Bike share program to roll out this summer with 100 bikes, more after sponsorship secured

Soon, people, soon!

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A demo version of Atlanta’s still-unnamed bicycle-share program will launch this summer, making around 100 two-wheelers available at approximately 12 locations in key parts of the city. 

The full program — it calls for 500 bikes at as many as 70 stations in Buckhead, Midtown, Downtown, and West End — was supposed to be up and running by 2015 but has been held up because officials are still searching for someone to sponsor the initiative. 

But CycleHop, the company selected by the city to operate the program, recently inked a deal to help solve that dilemma. Dan Murphy, CycleHop’s Atlanta general manager, says sports management company Spectra has come on board to help secure a sponsor for the program that envisions 500 bikes — the ultimate goal is 2,000 two-wheelers — available for rent at strategically located stations. Spectra secured the sponsors for the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and has worked with other bike share programs.

Several applications for rental station locations have been submitted to the city to help get City Hall used to the process and make sure it’s “seamless, transparent and efficient,” says Becky Katz, City Hall’s chief bike officer. You can view tentative locations and gain more information about the program at the city’s website.  

Katz says the full roll-out depends on when sponsorship occurs, and could take place anywhere between the summer and early 2017. Murphy is confident the program will have a title sponsor for Atlanta’s initiative by 2017, since most advertising and marketing budgets are filled up for 2016.   

Katz and Murphy agree that a sponsor is important and necessary for the program to be successful. The bike share program is privately funded. A well-funded bike share program means more stations will be made available. The success of the programs across the country have depended on density — more stations means greater access for riders. 

In the meantime, Katz says, this summer’s demo will help people get used to the bike share system and build community support. It will also provide an opportunity to test the technology and gather feedback to fine-tune it when the full roll-out takes place. Surveys will be distributed online, via text, and on paper. The bike share team will be at Streets Alive events, and on April 7 held a meet-and-greet at Downtown’s Center for Civic Innovation.

The team is looking to successful bike share models throughout the country — the model is one 60 other cities, including Denver, New York, and many others — to help create one that works for Atlanta, and becomes a point of pride for residents and communities.

When the program does roll out, Katz says, the team is looking at Downtown as a key area because of its “influx of people and diversity of groups of people who engage” in the area. Having transit connectivity is another issue the team will address, since bike share is a public transit system in itself. Katz says they are working with MARTA to ensure bike share overlaps with existing rail and bus stations.

Save for one homeowner who told Katz she thought the bike share is ugly, the team says there hasn’t been any pushback. Katz and Murphy don’t foresee any conflicts between the program and bike shops that rent bikes, since both serve different customers. The program could actually help get more people on bikes in parts of town that don’t have the shops. If any conflicts do arise she hopes to help solve that problem by engaging residents. 

“I want this system to be success, I think it will be, but that means more bikers are going to be on the road,” Murphy says. “Bike share is going to kind of serve as an advocate for phrasing bike safety, education, more advocacy, more bike infrastructure.”

The city’s bicycle infrastructure two years ago, when the bike share project still being hatched, is not where it is today, Katz says. Over the past few years, the city has invested in the number of bike lanes, bringing the total to approximately 90 miles, and more projects are in the works, including buffered bike lanes. Katz says two streets were recently striped with new bike lanes. And there are more projects on the horizon: protected facilities on Tech Parkway, John Portman Boulevard, and Westview Drive, plus three more streets getting bike lanes in the next few weeks — and the list goes on. In fact, Katz says, the bike share program could actually “lead the conversation on infrastructure.”

“We’ve seen cities that have had less infrastructure implement bike share successfully,” Katz says. “We’re there but we need to continue to support not only bike share, but regular biking, everyday biking. Our infrastructure needs to improve and grow. We need a connected, protected network of bike infrastructure.”

Murphy says the team will measure the program’s success using traditional data collection methods, such as seeing how many users are utilizing the bikes per day. But trying to compare amount of rides in Atlanta’s program to New York City, for example, would be folly, Katz says, since the northeast city is totally different. She hopes the team can also implement qualitative data measurements, too. Her questions would include: “How much fun was your trip to lunch this time?” “What did you discover on your trip that you wouldn’t have if you didn’t take a bike?” 

And if you are wondering about safety: Murphy and Katz have looked into helmet use and access. The team says they are committed to having a helmet program that operates in tandem with the system.