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Tucson Bike Share – Using Envision to Rate a Unique Project

By Kevin Thornton, PE, ENV SP, STP

The popularity of bike sharing programs is growing across the country. During a recent visit to Minneapolis, I decided to try out their bike share system and ended up really getting to know the city, riding more than 20 miles over a couple of days.

Bike sharing programs bring a number of pluses to a community. Bike sharing is a healthy transportation option and an affordable alternative for people with flexible transportation needs. It’s also a great way for tourists to get acquainted with a city. Bikes are generally well maintained and users don’t have to worry about locking them up as long as they stop at a bike share station.

I was excited when I learned that my hometown of Tucson, Arizona would be getting a bike share system. The City of Tucson is considered a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly City by the League of American Bicyclists and has one of the most bikeable downtowns in the nation.

Launched November 17, 2017, the program, entitled Tugo, has all the elements for a successful bike sharing system. The program is starting out with 36 stations and 330 bikes, with plans to expand. The city has river parks, bike boulevards, and cycle tracks as well as more traditional bike lanes.  Bike stations are strategically placed to take advantage of Tucson’s existing bike infrastructure and, in this first phase, are largely centered around the University of Arizona and Downtown Tucson.

Given my interest in biking, bike infrastructure, and sustainability, I was curious to see how the Envision sustainability rating system would assess a non-traditional or unique infrastructure program such as a bike share. I made a call to the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, Ann Chanecka, and we agreed to work together on using Envision to assess the bike share program.

Ann Chanecka with the City of Tucson at the Tugo bike share kickoff.

Upon completion of our review, the program was rated at the Envision Gold Level ranking overall for a number of reasons:

Rated well above the Platinum level in the Quality of Life category

  • The City of Tucson went through an extensive assessment of community needs when selecting locations for the stations.
  • The city is working with Second Chance Tucson, which finds jobs for people overcoming prior convictions, to employ workers for the bike share program.
  • The project improves community mobility and access, while encouraging an alternative mode of transportation.
  • Station selections were based on extensive meetings with neighborhood associations and historic preservation committees.
  • Stations are included in parks and other high-use areas.

Performed at the Gold Level in the Leadership, Resource Allocation, and Natural World categories

  • The city performed a crowdsourcing survey to help determine station locations and held numerous public meetings on the project.
  • To conserve energy stations are solar powered, hub generators power bike lights, and plans call for bicycle trailers to redistribute bikes between stations.
  • All sites were located on previously developed areas (no concrete pads needed to be constructed).

Overall, the Envision rating system performed admirably in assessing the sustainability of non-traditional infrastructure like a bike share program. I would encourage the review of projects with the Envision rating system, especially if the project is unique. There will likely be aspects of the project that can be easily improved and it will build a knowledge base for future endeavors.

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