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Big Ideas: Trending Cycles

 Cheryl Huffman and Katie OLone Big Ideas: Trending Cycles
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Bike shelter near Ohio State University’s campus.

Columbus is on an undeniable bicycling streak. Our community’s passion for pedaling has been exposed by organizations like Consider Biking and Yay Bikes!, as well as, events like the Tuesday night ride, Bike to Work Day, and the 3rd Annual World Naked Bike Ride. From sharrows painted on our roadways to new bike shelters and racks in the right-of-way, our city’s efforts are creating an encouraging atmosphere for cyclists.

In recent visits to our neighbors up north (no we’re not referring to Michigan) we discovered a component to enhance our biking infrastructure. Montreal and Toronto, like Columbus, embrace healthy and green transportation; however, both cities accommodate riders with more than bikeways and storage options. They also provide accessible and affordable bike rental through bike-share systems. As the name implies, bike-shares are bicycle networks that allow users to share wheels with others.

Every station is equipped with a credit card kiosk. A deposit is required to rent ensuring timely return. Typically bikes are rented for a day with some cities offering three or seven-day passes, perfect for visitors. Day passes are only $6 in Chattanooga, Tennessee with the first hour of rental free. In more densely populated urban systems like Montreal and Toronto bikes are free for the first half hour. A fee assessment is made for extra time desired thereafter. To avoid paying the fee after the free rental period, the bike can be returned to a station. The user can then check out another bike and begin another free rental cycle.

Bike-shares serve as an inexpensive transportation option for not only city visitors, but long-term users such as students and commuters. An annual membership for traditional bike share programs in the U.S. range from $65 in Minneapolis to $85 in Boston. In comparison, the cost to ride the bus daily in Columbus for a year is about $750.

Toronto Bixi Station (left) Montreal Bixi Station (right)

So why doesn’t Columbus have a bike-share program? Well, it’s a fairly experimental idea for the States. Although bike-shares began in European cities in 1945, glitches were apparent in the first two generations of use. The biggest issues were anonymous users stealing bikes. In 1996, a third generation (3G) system offered creative solutions with evolving technology like id and credit card readers. The program made its U.S. debut in 2008 and has been multiplying ever since. Fortunately, our city is considering joining the ranks as suggested by a March Dispatch article.

Potential bike-share station at the Columbus Convention Center.

Columbus, with the right means and support, has great potential to become home to the next significant city bike-share. The system can operate as city government, an independent contractor, a university, a non-profit, an advertising group, or combination of entities. Each entity has distinct advantages and challenges especially pertaining to funding. Government and non-profit groups can access public funding through legislation and grants while independent contractors or private sector entities working as social entrepreneurs can generate revenues and use profits for upkeep, re-investment, and expansion.

Applying a 3G system to Columbus, based on similar city comparisons, we would recommend an initial 500 bikes be dispersed from 40 stations. These bike-share models are approximately $5,000 or less per bike to start-up. Once in place, a successful 500 bike system’s average yearly operating cost is approximately $800,000 equaling $1,600 to operate each bike.

Prototypes for a fourth generation (4G) of bike-shares are also underway in several major cities. The program start-up for 500 bikes is $550,000 equating to $1,100 per bike. Individual bikes in this program are equipped with computers to run credit cards, track GPS locations, and send data to a users app. This connectivity has capacity to analyze rider trends while providing useful data to system sustainability. Trends tracked through the 4G’s data can suggest needs for additional rack locations, demand for cycles at peak hours, and patterns to promote safer biking.

Flexibility is a selling point as the 4G bikes need not be returned to a pre-designated spot. The bike must be secured to a rack upon destination arrival. At this time the internal meter stops charging for the ride. Existing bike shelters and racks throughout Columbus can serve this purpose while continuing to benefit the broader cycling community. With an influx of 500+ bikes in the community, a need for supplemental racks may be recognized. Today, riders can call 311 or submit a location request for a bike rack (or path) through the City of Columbus website. In the future, with 4G data, real-time trends for parking can be specified and used to indicate ideal bike rack placement over time.

With such a wide range of practical applications we envision an extensive bike rental network throughout the city. To launch such a program, a concentration of 3G stations should be implemented in the downtown and university area, with scattered stations connecting nearby neighborhoods and bike trails. As many cities place their bike stations within a mile of one another, we are proposing stations near downtown hotels, landmarks, parks, and city attractions. For stations outside of the urban core all locations can be reached by an average rider within an hour.

Once 3G stations are installed the bike-share network can further expand as a hybrid model with 4G technology. Previously designated 3G stations will ensure reliability while 4G bikes will provide flexibility and convenience. The hybrid bike-share model provides Columbus with a self-sustaining network. This system, adapting to the constant flux of current and future rider trends yields invaluable piece of city infrastructure.

To see other exciting works by Cheryl, Katie, and the rest of the Neighborhood Design Center team check out “Progress and Promise” June 19th through August 11th . The exhibition is at the OSU Urban Arts Space.

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