Charlotte is home to arguably the best bike race in the nation with the criterium that buzzes through uptown each year. But community planners had a different kind of biking in mind last year when they set out to become a city of bikes.
The Center City 2020 Vision Plan included that goal. Today, organizers will announce the launch of a bike sharing program the first in North Carolina, they say that they hope will increase bike-riding, cut down on car trips and make Charlotteans healthier. Its an exciting addition to the city, but will have to overcome a lot to succeed.
Through Charlotte B-cycle, as it is known, 200 bicycles will be available at 20 racks in and around uptown. A member can check out a bike and ride it to his destination. With stations ranging from Freedom Park to Johnson C. Smith University and throughout uptown, dropping the bike off will be convenient.
Bike sharing is an increasingly popular feature in cities worldwide. Theres little not to like, in principle, about Charlottes operation, which is privately funded, mostly through a four-year sponsorship by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, as well as sponsorships from Carolinas Healthcare and Verizon.
If it takes off, Charlotte B-cycle could take a few cars off the road, improving traffic and air quality. It could nudge Charlotte into becoming more public transit-oriented, by expanding the reach of the Lynx line and other transit options. And it could raise awareness about biking as a transportation mode, helping cyclists and drivers coexist and, in the long run, sparking design changes that make it easier to get around by bike.
So we hope it does take off. But it wont be easy.
The biggest obstacle might be cost. Organizers are charging $65 for an annual membership and $8 for a daily one (compared with Paris, for example, at about $2.50 a day). Then the first half-hour is free, but each half-hour after that is $4. Most people would keep their ride to less than 30 minutes, but even that would cost $8. A person who wants to use a bike for a couple of hours would pay $20 the $8 one-day sign-up fee, plus $12 for the time. Compare that to a much longer bus ride or Lynx trip.
We worry that cost will scare many potential users off. A program with the corporate sponsorship to allow it to be truly free for the first 30 minutes would have been far more attractive. Charlotte B-cycle will also require a credit card to release the bike a feature that will nearly eliminate theft but also is sure to further limit the clientele.
The program also is open only to those 18 and older, preventing parents from riding with their children.
In the end, this bike share program will be a real chicken-and-egg question for Charlotte. The city has grown for decades in a way that forces people to get around mostly by car. Sprawl, a lack of connectivity and a lack of bike lanes have made cycling treacherous. That will make it harder for Charlotte B-cycle to thrive. On the other hand, maybe this program is just what Charlotte residents need to better appreciate this mode of transportation, and make the changes we need to truly be a city of bikes.