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Is Cleveland ready for bike share?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  05/07/12 @ 12:00pm  |  Posted in Biking, Transportation choices

Bike share is a sustainable transportation idea that is coming of age in America. Unlike some more hard-core issues, like expanding bike lanes, bike share is exciting a wider audience to consider riding a bike in their city.

The origins of modern bike share-a flexible rent and return service -can be traced to city-led programs in Paris and Washington. Images of Paris and D.C.'s bike share whipped up a frenzy that led to a dozen U.S. bike share programs starting up in the last few years. Again, these are bikes that are checked out one place with a credit card swipe and returned to another self-serve station at or near your destination.

Bike share confirms that city dwellers plus congestion and the inconvenience of parking set up well for a bike-when-you-need-it situation. Even in car-loving America, bikes suddenly become attractive when convenience and coolness are mixed in with a dose of tech.

And now, bike share is spreading beyond big and warm-climate cities, with Minneapolis, Denver and Chicago starting or running programs.

The issue for a mid-market city with a sprawl problem is finding the financial sweet spot to make it 'a go' (that hasn't stopped some; see Chattanooga). This spring, five Case Weatherhead School of Business students looked at Cleveland for bike share. Their study, "Cleveland Bike Share: Potential and Possibility" offers that a non-profit business model similar to Denver Bike Share might work best here. An MBA Practicum in Sustainable Value and Social Entrepreneurship, it concludes that the region's new non-profit group, Bike Cleveland, is well-positioned to move into a leadership role, and that it form a partnership with a city to direct federal funds (similar to the path taken in Minneapolis). Next steps include raising funds and hiring a consultant to run a feasibility study and build the case with local partners.

"It is our recommendation that ownership of the research and planning should be conducted under the direction of Bike Cleveland, an advocacy organization for the biking community in Cleveland. While Bike Cleveland may or may not be a part of the ongoing governance structure should bike-sharing be implemented, it has an established governance structure and the regional connections to house the exploration of Cleveland bike-sharing," the Case students write.

Even though Bike Cleveland is a relatively young organization, bike share could help it stake a claim on something with broad appeal (which would be a nice balance to their advocacy work). It will most likely involve hiring a project manager with a specific skill set to get a bike share program going. /p>

Should Bike Cleveland take on a bike share program today, or hold off for a couple of years until it gains experience?

To date, bike share in Cleveland has been a good idea in search of a home. While Bike Cleveland figures out its priorities, it should consider the upside of 'owning' the Cleveland Bike Share: They could tap a wave of energy around this new service, and, if they can get some big players like Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and Case on board, they might launch it small in University Circle as a beta test for a wider Cleveland set up.

Another partner for bike share (and an advisor on the Case bike share study) is University Circle, Inc. It may be taken as a positive sign that UCI and the city of Cleveland Heights included bike share as an option in their current Circle-Heights Bike Network planning. During their community meetings in April, they asked participants to pick locations for bike share stations. UCI, the non-profit planning and development organization for University Circle, could rally the support needed to develop a bike share service.

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