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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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  • GoBikeColumbus.com

    Want a COMPLETE list of all the cycling events going on in Columbus?!

    Check out http://www.GoBikeColumbus.com

  • So when a downtown visitor checks out their bike at Broad and High, how exactly do we guide or route them?

  • cbus11

    Seems like a good idea. I imagine these will work well with downtown workers wanting to get more range and not wanting to move their car. I can also see people using this in conjunction with Cota.

    The question I have is how does it work? If an OSU student pays $85 a year what keeps him from just taking a bike for a year (swapping it out when maintenance is needed)? Do they have to lock it up at a designated bike share rack after a specified maximum time? How does the lock work and can you lock it to things besides bike share racks?

  • colemandale

    I would love to see a bike share program that was privatley funded and operated. Citi Group recently gave 41 million dollars to the NYC Bike share. If this is warrented in Columbus I would love to see 500 Hunting green bikes or 500 Blue Nationwide Bikes, or how bout OSU having 500 Scarlet & Grey bikes. ( I know thats public money) I think bike shares are the wave of the future. Two of my friends are leaving for DC tomorrow and they cant wait to ride in our nations capital by bike. I just think Columbus is a few years away. Spending that type of public dollars in this economy is a tough sell. Keep spending those dollars fixing the pot holes and we will have more Columbus citizens on bikes. Chery & Katie- I would love to have you join Yay Bikes on our June 30th Foodtruck Ride with YELP. Contcat me at [email protected] and I will send you the details. Thanks for this informative article!! Now how do we get Walker on a bike!!

  • jpizzow

    I think 500 bikes might be a bit ambitious for the initial phase. How about 300. I’m still not sure most of Columbus quite gets it yet when it comes to biking, although we are catching on. I had no idea the cost would be so high. I’m assuming the cost per unit includes installation, credit card kiosks, maintenance, some form of security/surveillance, running the 3G and then the bikes themselves. I suppose it would make sense when all of that is factored in for the up front cost, but $1600 each to operate? Can someone explain please.

    What really gets me is how Minneapolis, with a much shorter spring and summer and much colder season, has such a prominent year round bike culture. Find out what the hell they are doing and immulate what I’ve read is a very successful bike share program. They have obviously found the formula.

  • geoyui

    I’ve used this system in Boston and it was great. $5 for the day and I could venture all over the city on a bike. I used an app called Biximo that helped me find neighboring stations for me to park it.

    I’m not sure how the yearly usage works, but for the daily use, once you have paid at the kiosk, the sytem gives you a passcode that allows you to unlock the bike of your choosing. Everytime you stop at another rack, you lock up the bike. That stops the time. Then when you return you swipe your cc at the kiosk, they give you another passcode (because on file you’ve already paid for a full day) and unlock another bike. The passcode expires after a certain amount of time if you hadn’t unlocked a bike after receiving the code.

    If this were to start up in Columbus, I would concentrate it in the Downtown to OSU corridor. It seems like extending this plan to the 270 ring may be a bit too much for an initial test run.

    On a side note, what’s up with the Arnold/bike rack/flower/convention center photoshopped pic?

  • @colemandale – Ha! I’ll get back on a bike sooner or later. But I’m perfectly happy walking or busing the majority of the time these days. ;)

  • BrianW

    We just got back from a visit to Colorado. Both Denver and Boulder have successful public bike programs. Seems like a natural for Columbus.

  • jpizzow

    Not to mention its relatively flat here, which makes biking easier.

  • pixlfarmer

    As much as I’d love to see this, I think Columbus has some work to do on the trails before this could be a success.

    Also, gratuitous floral Arnold is hilarious.

  • kolone

    Thanks for reading our article and for all the comments/discussion. Glad to see others excited about a bike-share!

    @lifeontwowheels-The 3G each stations has kiosks with maps that label the locations of other stations where the bikes can be returned. The 4G have GPS, can also be tied into the app for smart phones. But having maps available or information on apps for general Columbus site-sighting, destinations, etc. for visitors available at the 3G stations is a great idea!

    @cbus11-After the base fee, rental is free for the first half hour or hour depending on the city and addition time is charged to your credit card. But to avoid having to pay a fee you can just return your bike to another station and check out another bike. We’re thinking the first hour should be free in Columbus, since it is a little more spread out. The 3G bikes do have to be returned to a designated bike station, but the 4G just have to be locked up to any bike rack. For the 4G if you didn’t lock the bike up to an easily accessible bike rack you would be fined.

  • Cheryl Huffman

    @colemandale-Thanks for the invite. We’ll circle back with you for the details.

    @jpizzow-We agree that 500 bikes may seem like a lofty goal but we believe Columbus is up for the challenge. The Minneapolis system was launched in 2010 with 700 bikes. They have less than half the population we do within city limits and as you mentioned have seen great success.
    Operating costs include maintenance, distribution, staff, insurance, office space, storage facilities, website hosting and maintenance, and electricity. Figures were averaged by the NYC and MN costs.

    @geoyui-The densest station concentrations do fall within the Downtown to OSU stretches. For the initial launch we believe I-270 is a logical boundary as an average rider can reach most parts of the loop from a central downtown location within an hour. This perimeter may open transportation options to a different audience than the mere downtown visitor/commuter.

    Keep the questions and comments coming – we’re on a roll ;) Thanks for reading!

  • Maps are great but that’s not really what I’m getting at. You have locals who have issues hopping on a bike now due to perceptions about safety and traffic. How do you address that for tourists? If someone pulls a bike off the kiosk at Broad and High you’re either going to have a scared shitless tourist attempting to negotiate those roads or bombing down the sidewalk. Both aren’t good and one is illegal.

    I think this can be good for the city I just don’t know if it’s good right now when there is so much more to be tackled with connectivity and awareness.

  • bucki12

    Is there a more in depth list of those 3g locations with actual addresses? Do the bikes have regular u-lock type locks or cables so you could lock them to stuff outside a restaurant in between parking them at the stations?

    If there are enough stations spread over convenient locations I can see this working very well. The downside would be scrambling to find a 3g station near your final destination if it is in a ‘last mile’ situation. The 4g system looks a lot better on paper.

    Is there some type of way to add an option for helmets? The recent Shawn Weebly accident comes to mind.

  • channelcity

    I use the ‘Boris Bikes’ (shared bike service) in London frequently and having an app for locations, availability, and maps is key to the system. I can look up where the closest station is, how many bikes there are, a map to my destination, and how many open spaces there are at the docking station where I want to return the bike.
    Having this feature makes it much more user friendly and encourages more use. Hopefully the Columbus version would have this from the beginning.

  • @Lifeon2Wheels – I agree with you that safety, connectivity and awareness are issues that need to be addressed. But at the same time, they’re not going to be addressed with the types of people who would rent a bike from a bike share if those people never get on a bike in the first place.

    Perhaps a quick 1-2 minute video on a video screen can provide quick information about that sort of thing at the time on rental? I have to imagine there’s ways to address it while rolling it out.

  • FoodFort

    Do it. Pick 2 to 4 trial areas and expand from there. I did this in Montreal a few years ago and it was wonderful.

    The Clintonville Community Resource Center has loaner bikes for a couple years now and this is a great asset to the community.

  • kolone

    @bucki12-The map we created has approximate locations of the 3G stations marked. To determine actual locations there would need to be a detailed study factoring in right-of-way condition, lamp posts, street furniture, etc.

    The 3G station has a dock that you role the front-end of the bike into and it locks. The 4G bikes are still being developed. On the one hand a U-Lock would probably be more secure, but you’re right a chain lock would have more flexibility in where it could be parked. Hopefully they’ll take both into consideration when they design it.

  • Speaking of safety:

    @Lifeon2Wheels & @walker
    MORPC’s existing Columbus Metro Bike Map assigns roadway safety designations based on the data they collect each year. Incorporating base maps like these into a video intro/ GPS navigation system would be a nice on-board resource for riders. Once on the road, the system could self-correct using the new safety data it receives and records.

    Helmets have been a concern for many cities. Melbourne, has offered helmets for rent in a vending machine fashion while cities like Chicago have equipped each rider with a helmet (their stations require staff to operate). Chicago places an emphasis on recreational programming. You can also rent kids bikes, child seats, tagalongs, and inline skates. Other cities are promoting helmets by passing along deep discounts to their ridership ($16 in D.C.).

  • I’d like to see this. Paris has a really classy version of it:


    I’d be so nice to bring friends to the city and be able to take them biking around w/o having to go to all the other hassles.

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