Home > Complete Streets, Cultural Movement, Design the Details, Economics > Concept level: TCBike, a bike share program for Traverse City

Concept level: TCBike, a bike share program for Traverse City



Rolling in TC

Yesterday, we introduced what bike share programs are. We also raised the idea of one in Traverse City. Today, we play with what that actually could look like given current conditions.

By design, bike share programs are to encourage the less intrepid to take a short spin, not those already riding (of course, everyone is welcome). That being the case, a bike share program put into place without convenient and comfortable infrastructure, including needed policies and political support, is setting itself up for failure. That said, and with a spirit of “Yes, how can we do it?” , an appropriate sized and modest system could actually work in Traverse City.


Spartanburg B-Cycle Station

I came around on TC’s potential for bike share when I heard about the country’s smallest bike share program, Spartanburg B-cycle, in Spartanburg, South Carolina. They started with just two stations and eight bikes (now 14) in 2011. They smartly focused in on where it would best serve the community and plan to expand from there. They have since added a third station (Groupstate).

(B-Cycle is a national company that specializes in implementing bike share programs, you can even suggest to them that Traverse City would be a fine location.)

Inspired by the go small system, I suggest the following with the admission that I have no empirical expertise in setting up a program, nor the capabilities to make it happen. This is simply an exercise in how I think a bike share in TC might be successful.


I see the following as a small, 9-20 bike system. I make assumptions that there is political acceptance and that a competent managerial team would be established, working with a bike share company like B-Cycle. Also, a major sponsor would be needed, perhaps Hagerty Insurance, Munson, or some other entity gearing up to be the lead agent in active transportation in the City. (New York’s CitiBike is sponsored by CitiBank).

The idea is that bike share needs to be focused downtown where there are plenty of amenities within a mile and half radius. This is an area and distance that is walkable, but also on the edge of what someone might walk when they have a limited break or lunch hour downtown, or if it is 95 degrees out. Downtown is also arguably the City’s most comfortable area to bike on the street.

Station locations


The five X’s mark logical primary stations where bikes would be available. Those places are the Transit Center, Post Office, Open Space, Front St. (near the Hardy Parking Deck), and near Hagerty Insurance. The secondary stations (O’s) are key destination points where someone would likely want to visit on bike, so there could be docking stations installed (Oryana, Governmental Center, library, and the Holiday Inn/Hagerty Center ).

The primary locations work because they have space, have foot traffic, and have destinations near-by. They are also spaced out, yet close enough to each other, that the system is convenient from almost every corner of downtown. The locations are also prominent. The worse thing that could happen would be to place a bike sharing system inside a parking deck or at some outer edge of activity. Spontaneous and opportunistic trips need to be designed into the program.

If it was only a three dock station system, I’d lean towards Hagerty, Front St. and the Transit Center. If only two stations, I’d lean the transit center and Front Street (or possibly Garland St.).

The system would be geared towards downtown employees and tourists. Spartanburg’s membership is 99% locale, so I’d say setting a goal of 90% locale for TC would be a good start. Again, this is set up for short, point-to-point trips that could be completed in less than 60 minutes. Annual membership would cover any ride within that time limit. Going over the limit would be allowable, but would be an additional charge. To preserve the bikes, it’d be a seasonal program and not available November to March/April.

Who would use such a system? That is the question that needs a lot more consideration than I’ve put into it or even could from my position behind a keyboard. Nonetheless, here are two scenarios:


Jane’s ride

Scenario A: Jane’s Ride

Jane lives in Long Lake and works downtown at 53rd Bank at Union and Front St. She drives to work and has 60 minutes for lunch. She’s on an organic foods kick and she needs to hit the post office to send a package before she leaves town. At lunch, she walks to the post office, sends her package, then jumps on a TCBike to go to Oryana where she eats lunch and picks up a few groceries. When she is finished, she still has about 15 minutes left, so she gets back on a TCBike and in four minutes docks it at the Front St. station because she wants to walk by the State Theatre to see the schedule before going back to work.

She was able to do more because the bike saved her 20 minutes of walking time.

Alternate scenario: Jane lives in Suttons Bay and commutes by BATA’s Village Connector. When she arrives at the transit station, she hops on a TCBike to go downtown. Lunch is the same.

Scenario B: The Tourists

Bill and Ethel are visiting Traverse City from New York. They have used CitiBike and found it an easy way to get around The City. They are staying at the Holiday Inn and see on the map that downtown is close, but not close enough for Bill who has a sore knee when he walks. Downtown is also too close to drive; it’d just seem silly. They notice a TCBike station and quickly register online using their smart phone. Following the map, they use two bikes to grab some street food from The Little Fleet on Front St. and take their lunch to the Open Space where they dock the bikes , closing out that ride well within the free period. They eat lunch, lose track of time, and then hop on another pair of bikes to go downtown. Close enough to walk, but remember, Bill has a sore knee. They spend an evening downtown, catching a movie, and then hop on another pair to get back to the Holiday Inn (yes, careful to go under the bridge instead of crossing E. Front St.).

I’m not sure they saved any time, but they certainly stayed our of the car and mostly avoided the hassle of finding a parking spot. Plus, they got a little exercise and, thanks to Ethel insisting, explored part of Central Neighborhood on the way from the Open Space to Downtown.


What is a scenario you could see with these locations?


Final notes

Again, I’m just throwing this out there. I’m not passionate about it, because of the limited infrastructure we have to accommodate all types of riders. However, I also know that sometimes a project like this can be used to create other changes people wish to see. In Kansas City, the bike share program (another B-Cycle system) is being planned to grow simultaneously with increased bicycle infrastructure. The system being used to argue for more bike lanes. I would be intrigued if someone came a long in TC and wanted to organize a program.

If a local reader is interested, I recommend reading the report put out by the Federal Highway Administration, Bike Sharing in the United States (PDF). It offers a sensible guide to implementation that any community, large or small, can follow when considering a bike share program. Ultimately, a firm would be hired to come to set it up, but the roll out of getting to that point requires a process something along the lines of the following graphic from the report:

Bike Sharing in the United States: State of the Practice and Guide to Implementation (PDF)



Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of writers previously published here or any of the organizations, committees, commissions or other affiliation the authors may belong to, unless so stated.

  1. June 4, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    The tab on the B-cycles page seems to indicate for a full fledged program, 255 bikes would be needed to serve the greater area. So, you are suggesting a ‘toe in the water’…. needs to be comprehensive enough to serve the student population of NMC, as well as olde towne, and the hotel strip along M-22. …and a dedicated bike path along M-22 well marked by the State. Now, THAT would work.

    By the way, I enjoyed seeing the documentary last night at the State Theatre on the Critical Mass movement in Portland, Oregon. See it if you can. Aftermass by Joe Biel, a documentary about the history of bicycle activism in Portland. Since I lived in PDX at that period, it was a great transition to document. The police violence toward bike riders was unfortunate, and sad. I’d love to see groups of 10-15 riders going on group rides around the city to build awareness…. a gentle critical mass!

    I’ve seen bike shares in Boston too. They come in handy for workers downtown, and enable them to leave their cars behind, take transit, and use the bike for lunchtime errands. More bike infrastructure will follow – lanes, racks, and signage….

    Bout TIME.

    Alexis Wittman, LEED-AP
    Northport and Portland

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