COLUMBIA — Commuting around downtown could get a little easier if the city decides to move forward with a bike share program currently under discussion.
The bike share program would solve that "last mile" problem of transportation that some people have to walk after taking the bus, Lelande Rehard of the city management office, said. The program would also make bikes available for short trips around downtown and near MU.
"Some people may have barriers to using the busing system because once they get off the bus they might have to walk a mile to get somewhere not directly on the route," said Lawrence Simonson, safe routes to school coordinator at the PedNet Coalition. "If we could strategically place bike share stations around town that may be in one of those locations, they could possibly lose that barrier for using public transportation, because now once they get off the bus, they could utilize the bike share program to get to their location."
The program has been a topic of conversation among city officials for years. Years ago, there was a free bike share program that failed, but officials are hoping the new program will be more successful.
"It's kind of one of those recurring ideas in Columbia that loses steam over time," Rehard said. "We're hoping this time to keep the momentum up."
The idea came from a discussion this winter after presenting the idea to a meeting of key stakeholders from the county, the city and the school board, all of whom expressed interest in the program, Rehard said.
"It's very easy to bike around Columbia, and because of that, a lot of people use bikes to get around already," Simonson said. "(A bike share program) would just cause the culture to grow and grow."
The program is not meant to be used for bike rental. The system is designed for short trips to promote bike commuting around downtown.
Bike share programs are growing in major cities such as Washington D.C. and New York, but Columbia hopes to model their program after cities of similar size, such as Chattanooga,Tenn., and Spartanburg, S.C., Rehard said.
Both Tennessee and South Carolina's programs use a membership system as well as a temporary pass for checking out bikes. They have bike stations placed in key parts of town, such as on campuses, near busy bus stops and other congested areas, according to their websites.
The next step for a Columbia bike share program is a feasibility report. This will examine how realistic a program would be and how much it could cost.
"What we are committed to doing is getting a good plan and a good model, and using that to find the funds to do it," Rehard said.
Funding could come from a variety of sources. Bike share programs are typically funded by the city, nonprofit organizations, privately-owned organizations or grants.
PedNet has written but not yet sent a grant application to the Surdna Foundation that sponsors sustainable communities, hoping it could fund part of the program.
The bike share program holds a special connection to CoMo Connect, an overhaul of the bus route system, and more specifically, the U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant the city has applied for. The grant will mostly fund new buses and new bus stations, but with revamped stations, the opportunity arises to build bike share stations in or near them, Barbara Buffaloe, city sustainability manager, said.
"If I can make it easier to offer bike storage or a bike share program within the (TIGER) grant, then I think it would be really successful," she said.
The city will not hear back about the TIGER grant until December, but they plan to look for other means of funding for the feasibility plan. A high quality plan could be produced in about two months, Rehard said.
The goal would be to start small with stations around downtown Columbia and MU, but the program has the legs to grow if it is needed.
"Initially people may not use it right off, but I think as time went on and people saw how beneficial it was, they would pick it up and use it," Simonson said. "It would save them time and eventually save them money."
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