Charlotte is about to get its first bike sharing system.
Several bike sharing stations were set up this week around uptown, including at the 7th Street LYNX station, and on Trade Street in front of the Omni Hotel near The Square. Workers were testing the system Tuesday afternoon, reports NewsChannel 36, the Observers news partner.
Bike sharing is a system in which people can pay a fee at a self-service kiosk to rent a bike for short trips.
This right here is cool, said Larry Davis, who was eyeing the new kiosk at 7th street station. Youve got easy access to the train, the bars and ImaginOn.
B-Cycle, which runs bike share programs in a dozen cities including Spartanburg, Houston and Kansas City, will run the program. The website for Charlottes bike share, charlottebcycle.com, was not online Tuesday, but a search revealed Charlotte Center City Partners as the sites owner. (The organization had no comment.)
An official announcement is set to come Thursday at noon from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and Charlotte Center City Partners.
At this point, its unclear how many bicycles or stations there would be in Charlotte, although each of the two stations we saw Tuesday had docks for more than a dozen bikes. Bikes can be checked out between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. but can be checked back in at any time.
I would use it, said Davis, who admits to being forgetful. I misplace my keys to padlocks. I sometimes forget combinations.
The bicycle being tested Tuesday included a basket and a bicycle lock. On its website, B-Cycle encourages helmets but does not provide them, saying it couldnt keep them clean. The company, a partnership between Trek Bicycle, Humana and Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, did not return a phone call Tuesday afternoon.
Bike sharing programs are already extremely popular worldwide, and starting to pick up some momentum in the United States. Hangzhou, China has the largest system, with 61,000 bicycles spread out among 2,400 bike stations. Paris has more than 20,000 bicycles available for sharing.
In its first year of operation, it reported more than 20 million trips made, and bicycle riding in that city has increased by more than 70 percent. New York City will launch a bike sharing program with 10,000 bikes later this month, which will make it by far the largest in the nation. Citibank and MasterCard are paying for the bicycles, while Alta Bicycle Share will manage the program. Washington, DC was the first city to launch bike sharing in the United States. Charlotte City Council studied that system, and a member of Capital Bikeshare made a presentation at a council meeting last August.
The programs arent necessarily profitable. An April U.S. News and World Report story on Capital Bikeshare pointed out that the company has lost money since its launch in September 2010, and that one of the biggest costs involves the trucking of bikes from full stations to empty ones. Chicago and Washington, DC launched their programs with the help of federal grants. New York and Los Angeles are trying to do so without taxpayer money.
Its unclear whos paying for Charlottes system, although three-fourths of Center City Partners funding comes from a special property tax levied on the uptown and South End areas. Its also not clear when the bike share system will be up and running.
Denver launched a test bike sharing program ahead of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and St. Paul tried the same thing during the 2008 Republican convention. Charlotte will host the 2012 DNC in September.
Charlotte has made an effort to be more bike-friendly over the last few years. The city currently has 65 miles of bike lanes. In 2003, it only had one miles worth.
But last month, City Council made budget cuts that got rid of a plan for a cross-city bike path from Central Piedmont Community College to University City. Bicycling is allowed on most sidewalks, although some in uptown are off-limits to cyclists