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Our Cleveland bike share wish list

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/30/15 @ 12:00pm  |  Posted in Biking

Last week, Cuyahoga County signed a contract with bike share operator, CycleHop and supplier, Social Bike (SoBi), to build a full-scale, bike share system in Cleveland by May, 2016.

The county secured a $357,000 federal grant and BikeCleveland raised another $80,000 for an initial roll out of 150 bikes and stations. CycleHop won the contract, in part, because it promises to raise more funding for another 100 bikes by 2016. While downtown and University Circle are in the initial plan, the county’s goal is to go farther afield—with 700 bikes and a system that would reach into nearby suburbs.

Big red<br />Bike share in Cincinnati has exceeded expectation. Seen here, a Red Bike with a new streetcar. Photo: Travis Estell, Urban Cincy.

It is cause for celebration. Now the hard work of building for success can begin. First, the county’s RFP requires the company, and civic leaders, to fulfill goals of equity and sustainability. In addition to those metrics, the system will have to produce trips in order to be successful and grow.

We recently visited Cincinnati, rode their Red Bike system, and spoke to urban transportation experts about the reasons behind bike share’s fast expansion. Red Bike was supported by a $1 million capital grant from the City of Cincinnati. It might seem obvious that the city supported 300 bikes and 30 stations to give it an edge (Cleveland, by turn, has not put any capital into the CycleHop system). As nice as it is, money isn’t everything.

Here are some lessons from Cincinnati—and from other cities that are building successful bike share systems—as the Cuyahoga / Cleveland system gets built. We asked system operators, BikeCleveland Executive Director Jacob Van Sickle, and Cuyahoga County Department of Sustainability Deputy Director Shanelle Smith to provide their reactions to our wish list.

1.) Location. Location. Location. Red Bike initially expected 1,000 rides per week, but, a month after it rolled out (in September, 2014) it tallied 7,000 rides. The most successful Red Bike stations, by a sizable margin, are in neighborhoods of dense, residential development and less space for cars, such as Over-the-Rhine. Red Bike is being used heavily as a commute vehicle for those living close to office jobs downtown. It's also easier to get around the narrower streets of a city neighborhood. It is less well used at major venues (likely because of the abundance of car parking).


Van Sickle: “With Cleveland’s growing downtown population, the initial launch will help serve these people in addition to making it easier to move around the most congested part of the city. We look forward to more heavily saturating adjacent neighborhoods as the system expands.”

2.) Integration with transit / real-time Transit app. Bike share provides a valuable transportation service when there is a plan to integrate it with the public transit system. Cities from L.A. to Chicago recognize this maxim. But it requires a strong push from the city and the transit agency to place a priority on bike share as an extension of a bus or train ahead of tourism.

In Cincy, Red Bike is also integrated with the real-time Transit app (the same Transit app that is now available for download for Greater Cleveland’s RTA). Meaning, Red Bike stations and real-time information about how many bikes are available display alongside the nearest Metro (bus) stop for smartphone users. While there is no integration of Red Bike with Metro’s fare box, systems with smart cards will find ways to put bike share and transit fare on the same pass.

Van Sickle: “Card integration is a great way to improve access for people, and we have already had some informal talks with local institutions and RTA about doing something similar. We want the system to be as accessible as possible.”

3.) Affordable / Plan to include the "unbanked"

Red Bike has a membership model that can be subsidized and underwritten for low-to-moderate income residents who don’t have a bank account. A partnership with the Shelter House for the homeless will provide free, annual Red Bike memberships. It mirrors efforts around the country, like Chicago’s Divvy For All—a $5 membership for low-income households. In Washington, D.C. Capital Bike Share and transit passes can be purchased with cash at a Commuter Store. University of Cincinnati is participating by underwriting the costs for semester-long Red Bike memberships.

Van Sickle: “Equity was an important consideration when selecting a preferred vendor. At Bike Cleveland, we spend a lot of time in low-income neighborhoods conducting outreach and making improvements. We understand the importance of making bike share available to all residents, and are working closely with CycleHop/Sobi to ensure that happens.”

Smith: “Although we are car-centric in the County, many people don’t own cars or credit cards and therefore it was important for us to ensure that people who are in need transportation have equitable access, and we are happy to have selected CycleHop, a vendor that understands and values our community needs.”

4.) Plan to make it a regional amenity

As soon as it became clear that Red Bike was a winner, Cincinnati’s neighbor to the south wanted in. Expansion just across the Ohio River into Northern Kentucky happened in July when the City of Covington found funding for six stations. Cuyahoga County being the fiscal agent for the Cleveland system—and with the initial roll out geography making it a “dual hub” system of downtown and University Circle—the surrounding communities of Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights and Lakewood are actively pursuing plans for their own funding to expand bike share and connect it to dense pockets of residential zones within reach.

Van Sickle: “Cleveland’s street car legacy, and relatively flat topography makes us a good fit for similar expansion. While we haven’t yet had conversations about it, we hope that bike friendly cities bordering Cleveland proper will consider becoming part of the system.”

What's on your wish list for Cleveland bike share?

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Rick Hamilton
7 months ago

We need share bikes in UC. I travel regularly to UC on the Red Line from West Park and wish The Opportunity Corridor was not happening. How soon will we have the convenience of bike shares in UC? That's long past due. Also, if the Red Line trains could more easily accommodate bikes, I'd be taking mine to UC.

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