Tulsans may well look back on this week as the moment the wheels started spinning on making the city a world-class bicycling community.
Tuesday night, city councilors will hear a pitch from the Tulsa Health Department to include $15 million in the next Vision 2025 package for 20 key pieces of bicycle infrastructure. The public is invited to present its ideas for the Vision 2025 renewal at 6 p.m. at City Council chambers of City Hall, Second Street and Cincinnati Avenue.
The bicycle infrastructure projects are part of the recently completed GO Plan, which prices and prioritizes the top pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure needs of 11 area communities.
“Our big thing in public health right now is we have an epidemic of overweight and obese people,” said Joani Dotson, manager of policy and health analysis at THD. “We want to make sure they can have the opportunity to have some of the GO Plan so they can improve their health outcomes.”
Jennifer Haddaway will be at City Hall to make a pitch, too.
Haddaway is Transportation Resource Center Coordinator for the Indian Nations Council of Governments. For the last eight months, she has been working with the Bike-Share Advisory Committee to put together – you guessed it – a bike-share program for the city of Tulsa.
Haddaway will ask for $2.5 million to cover most of the capital costs of the program. The plan is to have 216 bicycles and 24 stations in place citywide within five years. Phase 1 of the program would focus on downtown; Phase 2 would expand the program’s scope to such places as TU and Brookside.
“That would connect everything, not just from downtown where you have the high density and where you are going to be able to generate the most traffic,” Haddaway said, “but then we can connect places like the University of Tulsa, TCC, Brookside, Cherry Street and even A Gathering Place as it comes online.”
The bike-share and bicycle infrastructure projects were conceived independently but each informs the other.
For example, the bike-share station locations are based on the GO Plan’s recommended bike lanes.
“Conversations about both projects happened simultaneously, but funding and consultants didn’t happen at the same time,” said James Wagner, principal transportation planner for INCOG.
The GO Plan received the green light in 2013, and late that year INCOG hired Toole Design Group of Maryland to create the plan.
The firm was paid $335,741, with a little more than half of the funding coming from INCOG member cities. The remainder of the funding was provided through federal grants.
Participating communities include Tulsa, Bixby, Broken Arrow, Catoosa, Collinsville, Coweta, Glenpool, Jenks, Owasso, Sand Springs and Skiatook.
Wagner said the regional network of bicycle and pedestrian trails has been completed but that Tulsa is the only city whose list of infrastructure projects is prioritized.
INCOG officials hope to have infrastructure lists for each community – with accompanying maps – completed and delivered to the communities by early August.
Then it will be up to each community to fund the projects.
“To me, if I wanted to define success on the planning process, it would be that each of these communities adopt (the plans) as part of their comprehensive plan,” Wagner said.
The city of Tulsa has already committed to the project. As part of the 2013 Improve Our Tulsa capital-improvements package, Tulsans voted to spend $4.2 million to implement the Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan.
Those funds, coupled with the $15 million THD plans to advocate for in the Vision 2025 renewal, would pay for Tulsa’s 20 top bicycle infrastructure needs as determined through the GO Plan process.
Topping Tulsa’s list of bicycle infrastructure projects is a cycle track along 11th Street from east 11th Street to south Sheridan Road; a bike lane along east Pine Street from North Gilcrease Museum Road to north Memorial Drive; and a sidepath along south Harvard Avenue from 21st Street to east Creek Turnpike.
A number of factors went into prioritizing projects, Wagner said, including population density, the number of zero-car households along the corridor, public safety, connectivity, stakeholder input and available funding.
The 11th Street project landed on the top of the list because “when you added up all of those factors together, that scored really high,” Wagner said.
Bike sharing is not new to Tulsa.
St. Francis Hospital’s Tulsa Townies bike-share program along the River Parks trail system has been in place since 2007. The program, the first bike-share program of its kind in the country, uses what is called a modular bike system.
Here’s how it works: Individuals wishing to use a bike go to a kiosk next to a bike rack and swipe his or her credit card. Bikes can be returned to any of the Tulsa Townies’ stations.
Tulsa Townies does not charge a fee to use a bike. The credit card information is required to cover the cost of the bike should it not be returned.
The modular bike-share system being considered for the city would charge users a fee based on how long they use the bike.
Haddaway said the modular model is one of two bike-sharing programs being considered.
The other is social bicycles. This system is less focused on stations and, in theory, at least, provides for more places where bicycles can be picked up and left off.
Here’s how it works: Bicycles come equipped with computers that customers use to rent the bike. No kiosk needed, in other words. Social bicycle systems use bike racks, just not the large, stationary ones common in modular bike programs.
Customers are encouraged to return their bikes to a bike rack but don’t have to. If someone wants to use a bike to go to a branch library, for example, and chooses to lock the bike up there, that is allowed (locks are provided on each bike).
The bikes are equipped with GPS devices that allow customers to know where bikes are parked.
Pricing for social bicycles is different from modular models. For starters, customers using social bicycles must get online to sign up for the program before they can access the computer on the bike. Price is based on time, like the modular model, but rates increase when a bicycle is taken outside a certain geographical area.
The idea, Haddaway said, is to allow riders flexibility while encouraging them not to take them too far off the beaten path.
“Bike-sharing locations have to have sweet spots, if you will,” Haddaway said. “They need to be close enough to demonstrate it is bike friendly. But they can’t be too far away that they are not comfortable (to get to), and it can’t be too close that they would be willing to walk.”
The plan is for the bike-share program to be a public-private partnership under the direction of a nonprofit organization, Haddaway said. An executive director – to be hired by INCOG – would run the bike-share program for the nonprofit.
The estimated cost of the program – both capital and operations expenses included – for the first five years is $3.2 million, Haddaway. Sponsorships and rental fees will cover some of the cost but not all.
“Considering that we are expecting this to be a public-private partnership in funding, the nonprofit model gave a lot more flexibility for the system, for funders and for the community to be involved in shaping the system,” Haddaway said.
Haddaway said the city is not looking to compete with Tulsa Townies and plans to work with the organization to put the bike-share program together.
Two Plans, One Vision
It doesn’t take a city planner to see how the bike-share program and GO Plan bicycle infrastructure program would complement each other.
Especially when it comes to those people not inclined to simply jump on a bike and go. Some people want to have a route to follow – and that is where the bicycle infrastructure program comes in.
For those people, Wagner said, “I think they are going to say, ‘Where is that bike lane? I’m going to stick to that.’
“I even anticipate that when you go to one of these bike-share stations that there will be a map (that shows) the bike lanes.”
Haddaway sees other benefits as well.
“One of the things it does is brand the city as a place that is innovative and works to meet the transportation needs of their community,” she said.
Such forward-thinking is especially appealing to young professionals, Haddaway added, in no small part because of Tulsa’s sprawling layout.
“This particular project would greatly benefit young professionals who have the mindset of wanting to live in urban areas and only have one car,” she said. “Having a bike-share program in place would allow them to make those connections but still have the lifestyle they are looking for.”
Then there is the health benefits. Haddaway, like Joani Dotson with the Tulsa Health Department, believes that a bike station here and a bike lane there might just usher in a whole new way of thinking among Tulsans.
“It can hopefully start nudging people to live healthier, more active lifestyles,” Haddaway said.
It shouldn’t be long before Tulsans know whether a bicycle boom is on the way.
Haddaway said she’s already received some grant money for the bike-share program. And city councilors say they hope to have a Vision 2025 renewal on the ballot as early as spring 2016.
That would seem to make for good timing, as Wagner and Haddaway insist their programs could begin to be implemented next year.
So maybe this bike thing will get rolling sooner rather than later.
“Tulsa has such a great community spirit,” Haddaway said. “And Tulsa at large seems to understand the need for this type of transportation system.”