“The bike lady” doesn’t own a car. And the only bike she owns has a flat tire and permanently decorates a wall in a local wine shop. But “the bike lady” cycles almost everywhere she goes.
Dee Ann Willbee is a bike sharer – one of hundreds who use Charlotte B-Cycle bikes every week to travel in and around uptown.
“I use B-Cycle because it is an affordable and fun way to get from point A to point B,” Willbee said. “For me, a bike ride truly is the best way to begin and end my day.”
The Charlotte B-Cycle bike-sharing program turns a year old this week.
Nearly 500 annual memberships exceeded the program’s expectations by 40 percent, and the more than 11,000 one-day riders surpassed expectations by a whopping 1,600 percent, said Dianna Ward, the program’s executive director. The bikes have made 32,000 trips in a year.
“We’re thrilled at how the first year has ended up,” Ward said.
The program launched Aug. 1, 2012, with 200 bikes available at 20 stations throughout uptown and surrounding neighborhoods.
Last week, the 21st station opened near the New Bern light rail station in South End. By this time next year, Ward said, the program hopes to operate 25 or more bike stations.
Downtown development group Charlotte Center City Partners runs the program. Private funding from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Carolinas HealthCare System and Verizon covers the majority of the program’s costs, which included around $850,000 in start-up costs and operational costs between $300,000 and $400,000 for fiscal year 2013.
Membership fees go back into running the program. In the first year, that income amounted to more than $121,000 from annual, one-day and student memberships, not including overage fees. Memberships account for one-third of the program’s annual funding, said Lelia King, a spokeswoman for Center City Partners.
Benefits of biking
The bike-sharing program has been a useful addition to the city’s transit options, said Ken Tippette, manager of the Charlotte Department of Transportation Bicycle Program, which is not involved in B-Cycle operations.
Tippette rides a bus into the city every day, then rides a B-Cycle bike from the bus stop to his office.
“I think it’s a wonderful addition to the city’s infrastructure,” he said. “People are seeing the B-Cycle kind of like a taxi – you use it only when you need it, park it, then get another one. It’s there when you need it.”
The benefits of biking range from saving money on gasoline costs to becoming more physically fit to reducing air pollution and roadway congestion, Tippette said.
Willbee lives and works uptown and uses B-Cycle bikes at least six days a week, sometimes more than four times a day, earning her the “bike lady” moniker. She rides the bikes to get almost anywhere she needs to go in the city, whether it’s commuting between her home and office, entertaining clients in South End or getting to a doctors appointment at Carolinas Medical Center.
She’s made friends all along Tryon Street as she rings her bike bell and wishes “good morning” to people on her daily commute to the office.
Her daily bike rides are an easy way for her to stay in shape, Willbee said, not to mention save space in her small apartment by not having to store a bike.
And as a bonus: “These B-Cycles ride like a Cadillac,” Willbee said.
‘It’s going to be contagious’
Bike-sharing is a transportation trend on the upswing across the nation, with major cities like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles catching on just in the past year. Charlotte B-Cycle is North Carolina’s only public bike-sharing program.
“This is an amenity that people ... are coming to expect,” Ward said. “We tout the fact that a lot of people are coming into the city of Charlotte, and when you look at the cities they’re coming from, many have a bike-share.”
Charlotte is one of 18 cities in the national B-Cycle network, which includes programs in Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C., which have six and four B-Cycle stations, respectively.
In Nashville, a city similar in size to Charlotte that launched its B-Cycle program last December, there are 21 bike stations with 195 bikes. And in San Antonio, another similarly sized city, 42 stations operate with 472 bikes.
“Charlotte is an example of a major Southeastern city that has taken the bike-share challenge and become an example (to other cities),” Ward said. “It’s going to be contagious.”
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