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B-Cycle

Austin to get bike sharing

About time, y’all.

City Council will vote Thursday on a five-year contract with a newly formed nonprofit organization, Bike Share of Austin, to operate the system.

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization awarded Austin a $1.5 million grant last summer that would fund most of the project. Bike Share of Austin, the only organization that applied for an operating contract, would provide $500,000 in matching funds. Officials hope memberships, grants and sponsorships will sustain the system, which they say would cost about $225,000 a year to operate.

Proponents say bike sharing would ease traffic congestion, help close transit gaps in the bus and rail systems, offer an alternative to single-occupancy vehicles and improve users’ health.

“This is no longer one of those things that’s out on the edge. It’s becoming a fairly standard part of transportation infrastructure for cities,” said Council Member Chris Riley.

Bike-share programs operate in about 20 U.S. cities — including San Antonio, Denver, Miami and Washington — and more than 400 cities worldwide. Houston and Fort Worth are putting in systems, too. Most municipalities team with a nonprofit or private-sector partner for operations.

Houston of course already has a system, which as we know is about to be expanded. I’m one part amused and one part amazed that it’s taken as long as it has for this to come to Austin given its overall proclivity for biking, but hey, you never know.

Austin’s plans call for 40 stations and 400 bicycles. If approved, the system could launch as soon as late spring or summer.

Exact station sites haven’t been set, but they would be focused in downtown and popular destinations such as Zilker Park, said Adrian Lipscombe of Austin’s Public Works Department, which would implement the program. Stations would be an average of two or three blocks apart.

[…]

Austin is hillier than downtown San Antonio, though, and some have questioned whether users can handle the 40-pound bikes on the city’s rolling terrain. Some downtown streets are not what many would consider beginner-friendly, either. But proponents say the city’s young workforce and mild climate make it a perfect fit.

San Antonio’s pretty hilly overall, though, and I don’t know that its downtown streets are any beginner-friendlier than Austin’s. I’m sure Austin will take to this just fine. Took ’em long enough, that’s for sure.

Here comes that B-Cycle expansion

Excellent.

Houston’s bike-sharing program downtown is getting a boost from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, city officials announced Wednesday.

The insurance company will contribute $750,000 to expand the B-Cycle system from three stations and 18 bikes to 24 stations and about 200 bikes, the city said in a news release.

“Bike Share is a great new transportation program for Houston and with the support of BCBSTX we are able to expand our pilot into a thriving program, providing a real commuter and recreational transportation option for workers, residents and visitors, improving health and quality of life,” Mayor Annise Parker said in the release.

The partnership could accelerate the program, which has been delayed by slow movement on permits and federal grant agreements. The U.S. Department of Energy is another major sponsor of the program, via a grant.

With the expansion, officials believe the system could generate about 25,000 trips annually, a roughly 12-fold increase from the current use.

[…]

“We hope this investment will help Houston children and families, not only find more convenient transportation, but get healthy and stay healthy through increased, fun physical activity,” said Bert Marshall, president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, in a news release.

The Mayor’s press release is here, the full Chron story is here, and my previous updates on Houston B-Cycle are here and here. Click on the story link to see a map of the forthcoming B-Cycle kiosk locations. You’ll be very well covered downtown, and there are other useful locations as well. I expect the college campuses will be next in line, most likely via a similar partnership, and beyond that I’d like to see further expansion along the new rail lines and into the Washington Avenue corridor, which might even help a bit with the parking situation there. Longer term, I hope they’ll look at Upper Kirby and the Uptown/Galleria area, neither of which are terribly bike-friendly (though I’m sure there are things that can be done to ameliorate that) but both of which also have nasty traffic and parking problems that can use all the help they can get. It could hardly take longer to bike from Richmond to San Felipe along Post Oak than to drive it, and you can literally park by the front door of your destination if you pedal it. Once funding is available, that’s got to be a no-brainer. Anyway, this is great to see. Expansion launches in March, so it ought to be done by the time my office moves downtown in May. I’m very much looking forward to taking advantage of this.

More on the status of Houston’s bike sharing

From the Chron’s paysite:

The expansion is a few months behind schedule, said Laura Spanjian, Houston’s sustainability director. She said federal reviews required under the $116,000 grant to start the bike-sharing program, and state historic preservation approvals for the locations, have proceeded more slowly than expected. The program, run by a nonprofit, Houston Bike Share, also is waiting to secure city permits for the installations.

Despite the delay, supporters plan to offer 175 bicycles at 23 locations by mid-2013, said Will Rub, director of Houston Bike Share. By then the program should annually generate more than 25,000 checkouts and have more than 15,000 members, Rub said.

So far, with 18 bikes at the three downtown stations, 1,200 people have checked out a bike for around 2,000 uses, Rub said.

Compared to cities with more robust programs, the numbers are small. But organizers said they are pleased with what three downtown stations have generated.

“You really have got to have the activity of multiple locations to inspire people to use it as part of their commute,” Rub said.

[…]

The 2013 expansion of the system will tie it to more transit stops and to destinations outside downtown such as Midtown, Montrose and spots east of downtown, particularly around the BBVA Compass Stadium and growing entertainment area.

Spanjian said she hoped future expansions of the system would include stations in the Texas Medical Center and on the campuses of local colleges. “They all want stations,” she said. “And we’d like to give them to them.”

So there you have it. Just remember, you read most of it here first.

San Antonio B-Cycle expands again

I’m truly impressed at how successful this has been.

San Antonio’s newest B-Cycle bike sharing stations opened Friday at six new locations around South San Antonio.

The new stations — located at Roosevelt Park, Concepcion Park, Mission Concepcion, Mission Road Street Connection, VFW River Trail Access and Mission San Jose — provide yet another way for residents and visitors to explore the ever-expanding Mission Reach and the San Antonio missions.

[…]

[B-Cycle CEO Bob Burns] said since B-Cycle came to San Antonio 64,000 trips have been logged, accounting for around 164,000 miles traveled.

Julia Diana, special projects manager for San Antonio’s office of sustainability, said B-Cycle now boasts 30 locations throughout the city and about 280 bikes.

Diana added San Antonio is now the second-largest B-Cycle city in the U.S., behind only Denver.

If you click over to San Antonio B-Cycle, you have to zoom out on the embedded Google map of their locations to see them all. It’s really remarkable. And they’re not done yet.

The City Council on Thursday will consider a $1 million expansion of San Antonio B-cycle, one that would add 15 stations to the bike share program by fall 2013.

If approved, the program would grow from 30 to 45 stations next year and include kiosks as far north as the San Antonio Zoo, and a handful more downtown.

A new cluster would occupy points up Broadway, at the zoo and Brackenridge Park.

“That (stretch) is already very well-traveled, by locals and visitors alike who use Avenue B,” B-cycle executive director Cindi Snell said. “People are going there already. They just don’t have a place to park when they get there.”

More stations are planned for the downtown core.

“We’re looking at filling in the downtown area and the central core of the city, and that creates the ability for the system to expand outward to other areas of the city,” said W. Laurence Doxsey, director of the city’s Office of Environmental Policy.

Very cool. As always, seeing stories like this makes me want to check in on how Houston B-Cycle is doing. Back in August, I noted that it was due for an expansion in October, but I had not heard anything about that since then, and the map on Houston’s B-Cycle page still only shows the three original locations. So I sent an inquiry to Laura Spanjian, and this is what she sent me:

B-Cycle DATA
First Six Months of Program

Current Program – 3 stations and 18 bicycles that were funded by an EPA Clean Air grant that was secured by the City of Houston’s Office of Sustainability. The grant provided approximately $116,000 to establish the initial program.

Memberships – Over 1,200 members with a majority coming from single day riders.

Checkouts – Over 2,000 bike checkouts in first 6 months averaging almost 300 checkouts per month. Market Square has the most check-outs, followed by City Hall and the GRB.

Costs – Current operating expenses are being covered by revenue from memberships, rentals and sponsorships.

Bikes and Stations – The technology has been very dependable with less than 1% downtime. And the bikes have held up very well with only a handful of flat tires and minor repairs over the first 6 months. Bike Barn is providing the mechanical support and administering the maintenance of the bicycles.

Expansion – There is a planned expansion of the program starting in early spring 2013. The goal is to have 175 bikes and 23 stations in downtown, mid-town and Montrose. With this density, the program should generate over 25,000 checkouts and a membership base of over 15,000. The expansion has been delayed due to reviews and approvals taking longer than expected: Department of Energy review and approval, federal review (National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) approval) and state and local Historic Preservation review. We also are working on City of Houston permitting approvals for each of the additional locations.

So there you have it. I’ll keep an eye out for further updates in the spring.

Houston Bike Share set to expand

Cool

The plan has always been to expand the program, and Laura Spanjian, Mayor Annise Parker’s sustainability director, first alluded to a search for new locations in early June.

“We’re going to have about 20 new kiosks and about 205 new bikes,” Spanjian now tells CultureMap. That would bring the total to approximately 225 bicycles inside of the Loop.

Spanjian says that the expansion, which was made possible through grant funding, will bring B-cycle sites to high-density neighborhoods with big office buildings and apartment complexes.

Come October, expect to see another 10 downtown kiosks, plus a few each in Midtown, the Museum District and Montrose. A leftover kiosk may be granted to the burgeoning East End.

I inquired with Spanjian about this and was told that so far there are 650 members in Houston B-Cycle and over a thousand check-outs at the three downtown kiosks, not too bad for our wet summer. There will be a full array of stats and numbers relating to the program around the time of the expansion in October. I don’t spend much time downtown but I did see a few people riding by on those easily recognizable bikes on the western end of the Buffalo Bayou trail near Shepherd a few days ago. I expect to see a lot more of them in the fall.

Laura Spanjian – From Industrial to Green Revolution: The New Houston

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Laura Spanjian

Bike Share kiosks in downtown. Electric vehicle charging stations at the grocery store. Over 15 miles of new rail lines being constructed. Wind turbines and solar on rooftops. Solar-powered mini-offices at schools and parks. E-cycling and polystyrene foam recycling. Urban gardens surrounding office buildings. LEED-certified historic buildings. Complete Streets in urban neighborhoods. Accessible and recreation-oriented bayous.

What City is this you ask?

The New Houston.

Innovation, creativity and a black gold rush spirit dominated industrial Houston at the turn of the last century – putting Houston on the map as an economic leader.

Today, Houston is at an historic juncture. Decision-drivers for the city and the region are no longer only economic. There is an emerging recognition that the city has the building blocks to be one of the most livable, equitable and sustainable places in the nation, and lead the next revolution: the green revolution.

What are these building blocks? Recently, Forbes Magazine placed Houston as the number one city for young professionals. And young professionals drive innovation and use new thinking to solve old issues. Houston has a business-friendly environment and a plethora of large companies conducting business in new ways. Houston has high average incomes and a concentration of graduates from elite colleges from across the country. Also, for the first time in thirty years, the Kinder Houston Area Study revealed a significant increase in the number of residents who support mass transit and prefer a less automobile-dependent, more urbanized lifestyle. And Mayor Annise Parker’s forward-thinking and innovative approaches and initiatives are putting Houston on the map as a national green leader.

What’s most exciting about Houston is that few people think it will lead the green revolution. But this sleeping giant is starting to awaken. Houstonians love a good challenge and love to save money.

At the turn of the last century, rich resources made Houston a national economic leader. At the turn of this century, rich resources will do the same. Texas has, by far, the largest installed wind power capacity of any U.S. state. The City of Houston capitalized on this and has been recognized by the EPA as the number one municipal purchaser of green power and the seventh largest overall purchaser in the nation.

The City has a robust partnership with the University of Houston’s College of Architecture’s Green Building Components Program. Their innovative faculty has designed the first movable solar powered office/generator, and the City, through a grant, has purchased 17 of these units for emergency preparedness and other uses. Houston also recently received two large grants to reduce the cost of solar for residents and test out new types of rooftop solar technology.

Houston Green Office Challenge

Houston does not only create cleaner ways to use energy, Houston actually uses less energy. The City knows about energy efficiency: over 80 City facilities are expected to achieve guaranteed energy use reductions of 30% with paybacks of, on average, less than ten years.

The City also wants energy efficiency to be part of the urban fabric of Houston. Through our Residential Energy Efficiency Program (REEP), led by the General Services Department, the City has helped 13k Houston residents weatherize their homes, resulting in 12-20% kWh reduction and $60-125 savings each month. On the commercial side, the award-winning Houston Green Office Challenge and the City’s partnership in the DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge are encouraging building owners and property managers to find innovative measures to reduce their energy and water consumption and decrease waste.

We also know that equally important to encouraging high performing buildings is looking at our codes. In January 2012, the City, with leadership from the Public Works and Engineering Department, set the bar high by adopting the Houston Residential Energy Code. This code makes Houston’s standards 5% above the state code for residential energy efficiency standards, and also requires all new residential buildings to be solar ready. And Houston is poised to adopt another 5% increase above state code this year.

It’s not just about energy efficiency. Houston also embraces green buildings. Currently Houston is number four in the nation in the number of LEED certified buildings with 186 certified projects. That’s up from #7 just a year ago.

One of the most impressive pieces of the green revolution is the emphasis on public transportation and new transportation technologies. Under the leadership of METRO, Houston will soon have three new rail lines, adding over 15 miles to the system.

Houston is at the forefront of the electric car movement. Houston was one of the first cities to receive EV cars for a City fleet, which now includes 40 Nissan Leafs and plug-in hybrids. And with partners such as NRG launching the first private investment in public EV charging infrastructure, Houston is leading in electric vehicle readiness.

In addition to electric, CNG is offering cleaner, cheaper fuel for additional options: In a partnership with Apache, the Airport’s new parking shuttles at IAH are being powered by natural gas.

With the launch of Houston B-cycle, the City’s bike share program is now a reality with 3 stations and 18 bikes in downtown, with $1 million in committed funding to grow to 20 stations and 225 bikes by the fall of 2012. This grant-funded program offers a transportation alternative for citizens and will help address pollution issues, traffic congestion, and rising oil costs.

And the City, under the leadership of the Houston Parks Board and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, recently won a $15 million highly competitive U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2012 TIGER grant. This project will assist in eliminating gaps in Houston’s bike grid: the project includes building 7.5 miles of off-street shared-use paths, 2.8 miles of sidewalks, and 7.9 miles of on-street bikeways.

And the dream and vision behind the Bayou Greenway project is becoming more of a reality. This proposed linear park system is unrivaled in its breadth and scope.

Finally, sustainability must encompass urban agriculture. The City Gardens and Farmers Market Initiative supports urban gardens and markets: the City has planted numerous new vegetable gardens (some of which are highlighted in First Lady Michele Obama’s new book, American Grown) and, with its partner Urban Harvest, has encouraged the sale and purchase of local food by starting a weekly farmers market at City Hall, with over 40 vendors.

In addition, the Mayor’s Council on Health and the Environment created an obesity task force to look at the importance of healthy eating and exercise. The Healthy Houston initiative will review and implement sustainable food policies for Houston to create work, school, and neighborhood environments conducive to healthier eating and increased physical activity. And under the leadership of Councilmember Stephen Costello, Houston is working to minimize food deserts and increase food access.

These initiatives are helping to make Houston a growing, thriving, modern, green city of the future, a destination for visitors, a magnet for new residents and a city well positioned in the global market.

The New Houston is here, and it’s on a roll.

Laura Spanjian is the Sustainability Director for the City of Houston. Learn more at http://www.greenhoustontx.gov, http://www.facebook.com/greenhoustontx and http://www.twitter.com/greenhoustontx.

The B-Cycle era begins

At long last, Houston’s B-Cycle program officially kicked off last week.

Mayor Annise Parker, an occasional bicyclist, called the federally-funded program “a quick, easy alternative to being stuck in traffic or walking long distances in downtown.” She said the bicycles may help familiarize residents with downtown, an area she said many still consider “foreign territory.”

Mobility alternatives

Bike Houston Chairman Darren Sabom said the new program may help dispel Houston’s national reputation as an uncongenial, sprawling metropolis.

“People want to live, work, play and eat close to one another and not be in their car as much,” city sustainability director Laura Spanjian said, citing a recent Rice University study that found most respondents wanted to live in compact, walkable communities. “The love affair with the car is finally over, and providing alternatives to help people get around in the urban environment will be increasingly important.”

She said plans call for establishing stations, possibly connected to the light rail system, in the Museum District, Hermann Park and the medical center. Stations also may be located on Washington Avenue, in Houston Heights and at area businesses, she said.

The bikes are equipped with baskets, locks and lights and are easily adjustable to accommodate the height of riders. Users are encouraged to wear helmets, which can be purchased at City Hall’s visitor center. Patrons may access the bicycles from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Daily membership can be purchased at a station or online at www.houston.bcycle.com; weekly and annual memberships are available only through the website.

With membership, the first 90 minutes of each ride are free. A rider returning a bike after 90 minutes may immediately check it out again for another free 90-minute ride. Rides longer than 90 minutes, however, incur an additional charge of $2 per half hour. A smartphone app is available for riders to locate stations and determine whether bikes or dock openings are available.

I’ll be very interested to see what the membership numbers look like in a few months. If this has been a hit in San Antonio there’s no reason it can’t do well here. Putting a few stations near rail stops is a good idea, too. Two weeks ago, I had to take my car in for service. The mechanic we use is near where Montrose meets Midtown, so I figured I’d take my bike with me and ride from the shop to the light rail stop at McGowen and get to work that way. Which was a great plan until I was reminded that you can’t take your bike onto a train during peak hours, so I had to sit and cool my heels till 9 AM. A B-Cycle option would have worked better for me. Maybe next time.

As for Houston’s potential as a bike city, here’s a visitor’s view of the lay of the land.

“Houston is the sleeper — the next big bicycle city that nobody knows about yet,” Tom McCasland told us on Thursday.

I was, of course, skeptical. My impression of Houston so far was all potholes, unpredictable driving, the chaotic geography of a city without zoning, and only a few sightings of hardy bicyclists. A conversation the night before with our host, a bike advocate, hadn’t altered that impression much. Besides, aren’t Southern cities, big and grey and built for cars, supposed to be harder to “green”?

But McCasland offered to take us on a bike ride to prove his point, and Joe and I weren’t about to turn him down. While Joshua cooked up some magic in the basement of Georgia’s Market (downtown’s only, if fancy, grocery store), we set off.

The thing that sets Houston up for success, McCasland told us as we drove out of downtown, is that the business community, including the oil companies and airlines that are the city’s biggest employers, is all for it. Quality of life is the reason, a lure for energetic, young new hires. As things currently stand, “it’s a tough sell to bring people here.” But there’s hope, in the form of cheap right of way around the city’s many bayous and a plan to transform an existing piecemeal trail system into a world class bicycling network.

Link via Hair Balls, where John Nova Lomax writes about his experiences bike commuting into downtown. These folks explored the not-yet-connected junction between the MKT and White Oak bike trails (among other places), which will eventually make a whole lot more of the city accessible by bike from downtown. Houston’s flatness may make it less visually interesting, but it’s a huge asset from a bike-riding perspective. And yes, it’s really hot here three months out of the year, but the flipside of that is that it’s generally pretty nice the other nine months. The weather here is a lot more bike-conducive than it is in, say, Minneapolis, the bike-friendly city to which the author of that piece compared us. The potential is there, I just hope we use it. We have a two month head start on New York, if nothing else. Swamplot has more, and there’s more on the B-Cycle rollout from Dale Robertson.

Bike sharing is officially almost here

From Citizens Net:

Beginning Wednesday, May 2, 2012, Houston will be one of only 15 U.S. cities to launch a bike share program to make getting around downtown a whole lot easier. The bike share program, known as Houston B-cycle, is perfect for trips that are too far to walk but too short to drive.

Houston’s initial phase will include three stations and 18 bikes and will demonstrate the potential of bike share in Houston. Houston B-cycle will initially be available at City Hall, the George R. Brown Convention Center and Market Square Park. The self-service bike B-Cycle Station will be available from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day. Bikes can be checked out during these hours and dropped back off at the same location or any other B-cycle station. The bikes can be ridden anywhere and locked up even if no kiosk is available.

Houston B-cycle is a membership-driven bike share system requiring a minimum age of 18 to join. Memberships are available by day, week or year. All members have unlimited access to the bikes. With a paid membership, the first 90 minutes are free. All memberships start at the time of your first bike use, not the day and time you purchased the membership. Riders are encouraged to wear their own helmets.

Houston’s program will be managed and operated by the nonprofit Houston Bike Share, which has the mission to implement, expand and operate a Houston-based bike share program that will be environmentally friendly, financially sustainable and affordable. For the first year of the pilot program, Bike Barn will donate maintenance for the B-Cycle Stations and Bikes. The program is sponsored by the City of Houston, Bike Barn, BikeHouston, Downtown District and Houston First Corporation.

For more information, memberships and maps visit www.bcycle.com, email Lisa Lin at [email protected] or call 832.393.0850.

The Houston B-Cycle page now has some stuff on it. This whole thing has taken longer than I thought it would, but better late than never. Let’s hope it’s as successful as San Antonio has been.

San Antonio B-Cycle keeps on growing

It’s very cool to watch.

[B-cycle and city officials announced] plans to add three bicycle stations in April, at HemisView Village apartments, the San Antonio Housing Authority park on South Flores Street, and the 1221 Broadway apartments, said Cindi Snell, executive director of San Antonio B-cycle and co-owner of Bike World. That will bring the total number of stations to 23, with 230 bicycles in circulation.
The program started with 14 stations.

By the year’s end, B-cycle may add five to seven more bicycle stations near the Spanish colonial missions south of downtown, thanks to a federal parks grant. B-cycle is seeking $50,000 to $60,000 in donations to outfit the mission stations with bicycles because the grant covers only the stations, Snell said.

To date, 1,069 people have signed up for annual B-cycle memberships, Snell said, slightly shy of the goal of 1,200 in the first year.

More than 6,700 people have bought the $10, 24-hour passes, with 876 sold this month alone — the highest in a single month since the program began.

San Antonio now has the second busiest B-cycle program in the country, behind Denver, she said.

“I feel like that there’s a really an emerging bike culture in San Antonio, like we’ve never seen this before,” Snell said.

The SA Business Journal adds on:

The primary goal for 2012, say San Antonio officials, is to expand the bike share program beyond the existing 20 stations throughout downtown San Antonio and to connect riders with other key points of interest in surrounding areas.

“B–Cycle members have embraced this program and we can’t wait to see how much more we can do in the upcoming year,” Snell says.

Mayor Julian Castro says San Antonio was the first city in Texas to implement a modern bike-share program.

“San Antonio is leading the way in showing how quickly cycling can be accepted as a legitimate, everyday transportation option,” he says.

They’re way ahead in Texas, that’s for sure. The Houston B-Cycle page is still “coming soon”, while Austin still isn’t listed as a participating city. You have to figure that if they can be successful in San Antonio they can be successful elsewhere. Got to get the programs up and running first, however.

On a tangential note, the Press’ Eating Our Words blog has some bike-related news of interest:

3. We started an organization, called OKRA – An Organization Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs – which is actively pursuing initiatives that will lead to reduced on-street parking in our city. I was going to release a press release on this next week, but here you go anyway. We’re going to start providing complimentary bike racks to small restaurants and bars inside the loop, at our cost, to encourage alternative transportation in Houston. This is for OTHER restaurants and bars, not our own, which already have bike parking.

That’s from an email by Bobby Heugel, co-owner of Hay Merchant, in response to a story about complaints about valet parking in the neighborhood. Heugel has been one of the more vocal people giving feedback of the proposed revisions to the Off Street Parking ordinance. He’s clearly putting some money where his mouth is, which I respect. Especially now that the weather’s nice, I like to bike where possible to things in the neighborhood instead of drive precisely because it makes parking a non-issue. Makes the amenities nearby that much more amenable. For a lot of places, when you take the time and effort to park out of the equation, it’s probably just as quick to get there via pedal power.

More on Bike Share Houston

Here’s the Chron story on the Council vote to get bike sharing in Houston off the ground.

The plan for the so-called Bike Share Houston program is to intrigue residents and visitors with the technology, then raise funds to install additional locations. The effort is modeled after one started last spring in San Antonio.

The Alamo City now has 20 bike share kiosks at such destinations as the Alamo, Hemisfair, La Villita, the city’s convention center and central library. About 1,000 San Antonio residents have purchased yearly memberships in the program since the first bikes rolled in April.

Bike Share Houston – a joint project of the city, Bike Barn and the nonprofit Bike Houston organization – will begin with kiosks at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Market Square and downtown’s Central Library.

Kim Burley, deputy assistant director of the city’s fleet management department, said the contractor, B-Cycle LLC, will have 120 days to get the system up and running. The company also installed San Antonio’s system and those in Chicago, Denver and other cities.

Bike Houston president Darren Sabom said the three kiosks and their 18 bikes are designed to show Houston residents how the system works. Ultimately, with the help of donors and grants, additional kiosks may be added at select light rail stops and other locations.

Such a network of kiosks could help residents and visitors navigate the Rice University campus, Hermann Park, the Museum District and the Texas Medical Center.

“After stepping off a bus or train, it would fill the gap of the last five blocks of your trip,” Sabom said.

Obviously, the goal will be to get this out to other locations as soon as possible. Things that I can think of to help achieve that goal will be promotion, highlighting bike-friendly routes near and between kiosk locations, and in the longer term street improvements. We should be thinking about locations that could be a good fit for this as well, such as the Washington corridor and the Upper Kirby area, where it might be nice to leave your car in one place and use a bike to get to other destinations. I’m sure there are other possibilities, including some that won’t be apparent until people start using it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes, and to using it myself.

Council approves B-Cycle, and other bike news

One other item that Council approved on its last day of business for the year was to clear the way for the city to start up bike sharing with B-cycle. As you know, I’ve been following this along, and am delighted to see this milestone. I look forward to the official launch, hopefully some time soon.

Meanwhile, two weeks ago there was a story about TxDOT closing the White Oak Bayou Hike and Bike Trail between Ella and 34th streets while there is construction on the service road for 610 North at East TC Jester. The closure was scheduled for two years, without an alternate route that bicyclists thought was adequate. Fortunately, after meeting with bike activists, TxDOT made some changes to accommodate riders a little better. I’ve been meaning to get over there and take some pictures but just haven’t had the chance. Anyone here have experience with what’s going on at this location?

Finally, Metro announced that the Columbia Tap Trail, which had been affected by the Southeast Line construction, has been reopened. Metro had maintained a detour for this trail while construction was ongoing, but it’s good to have it back. May there be many more bits of good bike news in the new year.

Bike sharing comes to New York

You’d have thought – or at least, I’d have thought – that New York City would have been a very early adopter of bike sharing. Turns out they’re just getting started now.

At a press conference [last Wednesday] afternoon, the Department of Transportation announced that it has selected Portland-based Alta Bicycle Share, which runs similar programs in Boston and Washington D.C.

New York is kind of late to the bike-share game — European cities have been on this tip forever, and U.S. cities from Boston and D.C. to Madison, Minneapolis, and Chicago already have programs in place.

But New York will be the biggest bike-share yet. When it makes its debut next summer, New York City Bike Share will include 10,000 new bicycles at 600 locations, more than any other program in the world.

The rental stands will be placed about three blocks apart, throughout Manhattan below 79th Street and in the nearer reaches of Brooklyn.

Mindful of the recent grumblings about its ambitious bike-lane expansions, the Department of Transportation is promising to solicit lots of input before it selects locations for the rental stands.

Last week the DOT promised City Council it will consult the Council and hold public hearings as it goes forward. New Yorkers can also give their own suggestions for a bike-share location on the program’s web site.

There’s a video at the story that explains the basics. Speaking as a native Staten Islander, all I can say is that I hope they expand this beyond “Manhattan below 79th Street and in the nearer reaches of Brooklyn”. Oddly enough, the streets of Manhattan are crowded enough that I don’t know how they’ll be to an influx of presumably novice bicyclists. I also wonder if the effect will be more to reduce bus and subway ridership rather than to take cars off the street. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Also fixing to hop on board the bike sharing bandwagon – Dallas.

Absolutely, says the city’s top bicycle planner, Max Kalhammer.

The 2011 Dallas Bike Plan, approved in June by the Dallas City Council to mixed reviews, calls for just such a program, with a half-dozen bike centers located in downtown, he said. Private firms willing to operate a bike share program have already visited him, and interest is strong.

But first, he said, Dallas has to implement the first stages of the bike plan — which would add hundreds of miles of bike lanes — so that those who want to use the bikes, or use their own, can do so safely and have plenty of places to go.

“We have to really have the bicycle infrastructure in place before we can offer that program of bicycle sharing,” Kalhammer said. “One has to come before the other.”

Most importantly, the city is looking for about $500,000 in grant money to complete the Central Core Connector, a series of on-street improvements central Dallas that planners hope will make bicycling easier and safer for residents and tourists from Uptown to Deep Ellum, downtown and Oak Cliff.

[…]

How would the city’s bike share program work?

The bike plan envisions two possible scenarios. One would involve bringing in a firm, as New York has done, to manage the program in return for the right to collect fees from users. The monthly fee — pledged in NYC to be less than a monthly transit pass — would cover unlimited 24/7 access to, in New York’s case, the 10,000 bikes stationed throughout the city.

In Dallas, though, the program would start smaller, perhaps with about a half-dozen bike stations in downtown, though the plans call for expanding service to Deep Ellum and Oak Cliff over time.

The other scenario would involve the city managing the program.

Good for them. With San Antonio leading the way, and Houston and Austin to follow, our state’s on its way to being a lot more bike friendly.

Speaking of Houston, I was hoping to give an update on its Bike Share rollout, since it’s supposed to be up and running this fall. As it happens, Laura Spanjian was on vacation when the story about New York’s bike share program came out, and I have not been able to connect with her to ask for a status update. I will note that neither the Houston Bike Share Facebook page nor the Bike Share Houston webpage has been updated in recent months. When I hear something, I will let you know.

Bike sharing in London

Write On Metro notes the one-year anniversary of London’s bike sharing program.

In London’s first year of operating a bike-share program, it has proven so popular that riders can’t always find a bike, and when they finish their trip, often can’t find a docking station.

The program, Barclays Cycle Hire, has 6,000 bikes at docking stations throughout London, which users can unlock with a credit or debit card. The first 30 minutes are free to encourage short trips. Stats for the first year: 6 million trips, 12 thefts and fewer than 100 accidents, reports Transit Wire.

That latter link points to this Guardian story, which notes some of the successes and complaints about this program:

When Barclays Cycle Hire, London’s newest mass transit initiative, celebrates its first birthday at the end of the month, its unmistakable bicycles will have crisscrossed the capital 6 million times. If the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wanted to raise the profile of cycling then he has certainly succeeded – from the title sequence of The Apprentice to an endorsement from Arnold Schwarzenegger (“You can eat a few extra Wiener schnitzel and get away with it”), the so-called “Boris bikes” are impossible to miss. But has the scheme made a substantive difference to the lives of Londoners?

[…]

Not everyone has retained their affection for the scheme. “It is a very good idea but in practice it is unusable,” says Stephen Bayley, who was jury chair of the 2011 Brit Insurance Design awards, which actually gave Barclays Cycle Hire the transport prize. “I used it from nearly day one, but I gave up about three months ago when I had to go to nine different docking stations before I could park my bike, which took over an hour. It’s not a reliable transit system for working people, it’s an amusing curiosity for tourists.”

This is a recurring complaint. The bikes make 20,000 journeys a day, but in a relentlessly predictable pattern, with huge spikes during the morning rush hour at the major rail stations and then again, in reverse, as commuters dash back to catch their evening trains. The largest terminal, at Waterloo station, can house 126 bikes, but [Transport For London] admits it could have five times as many and still not satisfy demand. More frustrating, as Bayley discovered, is when you successfully hire a bike but cannot find a place to return it at your destination.

On a tour of the nerve centre for Barclays Cycle Hire, near King’s Cross, I raise the issue with Kulveer Ranger, Boris Johnson’s director of environment and digital London. “It’s true,” he says. “We can’t guarantee that you will be able to find a bike or be able to dock it. The bus network can carry 6.5 million people a day, the tube 4.5 million, but there are only a few thousand bikes, so not all Londoners are going to get them when they want them. If you have to make an urgent meeting, you’ve got to think, ‘This scheme does not do it for me.’ But it does work when I’m relaxed and I want to make a journey.”

Ranger can point to some notable successes, not least the fact that there have been fewer than 100 accidents and none of them serious. But a residual concern remains who is using the scheme: overwhelmingly white men aged between 25 and 44, many of whom earn more than £50,000 a year. For a scheme that has already cost £79m, with a further £45m for the extension to cover the Olympic Park next year, can we really justify this “posh-boy toy”? “If you look at the normal demographic for cycling, it’s exactly the same,” says Ranger. “But that will change as we move into year two or three and we see people getting comfortable with it.”

Worth keeping in mind, but I think that’s much less likely to be an issue in Houston, since we don’t have anything like London’s rail stations; Park and Ride buses from the suburbs are the closest equivalent, and they’re much lower volume and tend to take people right to their offices. Still, if peak demand far exceeds average demand, you’re going to have a problem with bike supply.

Quite a few American cities are getting on board with the bike sharing idea:

Last year, Washington, Chicago, Miami Beach, Denver and Des Moines, Iowa started bike-sharing programs. Boston and New York are scheduled to start programs later this summer.

Washington’s Capital Bikeshare, launched last September, has more than 1,100 bikes and 118 stations. So far, 500,000 rides have been logged. Capital Bikeshare was partially funded with a $4.8 million grant from the Department of Transportation, reports the Seattle Times.

Nice Ride in Minneapolis began last June and now has 700 bikes and more than 70 stations with more than 100,000 trips recorded in its first year. The city credits its success to the nature of the trips; 40 percent are city trips, which are less than three miles.

Add to that San Antonio, with Austin and Houston to follow. According to this story, after three months San Antonio’s B-Cycle program had 733 members who had totaled over 32,000 miles riding; it doesn’t say how many total trips were taken. It’s gotten both positive and not-so-positive reviews so far. Houston should be able to draw from a lot of other experiences when it rolls out its pilot program this August.

Austin wants to get on the bike sharing bandwagon

Good for them.

San Antonio became the first city in Texas to install a bike-share system last month, when it opened 14 B-cycle stations within a few miles of downtown.

Now Austin is considering spending about $1.8 million, plus operating costs of about $225,000 per year, to put in a similar system.

It would start with 30 stations and 300 bikes but could eventually expand to 70 stations with 700 bikes, said Annick Beaudet, head of the city’s Bicycle Program.

The city would apply for grant money to help cover costs. If Austin officials find a business model that will work, a bike-share system could be up and running within two years. Officials would work to make memberships, grants and possibly advertising sustain it.

You can read more about the San Antonio bike share program and about Houston’s efforts to set up a program of its own here. This story has a good overview of how this has worked in other American cities, including San Antonio, where it appears to be off to a good start. I wish Austin the best of luck in getting this going. On a related note, see Matt Yglesias and these two DCist posts for info on how bike sharing is working in the District of Columbia.

San Antonio bike share

I love the idea of B-Cycle, San Antonio’s new bike sharing program, I’m just not sure how well it will work.

“I think it will encourage faster infrastructure for bike lanes and all the things we need because suddenly it’s there, visitors will use it, and we need to make sure we can get around,” said Cindi Snell, executive director of San Antonio B-cycle and co-owner of Bike World, the local bike shop that won the contract from the city to run the new program.

This is also the first such bicycle-sharing program in Texas, a fact not lost on anyone Saturday.

“Yee haw,” Snell said. “We don’t ever do anything first. I’m just so excited that we have it before Austin.”

The city received stimulus funds, plus grant money for the program from the Energy Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bike World created a nonprofit called San Antonio Bike Share, which will administer B-cycle, a national bike-share program.

Bike World will maintain the bicycles and run the daily operations. The organization has hired a full-time operations manager who will monitor bike maintenance and ensure they are evenly distributed throughout the city, Snell said.

[…]

Bicycles, 140 total, will be distributed among 14 docking stations in or near downtown; all but one, at the UTSA Downtown Campus, are now open.

Users can rent the bicycles free for the first half-hour and $2 for each half-hour after that, or pay $10 and keep them 24 hours.

A seven-day membership is available for $24, and an annual pass costs $60 for adults and $48 for seniors or students.

I guess I’m thinking of it as a value proposition for the casual bike user. A decent new bike will run you a couple hundred dollars, or you can get a used bike pretty cheaply. I bought one a few weeks ago for $40. On the other hand, joining a program like this saves the hassle of looking for an affordable bike and won’t take up any space in your garage or apartment, so there is definitely some appeal. I wish them good luck with the effort.

When I read this story, I thought that Houston might have been a better fit for the trial run of this – we have a pretty decent bike infrastructure, and a lot of people living in the city’s inner core. Turns out I was right to think so – Houston is on the way to getting its own bike share program, thanks to a grant from the EPA that will help with the startup funds. Here’s a KUHF story and a Houston Tomorrow post about that. There’s also a Houston Bike Share Facebook page, though it’s not exactly overflowing with fans just yet. I wanted to know more, so I contacted Laura Spanjian with a few questions. Here’s what I learned:

– The City expects to have bike stations installed, electronic access system and customer website implemented, and bike sharing up and running by fall of 2011. This will begin with three stations at which five to seven bikes will be available, at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Market Square, and City Hall. Longer term, this will be extended to the rest of the city, with about 500 bikes available in all. A map of the pilot stations plus more information about how bike sharing works is here.

– In the meantime, logistical issues such as who will operate the bike share – in many cities, such as San Antonio, it’s handled by a non-profit – are being worked out. You can find out more details in this fact sheet Spanjian sent me.

– Houston has a number of excellent off-road bike trails, but the bike infrastructure on the streets is lacking. The task force working on this will be considering ways to make what we’ve got work better for bicyclists so that more people will be encouraged to give it a try.

– Along those lines, I asked Spanjian who the target audience is for a bike share program. She said not the hardcore bicyclists, since they have their own rides, but folks who have an interest in bike riding but also have concerns about safety. I presume this might include people who aren’t willing to shell out three or four hundred bucks on a bike on the chance they might not feel comfortable riding it but who could be persuaded to shell out, say, ten bucks for a day.

– B-Cycle, the group running the San Antonio Bike Share, will be in town on April 20 at the City Hall Farmer’s Market to demonstrate how the program works. I’m going to try to be there to check it out.

So there you have it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes in San Antonio, and how it gets implemented here.