How Historic Salem, MA Grows Its Bike Share Program and Boosts Its Liveability

How Historic Salem, MA Grows Its Bike Share Program and Boosts Its Liveability

by Karl Alexander

Karl is Senior Market Manager for Zagster's Northeast markets. He feels fortunate to have a job which emphasizes his background in transportation and community development, bringing new solutions to advance municipal goals for livability and wellness. In his spare time, Karl is pursuing his Master's degree in Urban Planning at Umass Boston and advocates for trail connectivity in the Greater Boston area.

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Karl Alexander

Senior Market Manager

Salem, Massachusetts, about 30 minutes north of Boston, is a small city with a big history. Famous for its maritime history, as being the birthplace of the National Guard, and for the infamous Witchcraft Trials of 1692, Salem is also a vibrant, highly-walkable city where residents (around 41,000), and over a million tourists annually, can visit historic architecture, unique attractions, world-famous museums, and an eclectic mix of shops and dining options. Founded in 1626, Salem blends the old and the new, gorgeous old mansions with go-getting young entrepreneurs. The city boasts easy access to public transportation, including its own ferry direct to Boston and a growing bike share program.

I spoke recently with Tom Devine, who works for the City of Salem on its bike share program, about what makes Salem and its amazing bike share program so unique.

We began in 2017, when we had 18 bicycles and 2,500 rides that year. In 2018, we tripled the number of bikes to 50 and rides to 7,500. So we celebrated 10,000 rides in 2 years

Karl: What’s your role in the City of Salem, as it relates to the bike share program?

Tom: I’m a city planner for the city, a member of the Salem’s Bike Advisory Committee, and the contract manager for our bike share program with Zagster. I’m also a lifetime bicycle rider myself, so I know from personal experience that bikes aren’t just about transportation. Bikes can add a great deal to a person’s quality of life, as well as improve the transportation options and liveability of a city like Salem.

Karl: What transport challenges does Salem face that the bike share program helps address?

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Tom: Salem was once among the nation’s richest port cities. Salem actually exists because of its port, and much of our history is connected to shipping and the sea. Salem was also a major industrial area. We’re not a massive city in terms of geography, about 8 square miles, or population. The bike share helps us connect our many great tourism attractions, as well as our businesses and major institutions, such as Salem State University and Salem Hospital to the downtown commuter rail station, our ferry station, and other transportation options. These major institutions are big employers in Salem and important members of our community.

The bike share also helps our thriving tourism here in Salem. I know it can get overwhelming for locals when so many tourists come in October [to celebrate Halloween in Salem], because I live here myself, but the bike share helps reduce some of that tourist congestion. The bike share also helps reduce Salem’s traffic congestion all year round. Bikes just take up less space and infrastructure than cars do.

Karl: What’s the origin of the bike share program, and who are its sponsors and supporters?

I’m also a lifetime bicycle rider myself, so I know from personal experience that bikes aren’t just about transportation. Bikes can add a great deal to a person’s quality of life, as well as improve the transportation options and liveability of a city like Salem.

Tom: We began in 2017, when we had 18 bicycles and 2,500 rides that year. In 2018, we tripled the number of bikes to 50 and rides to 7,500. So we celebrated 10,000 rides in 2 years, and we’ve just launched our third year and have just expanded the program to 80 bikes. We get a lot of support from Mayor Kim Driscoll, who goes to so many events and consistently supports the program through her words and actions. The program has been a big success here and has gained a lot of support from the local community, the riders who use it, and our area’s bike organizations.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has been our premier sponsor, and they’ve been just fantastic to work with. The Salem bike share program just wouldn’t be possible without their consistent, enthusiastic support. They’re such strong advocates for bicycling and healthy lifestyles here in Salem, and have organized so many fun, unique local events to promote Salem’s bike share program. We feel fortunate to be working with the great people at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts to build our bike share program and a healthy Salem!

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Karl: What’s been the overall impact of the bike share program for the community of Salem?

Tom: The impacts have been multiple. It’s helped us connect the various transportation options in and around Salem, including the commuter rail and ferry stations, so visitors and locals can get to where they want to go, whether for work or for tourism. We know from conversations with area real estate developers that the bike share is viewed as an attractive amenity for living in, working in, and visiting Salem. The city’s history is so attractive to so many, and the bike share is adding to the overall liveability of the city and enhancing it’s “hipster vibe.”

Karl: What would you like to see next for the bike share program?

Tom: With the help of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, we’ve just expanded our bike share program, adding 30 bikes and 6 additional bike stations. We’re also exploring other modes of shared micro-mobility, such as scooters. Finally, we’d like to create a North Shore Regional program, working with nearby cities like Gloucester and Marblehead. We have a regional planning entity that’s helping us develop this ambitious idea.

Thank you so much for taking the time, Tom, and for sharing what makes Salem so amazing. We’re proud to partner with you, Mayor Driscoll and her staff, and the amazing City of Salem, whose people are “still making history” every day.

To learn more about our community programs, click here.