Cincy Bike Share planners need more funds to roll out service that could be boon to getting around

CINCINNATI -- For people who live, work or play downtown, a two-wheeled transportation option may be on the horizon, as planners gear up for Cincy Bike Share. 

They say the eco-friendly system will reduce traffic congestion and harmful emissions by offering a healthy alternative to driving.

“One thing we’ve seen is these bike shares have taken off wherever they start,” said Jason Barron, executive director Cincy Bike Share, Inc. “Demand picks up when people have alternatives. And when they have alternatives, they really embrace them, really get excited about them and take them on. So we’re pretty confident that we’ll see that exact same effect here.”

How it works

While a relatively new concept to the U.S., Barron explained bike shares have been operating successfully throughout Europe and Asia for more than a decade. Unlike bike rentals, where users keep the same vehicle for the entire day, bike share stations are designed for riders to take short trips from point to point, docking their bike after each ride.

Day passes and memberships include 30 to 45 minutes of free rides with fees incurred for additional time. Barron explained the system is designed for users to travel distances too far to walk within the downtown area without having to use a car.

“We’re almost like a new system of transit in Cincinnati,” he said. “So while we’re nothing like Metro busses, we’re the same kind of amenity. It’s something people can use to get around.”

Cincy Bike Share Phase I:

  • Proposed launch: summer 2014
  • Estimated 20 docking stations with 200 bikes (10 per station)
  • Locations: central downtown area and Over-the-Rhine (yet to be determined)
  • Estimated membership cost: $75 to $85 per year, daily pass $6 to $8

With initial startup costs of $1.3 million and $500,000 to operate annually, Barron said Cincy Bike Share--a nonprofit--still needs most of its funding and is seeking corporate sponsors. Funding in other cities varies from a single corporate sponsor, like the Citibank-sponsored bike share in New York City, to multiple sources as in Denver.

Cincy Bike Share already has some money from the Haile Foundation and Interact for Health, but has a long way to go. Since stepping into the role of executive director in December, Barron said his top priority has been to aggressively pursue financial backing for the project. He's hoping other sponsors will be attracted by the buzz other companies throughout the world have gotten by attaching their names to similar programs.

“Businesses that become sponsors for bike shares have seen a great benefit to their brand; it turns out to be a really unique and powerful advertising opportunity,” he said. “For instance, Citi Bike in New York sponsored by Citibank reported their internal analysis showed numbers of ‘favorable impressions of Citigroup’  jumped 17 points from May to July, essentially the first three months that bike share was open.” 

Will it catch on?

Once Cincy Bike Share secures funding, Barron plans a robust marketing campaign for its launch. He sees potential for selling bulk memberships to downtown: to businesses for their employees and apartment buildings for their residents.

He said as former director of public affairs for Mayor Mark Mallory, he recognizes the increased demand for urban living among young professionals, empty-nesters, corporate executives and families. He believes a bike share is the exact type of urban amenity which acts as a catalyst to increase residency.

“It makes for a better lifestyle downtown because it makes for a better experience,” he said.

If the first phase of Cincy Bike Share takes off,  the service could expand to uptown and Northern Kentucky. He feels confident in the success of the program, as operators have perfected the system.

Barron said past bike shares in other cities have failed to thrive because there were enough stations in close proximity to meet the need. With the initial 20 docking stations, he explained the Cincy Bike share will evaluate and adjust locations based on feedback.

“So hopefully, you’ll be able to park anywhere in the city and you won’t have to seek out a bike station because they’ll be all over the place - and that will contribute to the success because it’s so convenient,” he said.

"Sharrows" and safety in numbers

Alta, the company which operates New York's Citi Bike program , reports that with 93,000 members there have been no fatalities during the five-month period since its debut.

So, Cincinnati safe for bicyclists? According Melissa McVay, city planner with the Department of Transportation and Engineering, as part of the 2010 Bike Plan, the city continues to add dedicated bike lanes and "sharrows" (shared car and bike lanes) to increase safety.

“Research tells us having that separated space in the street is one of the things that makes people feel safer and encourages exponentially more people to start bicycling for transportation.

That’s really important,” she said.

Riding on city streets can be intimidating at first McVay said, but she explained downtown is a great place to learn because of the slower speed limits and predictable traffic patterns. She points to studies from cities across the country that show installing bike shares increases the number of riders on the streets, in turn making the streets safer; when more riders take to the streets, motorists become far more accustomed to sharing the road.

“There’s literally safety in numbers,” McVay  said. “When the number of people riding bicycles in your community goes up, the percentage of accidents actually goes down.”

The path to bike share

The idea for the bike share grew out of the Cincinnati USA Chamber’s Leadership Cincinnati program in 2011. Then, in 2012, the City of Cincinnati conducted a feasibility study comparing similar cities with systems in place.

The conclusion? That bike sharing was a viable concept for the region. Next, Cincy Bike Share Inc. forged a partnership with B-Cycle, LLC  which operates bike share programs in more than 25 other cities around the country. Next, Green Umbrella stepped up to serve as an interim fiscal sponsor fo until the IRS approves the new nonprofit’s tax-exempt status.

“We can be a nonprofit, fiscal agent for initiatives that are clearly helpful for improving the quality of the environment and promote our broader agenda of making Cincinnati one of the top 10 most green, sustainable metro areas in the country by 2020,” said Green Umbrella executive director Brewster Rhoads.

From a “green” standpoint, Rhoads said, there are a number of benefits of the program--beginning with reduced emission from cars on the streets. He explained people can avoid the hassle factor of taking cars in and out of garages during the day to make short trips. Secondly, he said bike share programs promote a healthy lifestyle by increasing activity and connecting people to the outdoors. He said it also connects the city, allowing people to venture further and explore.

“And finally, it’s encourages public transit, which is another goal that we have,” he said. “We’d like to increase the number of people who regularly use public transit in Greater Cincinnati which has obvious environmental benefits as well.”

The biggest marketing tools for bike share are the stations themselves, Barron said. He believes people seeing the stations will tap into "the inner child just dying to get back on a bike."

“The stations will be 20 advertising locations throughout the city where people can stop by and learn about the system and purchase memberships right there,” he said. “We’re hopeful that the downtown phase will be really successful and it will kind of really push the other phases to follow it.”

Source: People for Bikes 

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