Behind the bustling downtown of Albuquerque, New Mexico is an urban planning mastermind. Meet Valerie Hermanson, a key player in the city’s metropolitan planning organization, Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) . Valerie has strengthened the use of alternative transportation among the area’s primarily car-based population, especially in launching an annual Open Streets event, ABQ CiQlovia, and implementing a very successful Zagster bike share in partnership with Lola Bird, Executive Director, of DowntownABQ MainStreet Initiative . Not bad for a few people in a metropolitan area of almost one million. But what is so special about bike sharing in Albuquerque, and why has the program been able to flourish? How can other cities refer to Albuquerque’s success to improve their own urban planning practices?
We spoke with Valerie to find out. Surprisingly, bike sharing in Albuquerque had a rough launch when first proposed in 2008; with the economy’s fall, sources of funding pulled out and planners were left without necessary resources. Albuquerque was forced to wait until October of 2014, when DowntownABQ MainStreet Initiative applied for and received a $15k grant from PNM (local utility provider) to start a small downtown pilot bike share of about 5-10 bikes. When local private organizations and businesses heard about the grant, they reached out to DowntownABQ MainStreet offering to provide additional funds to expand the pilot. Many local businesses understood the traffic a bike sharing station could bring and pitched in, expanding the program to 65 bikes and turning it from a pilot study into a sustainable economy-booster.
Valerie uses the GIS data collected by Zagster, as well as qualitative feedback from riders, in order to target future prime locations for stations, and through this information the popularity of bike sharing becomes clear. Zagster users in Albuquerque love riding to meetings and events across downtown, and local businesses love the riders who stop at stores mid-trip to spend money they saved from not driving a car. With clearer roads and happier, healthier citizens, local Albuquerque governments will continue to support bike sharing and other modes of alternative transportation. Federal Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) funding can even be used for bike share and local governments across the country are utilizing this funding opportunity to spur local bike sharing programs.
Albuquerque’s success with bike sharing must also be partially attributed to its climate. With 300 sunny days a year and mild winters, the city is bikeable year-round, and residents enjoy cycling through the beautiful scenery, even if only for a short ride. Though Albuquerque has over 620 miles of bike trails and lanes, its downtown area is still lacking in infrastructure. With bike sharing’s sudden rise in popularity, local governments are targeting downtown for improvements in its pedestrian and bicycle routes. Albuquerque’s metropolitan planning organization, MRCOG, has even been receiving calls from other municipalities seeking advice in launching their own bike share program. “People are looking for alternatives in this day and age,” says Valerie. “Every day in downtown, 2000 trips are taken in a single-occupancy vehicle for less than a mile. With bike sharing, we hope some of these trips can be replaced by bike rides.”
Even though Albuquerque’s program is in its infancy, people are already leaving their cars behind for bikes, which can lead to a smaller carbon footprint, along with less vehicle congestion in the streets. Better yet, bike sharing is appealing to riders of all levels. For people who have only considered biking, Zagster is their chance to try exploring Albuquerque on two wheels without the hassle or commitment of purchasing a bike. Valerie is a veteran cyclist and said, “I have my own bike, but I also use Zagster when I’m downtown. It’s convenient, easy and fun.” With Zagster’s user-friendly model, there is no doubt that bike sharing has a bright future not only in Albuquerque, but also in similarly forward-thinking municipalities.