One of the biggest complaints I have with bikeshare is that most existing systems have limited reach. They’re typically placed in the downtown district and seem to be designed more with tourists than residents in mind. I’ve ridden bikeshare across the country and the only exceptions I can think of are in New York, Washington, Chicago and maybe Minneapolis. Those are all huge systems with thousands of bicycles. Most cities don’t have the bandwidth to do what they’ve done. That’s why I think that the mobility hub concept recently introduced in Des Moines is worthy of consideration everywhere.
So what’s a Mobility Hub? The concept is really simple. Bikeshare and transit officials work together to identify transit stations outside the core where there’s enough critical mass to justify a bikeshare station. The station is placed adjacent to the transit stop so that people can easily hop off the bus and on to a bike to get to their destination. This solves part of a long standing problem that discourages transit use and dramatically extends the reach and visibility of bikeshare. It also repositions bikes in the mind of residents. Instead of just a way to have some fun tooling around downtown, bikes become transportation vehicles.
In Des Moines, the first four transit hubs are located northwest of downtown on the campus of Drake University. This is good. College students are inclined to hop on bikes anyway, and Drake’s location between downtown and the vibrant Beaverdale neighborhood makes this placement a natural bridge. Students can buy an annual B-cycle pass and have bicycle access to just about everything they need in Des Moines. Visitors can combine bus and bike and not have to worry about where to park…a constant challenge on most college campuses.
This is a fundamental shift that requires people to think about the trips they take. Instead of mindlessly reaching for the keys as we’ve done in the past, challenges like increased costs, lack of parking, congestion and climate change are going to require us to plan more and choose differently. Many trips will consist of more than one vehicle, and when they do, bikes and transit are natural partners. Kudos to central Iowa officials for collaborating and pushing bikeshare in this direction. This is as it should be.