Why Not in Newport?

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Could European-style bike sharing work in Newport Beach? – By Suzanne Baldwin

Bike-sharing. Sounds European, doesn’t it? The concept is simple: Someone needs to cover more ground than he (or she) comfortably can by walking, but it’s not quite enough of a distance to warrant summoning a taxi or driving. Said pedestrian heads over to a bike-sharing station, selects a bike and peddles his way to the desired destination. Once he’s there, he drops the bike off at a similar station, to be used by whoever needs it next.

It cuts down on traffic, helps people get from one place to the other, and best of all, it’s free! American cities, which prize the car over all other things, have taken notice: San Antonio, Texas, initiated such a program with great success.

We got to wondering … why doesn’t Newport Beach have something like this?

The People on the Street

We prowled around the pier to find out what citizens of Newport had to say about this potential development. Resident Jessica King liked the idea. “I think it’s better than needing to move your car around just to get somewhere that’s a little too far to walk, or needing to rent something all day for just one trip.”

Amit Gandhi, who lives on the peninsula, was also all for it: “I think it would be great for the residents because it is so affordable and people could use it all over the place, especially [here] on the peninsula.” Amit recalls a friend returning from Europe raving about the bike-sharing program and believes it would cut down on traffic, leading to a cleaner, more open Newport.

The catch? “It could hurt some local bike businesses,” Amit admits, since several bike stores offer rental services. Bringing in a bike-sharing program could hit those stores during prime rental season, leading to a downturn in profit.

The Man With a Plan

Enter Alan Brandenburger of the Brandenburger Foundation, who is trying to get a Newport bike-sharing program started. He came up with the idea when his children’s bikes were being swiped from his carport in Newport Beach; he would inevitably buy a new one, only to come across the stolen bikes on the pier or left in some other public location. “The bike thieves were already doing their own type of sharing program,” Alan jokes. “But I got to thinking about the European program, and what a program like that would take to implement here. It can help with community pride, activities, traffic, parking issues … it opens up other parts of cities that aren’t as accessible. Maybe drive some commerce to other areas?”

He was quick to assuage the fears of the bike store owners. “If somebody wanted to take their family and rent bikes, the best way to do that would be to go to a bike shop and rent the bikes for the day and do your day program from there. Bike sharing is a stopgap, alternative transportation.”

Alan tried to implement this program in 2009, but nothing came to pass after a well-publicized demonstration. What it came down to was uncertainty over whether the funding would stretch the program to cover all of Newport from the start. “If you don’t implement one with a city-wide focus, they tend to fail … because they’re expensive to initiate, and then they have to be sustainable.”

Still, there’s no reason to believe this program won’t succeed in the future. Alan is still hard at work on it and believes the next few months will be most interesting—though he won’t yet share why. San Antonio’s program has done very well for itself, and continues to expand. So tell us, Newport Beach—why not here? NBM

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