Columbia residents show interest in bike-sharing program

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:19 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 5, 2010

COLUMBIA — If 10 percent of Columbia's population rode a B-Cycle 30 miles, the city would burn 16,322,160 calories. But a B-Cycle isn’t some new workout fad. It’s a community bike-sharing program based in Wisconsin that could eventually pedal its way into Columbia.

B-Cycle is a program that establishes a network of bike stands and specialized bikes where members can pay for daily, weekly or monthly access to a bike. If a ride exceeds 30 minutes, the rider begins to incur fees in addition to the membership. Members can check their bikes back in at the stands. B-Cycle is a collaboration between American companies Humana, Trek Bicycle Corporation and Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

The company has a section on its website called "Who Wants It More" that allows people to enter their ZIP code to express interest in bringing the program to their community. As of Tuesday, Columbia was fifth in the nation with 1,461 votes, ahead of Chicago and San Francisco. The top city is Billings, Mont., followed by Austin, Texas.

“Certainly Columbia, with the university and overall appreciation for bicycles, would have a legitimate case to say bike sharing would make sense,” Lee Jones, director of sales for B-Cycle, said.

Columbia Bicycle and Pedestrian program manger Ted Curtis said he was surprised to see Columbia in the community-support rankings. B-Cycle just launched its debut program in Denver on April 22.

Curtis said because of how new the program is, he is watching the Denver program for potential problems.

“It’s the wave of the future, it just hasn’t gotten here yet,” he said.

Similar bike-sharing programs began in Europe, Paris and Barcelona in 2007. An experimental program tested bike sharing in New York City that summer.

B-Cycle relies on city governments to reach out and initiate the program. At the end of this month, Jones said he plans to contact the top ten cities, which could include Columbia, to see what progress can be made at city hall. The Denver program's founding sponsor is Kaiser Permanente and Denver Bike Sharing, a nonprofit.

“Cycling is growing in this community like you wouldn’t believe,” PedNet Communications Director Michelle Windmoeller said. “If we had a program where people had access to good quality bikes, they would be more likely to keep using those bikes or even buy their own.”

It would require an initial investment of about a quarter of a million dollars to bring the program to Columbia, Jones said. He said he would recommend a pilot test of about 50 or 100 bikes at $3,500 per bike. The programs are intended to be self-sustaining, with advertising opportunities on the bikes and stations and money coming from member fees.

The bikes have an on-board computer that uses GPS to keep track of members and bikes. Users can have an online profile to track how many miles they pedaled, burgers they’ve burned off, and carbon emissions that have been offset.




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Stas Kolenikov May 5, 2010 | 3:40 p.m.

I read a story on bike sharing in Columbia Missourian today. I rode community bikes in Helsinki back in 2001, so the wave is at least a decade old. In Helsinki, those bikes were used as the means of public transportation. There were about a dozen locations throughout the city where these bikes would be locked to a parking structure (similar to the luggage carts in the airports). To use the bike, a commuter would place a coin (which was worth somewhat under $1, may be 50c) into the lock to release the bike. Then the bike can be returned to any other location, and I believe you even get to take the coin back from the lock. Those were terribly heavy bikes with solid metal wheels painted to candy colors, so nobody would want to steal them (and Finns are not very big on stealing things, anyway). Of course they did not have GPS systems on them, either.

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