What Would a Tacoma-Style Bike Share Look Like?

It's Bike Month, so we know you've all been riding your bikes everywhere... Well, the City of Tacoma could be getting some bikes of its own to share.

Last week the Tacoma City Council Infrastructure, Planning, and Sustainability Committee took an early look at the feasibility of a bike share program in Tacoma.

Bike share programs are popping up all over the world, in increasing numbers with better technology for rental stations, and there may be a "renewed interest" in Tacoma since Seattle's program has gotten off the ground. 

The programs offer bikes for limited-term rental, often on an hourly or daily basis. The bikes live at docking stations, typically located on sidewalks, in plazas, and sometimes replace a few on-street motor vehicle parking spots. The stations require maintenance, and pose the challenge of "rebalancing" the supply of bikes to move them from where they are left to where they are wanted.

Bike share bikes are intended for use by both residents and visitors, although better money is generally made on visitors, who tend to pay for day use, whereas residents tend to be more likely to pay for a membership. The programs work best in high population density locations, near transit centers, and in places with destinations like tourist attractions. A well-developed bicycle infrastructure is also important to a successful bike share program. 

The programs around the world range widely in size from just a few hundred of bikes to thousands. 30 cities in the US have bike share programs, with smaller programs operating with between 20 and 30 stations. Seattle's program has 50 stations, and staff is guessing that Tacoma would need at least a dozen to make it work in Tacoma.

The cost for starting a bike share system is generally about $55,000 per station, plus $26,000 in annual operation costs. Even with a healthy ridership level programs usually operate at a deficit; Washington, DC, with all its out of tourists, is one of the few in the country that operates in the black. Other cities make up the gap in funding with varying mixes of corporate sponsorship and grants. Seattle's program operations are mostly funded by fares, with the initial start up and remainder of operations costs covered by corporate contributions (big sponsors are Alaska Air and Children's Hospital). There was some discussion about the possibility of a future Tacoma system including reciprocal memberships that would allow members to rent bikes in Seattle and other locations around the region.

Other options for bike shares do away with the bike station infrastructure. In one scenario the program could operate as a stationless bike share system, with bikes locked up at regular bike racks, and reservations made online. Another option would be to set up staffed bike rental kiosks. These could both potentially be more affordable to operate, but come with their own challenges, as corporate sponsorship is generally tied to the stations.

An initial look at the possibility of developing a bikeshare program in Tacoma identified a list of challenges, and opportunities in Tacoma.


  • Lack of tourism
  • Lack of bikeway infrastructure that everyone feels comfortable on - including the gap in the Downtown to Defiance bike trail
  • Steep topography (pedal assist bikeshares have been done, but they are obviously more expensive)
  • Need for a sponsor or other funding mechanism


  • A supportive policy framework
  • Key destinations (museums, transit centers, Point Defiance, etc) 
  • A growing bike culture
  • Strong partnerships (public private, other public agencies, etc)
  • There are plans to complete the Downtown to Defiance connection

Council committee feedback was mixed, with the council open to seeing more, but certainly not ready to commit to a program. Deputy Mayor Boe suggested that in his view, the money that would be spent on a bike share program might be better invested in improving the connectivity and useability of Tacoma's bike infrastructure and completing routes so that cyclists have somewhere to go - safely and comfortably.

City mobility staff are interested in finding funding for a further Tacoma-specific study to explore the possibilities - a study that could find that more investment is needed in Tacoma's bike infrastructure before a program could be successful, or could lead to a small pilot program of some sort. The intent isn't to pop up a bikeshare program in the next year, or possibly even two. Doing the research here is intended to set us up for a "Tacoma style" bikeshare, which could look different from what works in Seattle and other places.

Any suggestions for a Tacoma-style bikeshare?

Read more on a preliminary report from The News Tribune.

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May 12, 2015 at 1:37 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Biking here is not for the faint of heart, very steep hills.  Downtown does not have enough to see that warrants renting a bike that is very heavy.  Not enough tourism to have a demand that warrants the expense.  Maybe beautification of our FAILING INFRASTRUCTURE would be a better idea.  Oh wait first we have to pay someone a ton of cash to tell us that.

May 12, 2015 at 2:16 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Failing governmental entities always try to distract attention by occupying the population with unimportant matters while neglecting important ones.  Expect this dynamic to only get worse as our infrastructure crisis worsens. 

May 12, 2015 at 4:01 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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What can eliminate the difficulty of steep hills is a bicycle (specific) funicular or like the Cyclocable bicycle escalator in Trondheim Norway which is a very small apparatus or just a regular funicular.Downtown Tacoma SHOULD have funiculars for pedestrians anyways as the hills are a nuisance.
Funiculars are rarer in the United States but more common in Europe.
They could be smaller and much less expensive though.

A simple bicycle funicular just as an example can be made with a rope with hooks or clamps on the ends and a pulley mounted at the top of the steep hill.
Basically a cyclist going down a steep hill would pull one clamped end of the rope round a pulley and a cyclist with the other end of the rope clamped on his/her bicycle would be pulled up the steep hill.
The ascending and descending vehicles counterbalance each other with very high energy efficiency.This essentially flattens hills though in this example (and it is just an eample only) it requires two cyclists one at the top of the hill and one at the bottom.

May 12, 2015 at 11:37 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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“the Tacoma City Council Infrastructure, Planning, and Sustainability Committee”

Ha, ha! 

“Any suggestions for a Tacoma-style bikeshare?”

Yea, pay attention to restoring our failed pavement infrastructure.

May 12, 2015 at 2:56 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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First we need an A Street Cycle track with separate signal phases for cyclists; similar to the 2nd Avenue facility in Seattle. It would connect to the Prairie Line trail at South 15th Street and connect to the Stadium Way bike lanes via Fireman’s Park and S 7th St. That would provide a good bicycle facility at a reasonable grade for the entire length of Downtown.

I don’t necessarily think you need huge out of state tourism numbers to be successful. You need visitors, but folks from University Place who want to just park at a Museum and get lunch in the Theater District may be just as likely to use the service as a tourist from East Asia. Just think of all of the people who go strolling along Ruston Way on a sunny day. Plenty of them don’t live in the city, or close enough to ride their own bike over. Tacoma could support a modest bike share, but people won’t ride without comfortable continuous bicycle facilities that connect the places they want to go.

We need to spend money on the infrastructure first.

May 12, 2015 at 9:11 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Sometimes I look at photos of Beijing, China downtown intersections filled with hundreds of bicycles; and I close my eyes and cross my fingers and whisper, “What would a Tacoma-style bike share look like?”

May 13, 2015 at 2:48 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Must be some old photos you’re looking at.

May 13, 2015 at 8:22 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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“Here in Barcelona the problem is that it’s a beach front city that goes up in the hills. Everybody rides their shared bike down the hill to the city center in the lower level. Nobody rides the bike up, mainly because it’s a proper workout to do this. As an effect, all the bike racks at the lower level are always full and at the higher levels they’re always empty. A solution the bike share organisation (Bicing) has implemented is to have trucks with hangers collect bikes from the lower level and drive them up. It’s an arduous, expensive and hardly working solution.”

This is a place with large tourism numbers, the problem being the hills.  We don;t even come close to the tourism numbers and we have hills.

May 13, 2015 at 7:06 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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This is a piece from TIME.

“Most new services take many years to achieve profitability. The New York system, for instance, has caught on quickly with New Yorkers, but is still in the red, despite $30 million in revenues since its launch and millions in sponsorship funding from Citibank and Mastercard. The hope is that as the kinks get worked out of the system, and more people learn about it and decide to use it that it will become self-sustaining.

But the latest news of Bixi’s bankruptcy should disturb supporters of bike-sharing schemes. It’s one thing if the operators of the bike-sharing programs in cities across the U.S. aren’t profitable yet. But if the suppliers of these programs are so in debt as to require government bailouts, that is only likely to darken the picture.”

Do we really need to pay a consulting company money to tell us what a simple google search about failing bike share programs can tell us in fifteen minutes.  Let a private company with their own money do the market research to see if this is a good idea for Tacoma.

May 13, 2015 at 7:12 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I just used a bike share in Denver for the first time and it was pretty awesome.  Took about 2 minutes to use credit card to get the bike the first time, then about 30 seconds each stop thereafter.

I agree that Tacoma’s hills make it daunting, but I appreciate the sentiment about these things taking time.

One bright spot is that the cost is comparatively low; without getting into numbers, a failed bike share is less of an expense than a failed trolley up the hill, or failed light rail etc.

May 13, 2015 at 7:25 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Was it like “pretty awesome” as opposed to “totally awesome.” 

Frank Zappa - Valley Girl

There’s a subtle genius in language that has been wiped clean of almost all content. Nobody has to risk expressing a real thought or sentiment. Bland affirmation is an impenetrable defense. No one can object. As Syme, the language specialist in charge of shrinking the dictionary in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” put it, “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

May 13, 2015 at 8:43 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Cost per station isn’t that bad.  A bus costs a lot more than $55,000.  Maybe it could be a joint project to improve mobility where bus service has been cut substantially.  Maybe Pierce Transit and the City of Tacoma could work together, jointly fund a pilot project or jointly apply for grant funding.  I could see a lot of applicability for this in the North End of Tacoma, where bus service has been cut substantially and on Hilltop, where there is the need for stronger neighborhood connections.

May 18, 2015 at 11:00 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I say this as a year-round bike commuter who is 100% in support of bikes: This is premature. Build more and better infrastructure for bikes. This proposal sounds like something officials want because it sounds attractive, not because it actually serves a need.

May 13, 2015 at 9:48 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Add in the Mayor’s proposal to chip seal the City streets and this proposal is a non-starter.

May 13, 2015 at 11:58 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Bikes with electric assist for the hills in town.  Otherwise only true athletes are going to attempt those hills in town.  But i agree this is actually premature.

May 13, 2015 at 12:33 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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You would need mid drive type motors for like the N 30th street -McCarver street area hills in North Tacoma.

May 13, 2015 at 1:38 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I think bike share is more for tourists. You can pick up a bike for pretty cheap in plenty of places and those who want to bike have bikes.

May 18, 2015 at 7:24 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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