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Why I need bike share in Cleveland

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/02/15 @ 1:00pm  |  Posted in Biking

I’m thinking, maybe my next bike should be owned by someone else? Not only owned but repaired and looked after by another. The thought occurred while biking to work in University Circle where I spied the Zagster bike share station behind the Courtyard at Marriott on Cornell Road.

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I’ve been shopping for another bike, one that is set up for commuting (with fenders, a rack, a light and a more upright position than my road bike). But, with the advent of a mobile economy built around “sharing,” the whole ownership idea has been turned on its head. So rather than owning, storing and worrying about another bike, couldn’t my commuter bike be a bike share membership?

The issue - I might have to wait awhile before Cleveland and the surrounding areas have a truly citywide bike share system. But, a recent $357,000 grant from NOACA indicates that Cleveland’s heading in the right direction. Clearly, the choice between own or share depends on a robust network—that means lots of stations and bikes—like you see in cities of Paris and D.C. Those cities have shown, it’s not just tens of thousands of bikes but a network of bike friendly streets widespread enough for bike share to work as transportation.

As Cleveland explores building out a citywide bike share system, it needs to believe in its ability to function as real transportation. The plan is to launch a base of operation from downtown Cleveland. That will take buy in from businesses who want to keep younger workers around, like tech companies, who will use it for meetings, lunch or instead of hopping in a car because its more convenient. Some might prefer it to owning a bike. They’ll happily plunk down the annual membership fee to save time and effort at check in.

Bike share works best when covering the shorter distances between dense groups of people and places. Imagine a Warehouse District resident untethering a bike and riding it to the Heinen’s at E. 9th and Euclid and you have the idea. It could replace the need to own and care for a bike for apartment dwellers and for serious cyclists who want to outsource their commuter-type bike.

Bike share also works in and around college campuses. Cleveland State University and Case/University Circle must be included early in Cleveland’s bike share roll out. Even though they are outside of the downtown core, they are essential to making bike share profitable because of the density of students who will replace trips in a car or on the bus with a bike. As this study of Washington, D.C.'s Capital Bike Share shows, shop and dine districts in and around town/gown locales are trip generators for bike share. It’s just way more fun to plan a date with bike share when compared to riding the bus.

The model that Cleveland is likely to follow is Columbus and Cincinnati where a downtown boom has fueled tremendous interest in bike share as a new form of public transportation. Columbus and Cincy started with 300 bikes and 30 stations with capital costs of $2 million each—both are already planning expansions. The annual membership fee of Columbus' CoGo system is $75. It would take years of bike share membership to reach the cost of a new or vintage bike.

But, first, Cleveland needs to reach the density of at least four stations per square mile that the Cleveland Bike Share Feasibility Study called for. That will cover lot of downtown and leave enough bikes to deploy in destinations like Ohio City and Gordon Square. With the proper funding, Cleveland could establish a crucial hub in University Circle, with its own satellite destinations like Coventry and Larchmere.

An issue in Cleveland is the Zagster pilot. It has piqued the interest but left a number of institutions and companies standing on the sideline waiting for another year as the details of citywide bike share RFP and implementation plan get sorted. A few places, like University Circle, Inc. and the Cleveland Metroparks, understand the importance of a network to prove the concept of bike share, and are expecting to add Zagster stations on Wade Oval and Edgewater Beach this year. In conversations with other University Circle institutions, they are ready to invest, but are hesitating about investing in a pilot.

The sooner Cleveland decides on who wins the citywide bike share contract, the better. The interest is there—waiting to see where it all goes.

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Randy A. Simes
5 years ago

For what it's worth, both Columbus and Cincinnati have already expanded their systems. CoGo now has 41 stations and Cincinnati's Red Bike has 50. Both are currently planning expansions on top of that. Plus, Columbus has the weird situation of Ohio State launching their own on-campus bike-share system operated separately from CoGo.

Matt Kuhns
5 years ago

I would add that in a region like ours, where biking year-round means months of exposure to salty, salty water and slush, letting someone else manage the consequences of this has a certain attraction.

5 years ago

What's the hold up with the RFP? Seems like the plan has been done for awhile.

IMO, you get what you pay for. I'm hoping for B-Cycle. Zagster is too cumbersome and they have never run a citywide bike share. Also equity is key part of Cleveland Bike Share and I don't think having a cellphone/app required to use Zagster fits with equity. Also, the last time I used Zagster the rack was completely full and there was nowhere nearby to bike to and no way to communicate that back to Zagster.

I don't understand how we can get millions for public square renovation no problem but not for bike share!

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