June 22, 2010

Bike Sharing coming to Boulder—without Public Comment?

Whether or not you think Bike Sharing $uck$, as Waylon does, it’s coming to Boulder.

Ed’s Note: Actually, I’m a huge fan of Bike Sharing—I’ve written maybe five articles re: it in the past year alone. I like to say, “The only problem I have with bike sharing systems is that they aren’t everywhere.” What I’m not a huge fan of is spending $1,000,000…and getting 400 bicycles.

In the City of Boulder, Colorado, we’re gonna decide who gets the biggest mobile advertising network in our town’s history in just a few days. It costs a ton of dough, and the public hasn’t been consulted in a meaningful way (30 people showed up for the only meeting I know of). Where would you like your million dollar kiosks and 400 bikes? Would you like your tax dollars to stay in Boulder?
Now’s the time to spread the word and contribute your two cents—before we all pay a far higher price for getting something that should be awesome really, really wrong. ~ ed.

The decision has already been made by Boulder’s City Council

…and so, even if you think it’s a bad idea, debating reality is a futile exercise (except in Congress, it seems).

As a bike-friendly town—and with elephant clearly being a bike-loving blog—this seemed like the right place to lay out the facts so that you can engage with the issues and meaningfully contribute to a decision that is going to be made within the next ten days.

The primary reason for writing this article is because I have a duty of care to my community. In the year I’ve been living in Boulder I feel like I’ve got a pretty good idea about where the values of this community lie. I love Boulder. I like what it appears, at least, to stand for.

As a commercialization strategist, I appreciate that not only is Boulder a community, it is also a brand. A powerful brand. An effective brand. A global brand when it comes to sustainability.

And with the entire world seemingly going down in a blaze of stupid—and towns, like Boulder with its world class reputation for sustainability initiatives being increasingly looked to for answers—is that something we want to be messing with by not taking this particular issue seriously?


The one thing that most people don’t appreciate is that the Boulder Bike Share system will be most visible, most prolific and most effective mobile brand marketing platform in Boulder.

And with no specific guidelines to regulate such forms of advertising (for now) by the City, one of the principal questions that should concern Boulder residents is what companies are going to be making use of this platform to push their messages into the market?

I.E., do we want to see, say, McDonald’s or Burger King ads all over Boulder? Will we have a say?


Further, as much as bike sharing is generally viewed as a ‘green’ transportation solution, sustainability – true triple bottom line sustainability—is defined by more than what a company does, but by how it runs.

Are these companies locally owned—do their taxes stay in Colorado? Do they work with local vendors and suppliers? Are they committed to supporting local business and only promoting values aligned messaging through their advertising platform? Are they hardware vendors or transportation strategists?

Who are their investors? And what are their track records as far as sustainability is concerned?

Ultimately, at the core of the organisation, do their stakeholders exhibit, through and through, the values that make Boulder Boulder?


There are only two companies in the running (and to be frank, we have no idea how many applied)—the Delaware based B-Cycle – a partnership between Trek, Humana and leading design firm Crispin, Porter + Bogusky (who we have written about previously) and the locally owned Gravity Cycles – a partnership between two young entrepreneurs and long-time friends, Russell Altman and David Clark.

Neither organization, we’ll assume at this point, will be hosting local, green adverts through their network. Both are insanely expensive (though much of the cost will not be borne by tax payers). ~ed.

Both companies take substantially different approaches, and the purpose of this article is to outline the differences between the two, and to strongly encourage you to get involved with determining which one of these firms is most clearly aligned with Boulder’s values—as well as having the capacity to deliver a solution in keeping with the specific requirements of the city.

Bike Sharing Risks

According to Russell Altman, CEO and Founder of Gravity Cycles, every major bike sharing deployment in the world has suffered due to an advertising focus, ineffective research, inappropriate infrastructure and vendor lockin (or a combination thereof).

Denver B-Cycle, according to the City of Denver, is also suffering—and, as far as Altman’s concerned, people need to remain aware that bike sharing is a transportation solution—not a recreational or advertising one.

“This is not a conversation about bikes and racks,” says Altman, “nor is it about advertising and impressions. This is a conversation about defining, creating and supporting multi-modal, sustainable transportation in a manner that is in keeping with the very specific requirements of Boulder. It’s serious business, and it requires dedication and focus – it requires a high degree of research and community engagement in order to get it right.”

The Gravity Cycles team moved to Boulder ten months ago specifically for the Boulder Bike Sharing project. They were recently awarded the Boulder County Bike Share project—connecting commuters between Longmont and Boulder with the major corporate campuses along the way.

B-Cycle recently deployed Denver Bike Share, and is in negotiations with Broward County and several other cities and municipalities regarding their system.


The City of Boulder released an RFP, the details of which can be viewed here. In brief, the intention is to launch with an initial deployment of approximately 200 bikes scaling up to approximately 500 over the next few years.

The responses to the RFP are not currently a matter of public record, and so comparing the two companies is not easy.

Further, the parameters for comparing the two companies are broad and too complex to present in a simple grid.

To that end, I’m recommending that if these issues are of concern to you as a Boulder local—get informed!.

You may need to wade through a bunch of information, but with this much at stake, surely we all have a responsibility to engage and ensure that Boulder awards this contract to a company that is going to ensure that Boulder becomes more esteemed than it already is.

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