station locations for the city's long-awaited bike-share system.

The stickers, designed by Mural Arts Program artist Eurhi Jones, are part of a high-tech and, according to the city, unprecedented effort to incorporate public opinion in shaping the system, which will launch in May with 600 bikes and 60 docking stations over 8.28 square miles.

Each decal has a unique code, allowing passersby to comment on that particular site via text message.

"We're the first bike-share system in the country to take this approach to public outreach," said Andrew Stober, chief of staff at the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities. "We really wanted to do this in a way that would be much more active in ... engaging the public."

More than 40 cities have programs that enable users to borrow bikes for one-way trips for a per-ride fee or as part of an annual membership. Philly's pricing structure has not yet been finalized. The same goes for when payments might be integrated with SEPTA's new payment technology.

Potential station sites were selected based on population density, infrastructure, and proximity to mass transit and key destinations. The next step is assessing whether they will click with commuters.

That's why the city looked to Textizen, a Philadelphia start-up that uses texting to connect with people typically left out of the planning process.

"We really can bridge these income, age, and ethnic divides in a way that public meetings don't currently do and even online participation struggles with," said Textizen cofounder Michelle Lee, who will be collecting feedback over the next four weeks.

"This is a first for bike-share," she added. "It's a really good fit, because ... so much of bike-share's success or failure hinges on placement of stations."

The city also launched a website, www.phila.gov/bikeshare, and interactive map through which users may comment on the sites.

In the meantime, city workers are hitting the streets to drum up support and appease those who may be wary of having stations - which are substantial at 6.5 feet by 40 to 60 feet - installed near their properties.

Kevin Eldridge was minding a friend's barbershop on Lancaster Avenue near one proposed site when outreach workers stopped by. He said he might use the service.

"First I gotta get back in shape," he said. "I haven't ridden a bike in so long."

The city is still seeking funding and a corporate named sponsor. So far, it has $5.5 million, enough for the first two phases.

Aaron Ritz, a city transit planner, said that one could call the process slow, but that he'd put it a different way. "It's been very strategic," he said. "Last year at this time, we were really explaining what bike-share was. Now, we're getting a lot of positive feedback."

 


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