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This spring Philadelphia joins Washington, D.C., New York City, and Boston as East Coast cities that operate bike-sharing programs.

Bike Share

$6 million dollars – half from the Philadelphia’s city government and half matched by the federal government and foundations – funds the initiative that will deploy 600 bikes at 60 stations throughout Philadelphia. Moving east to west, the stations will span from the Delaware River to West Philadelphia and advance from Temple University to the Navy Yard, running north to south respectively.

Coordination among city and federal government, nonprofits like the Mural Arts Program, and foundations reflects a clear intent to embrace a collaborative effort. Perhaps more importantly, Philadelphia’s leaders are asking questions that aim to shove the bike initiative past its East Coast contemporaries. Specifically, “how can we ensure that enough bikes are positioned in the right places so all city residents have convenient access?”

To arrive at the best answer, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities are following a principle of successful nonprofit initiatives — bring the service population to the table.

bike-share-nutter-c-CityofPhiladelphia-680uwNonprofits create useful services when they invite feedback from the people designed to most benefit from that service. Philadelphia’s bike-sharing initiative exemplifies the idea that encouraging service populations to offer their opinion can galvanize community support for new initiatives and ignite a sense of ownership.

The city collected more than 10,000 comments throughout a six-week-period starting in late September 2014. Philadelphia residents answered a series of yes or no questions through a SMS messaging tool and an online survey, including an interactive map created by OpenPlans, a nonprofit technology advocacy organization.

City leaders received a clear picture of where feedback arrived from, and just as important, where it wasn’t coming. Community teams also sought in-person feedback in underrepresented areas such as Mantua, an Obama designed Promise Zone and Newbold.

In December, the city released a 112-page-report revealing the full response of those who submitted feedback and how that information will guide the city’s bike initiative implementation. While it’s too early to congratulate the city on a job well done, a strong foundation has been built. If the city’s plan ultimately succeeds, a significant amount of credit will go to the city’s decision to embrace residents as partners to create Philadelphia’s first bike-sharing program.

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