By Doug Hausladen, Director, City of New Haven
The City of New Haven’s smart city vision is based on improving the lives of current residents and attracting and retaining new residents who contribute to our city’s vitality. For the Transportation, Traffic, and Parking (TT&P) Department that means building a transportation system that provides enhanced mobility, safety for all road users, efficiency, financial and environmental sustainability, and climate resiliency. We believe in a future beyond traffic, which inverts the current transportation mode split, from 70 percent of people who use private, single-occupancy vehicles to travel to and through the city, to 70 percent of people who use transit, shared vehicles, bicycling and walking to travel to and through the city. That’s not a future TT&P can reach alone. We’ll rely heavily on government, non-profit, business, and community partners to create that reality together.
To embrace our smart city future, our projects have to be built on equity, open data, participatory government, and data-driven performance. Bike share will be the first major test of our smart city hypothesis. New Haven Bike Share will launch in 2018. New Haven Bike Share is a public-private partnership between the City of New Haven and New Haven Smart Mobility LLC (NHSM). NHSM’s pitch centered on equity, data collection, and flexibility and they offered bike share to New Haven at zero cost. Investors, sponsors, and membership revenue will financially sustain the system. Local organizations, including City departments, will also have the option to opt-in and sponsor stations. The contract features a 10 percent profit share that the City can allocate to funding stations in locations that may not generate enough marketing revenue to fund themselves.
New Haven Bike Share will use Noa Technologies to provide next generation bike share with GPS tracking and a ‘smart’ lock, eliminating the need for costly docking systems and enabling us to understand how residents use bike share to move through the city.
Phase one will be based around stations. The docks will physically resemble traditional bicycle parking infrastructure, but will be clearly marked as bike share stations. Because the technology is integrated into the bike instead of the dock, our system will have greater flexibility and we’ll be able to create ‘floating’ stations— virtual stations—where people can return or pick up bike share bikes. The technology will enable us to measure how often individual stations are visited, when people are using bike share, how long they use the bikes for, what routes people choose to take, and where new stations should be installed. The data will be an invaluable tool in designing the expansion of the system and of our general cycling infrastructure. We don’t even fully know the extent of the information we’ll be able to extract from the data.
Our planning model for bike share is rooted in promoting equity and expanding transportation options for residents, in recognition of the lack of access to reliable public transit and the health challenges many in our community face. The first wave of large-scale bike share programs across the country didn’t focus on the barriers to low income, diverse communities joining. As a result, user demographics skew younger, whiter, more affluent, and more male than the demographics of the local community. From the start, our goal has been to ensure that all our residents are excited about bike share, that all our residents believe that New Haven Bike Share is for them, and that all our residents are invested in the system. Our tool has been to engage our community in planning the system.
The final contract between the City and NHSM hasn’t been signed yet. But since December 2016, we’ve already hosted three public meetings; met with ten community groups, two major employers, three universities, five local non-profits that work with low income communities, two health service providers, and one business district; presented to parent-teacher organizations, middle school students, and agencies across the City; had eight articles written on New Haven Bike Share and appeared on local TV; and had hundreds of informal conversations with potential sponsors and interested users.
“Cities are massive, slow moving animals, slow to change and adopt more nimble technologies. But where we will succeed is in organizing the organizers”
Most exciting are the 200+ bike share station requests and the nearly 150 survey responses we’ve received from our community. We’re using SeeClickFix, a 311 citizen-reporting tool, to publically map requests for stations. Anyone can request a station on SeeClickFix, and we have also been in putting stations requested through the survey, emails, phone calls, and planning exercises at public meetings.
The truth is that we will fail in completely breaking down all the barriers to using bike share. We will not be able to reach everyone, we will not be able to train everyone to ride a bike, and we will not be able to expand the system fast enough to meet demand. Cities are massive, slow moving animals, slow to change and adopt more nimble technologies. But where we will succeed is in organizing the organizers. We’ll rely on existing organizations that work with local communities to magnify our outreach and to provide a point of contact for memberships. Take the credit card requirement to buy a membership, which creates a significant challenge to accessing bike share—we’ll be partnering with specific organizations to provide a cash-based option to buy memberships to lower that obstacle.
Nearly 70 percent of our residents are overweight or obese. Nearly 30 percent of New Haven households don’t have cars. Our residents suffer from higher than average national levels of asthma. Bike share is going to reduce the barriers to active and affordable transportation and help decrease air pollution by reducing the need for driving private cars. It has the potential to specifically benefit our low-income communities, which experience higher than average rates of chronic disease and rely heavily on unreliable public transportation to reach jobs and schools and live their lives. But we have to plan and launch bike share correctly. We have to be intentionally inclusive and transparent. We need local businesses and organizations to not only recognize the economic value of bike share stations near them, but to also buy into the system to sustain and expand it. Bike share is our largest smart city pilot project to date, and we’re excited to test equity, open data, participatory government, and data-driven performance as the underlying foundations for future smart city development in New Haven.