Birth of a Bike Share: Memphis

In the first installment in our series on highlighting the growing impact and popularity of bike sharing systems, Sara Studdard from Explore Bike Share kicks things off detailing how their new system is created to tackle head-on the mobility challenges of Memphis.

1. What is Explore Bike Share?

Explore Bike Share is a 501(c)(3) organization working to implement a bike share system in Memphis with approximately 600 bikes and 60 stations. In 2019, the system will grow to 900 bikes and 90 stations. Stations will be located in high-density areas like Downtown and Midtown as well as South Memphis, Orange Mound, and Binghampton.

Once launched, bike share will have bikes on the ground throughout Memphis, making trips to bus stops, parks, greenlines, schools, museums, events, and grocery stores shorter than walking or taking public transit. Bikes will also be available as a world-class amenity for 11 million annual worldwide tourists and visitors.

2. What makes the bike share program in Memphis unique?

Our program is unique because Explore Bike Share is built by Memphians, for Memphians.

EBS didn't start as an organization launching a bike share. We started as community members interested in finding out if bike share was right for our city. We took a year between summer 2015 - summer 2016 to have conversations with community members about what bike share was, and if it made sense for Memphis.

We made the intentional decision not to reach out to early adopters or "traditional" bike share users. We knew that group would be champions, no matter when we got their ear. We wanted to talk to individuals and neighborhoods that weren’t currently identifying themselves as part of our emerging bike culture, had opportunities to increase transportation and health/wellness options. So we did just that, we hosted informal and formal events, intercept surveys, group rides, you name it – all to get to know our neighbors better and hear their thoughts on bike share.

Memphis enthusiastically communicated to our group that YES, bike share was a good fit for Memphis and now was the time to launch. That YES from the community got the ball rolling on fund development, researching different systems and technologies, organizational structure and developing the mission/vision for the organization.

All decisions have been vetted and made with community members leading the charge. Explore Bike Share would not exist without Memphians.

3. What has been the biggest challenge during the implementation process?

We don’t know yet!

We are about to launch our public site planning process and I greatly look forward to learning more from Memphians about where and how they want to use bike share. I do know that we have a challenge to educate more residents about what bike share is, and why they should consider it for transportation or fun. Our challenge is how to explain something that doesn’t exist in Memphis, and that many people haven’t experienced themselves.

4. What has been the most rewarding?

Professionally: being part of a project that not only will bring a capital asset, but a world-class service/amenity to our visitors and residents.

Personally: every day I talk to at least one person who teaches me something new, challenges the way I think, and contributes to my love for this city and the power people have to make change.

5. Any insider advice to pass along to other cities thinking about bike share?

  • Your city, no matter the size deserves an excellent system. If that means a longer timeline on raising funds or finding the right vendor - take it.

  • Listen to your residents. Be humble and open with what you hear and use residents perspectives to shape bike share for your city.

  • Share with residents of your city what bike share is (we use "pay, pick up, pedal, put up"…who doesn’t love alliteration?!) and let them decide which benefits and challenges they see. Don’t prescribe what bike share can mean for your community. Let everyone discover that together.

  • Talk to other cities that have launched or are also thinking about launching a bike share. There are some super smart, passionate folks in the industry. Listen to them, too!

  • Bottom line: listen, listen, listen and have fun. Biking brings joy; relish in it.