Thursday: Bike-Sharing Launches in Denver

Earth Day is coming around the bend, and cities are timing their new green initiatives to coincide with the public’s heightened eco-consciousness. Here’s one we’re partial to: In Denver, Mayor John Hickenlooper and city leaders are using the occasion to launch their 500-bicycle, 50-station bike-share system. It will be the largest bike-share system in the U.S. until Minneapolis and Boston roll theirs out later this spring.

denver_bike_share.jpgDenver will launch its bike-share system this week with 500 bicycles at 50 stations, aiming to expand to 1,100 bikes in 2011.

While Minneapolis and Boston selected the company behind Montreal’s Bixi to run their bike-share systems, Denver went with B-cycle, a joint venture between Trek Bicycles, health insurer Humana, and PR firm Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. B-cycle had a demo station set up at Pier 84 on the Hudson River Greenway yesterday, where I had the chance to talk to company president Bob Burns about how the system works.

In Denver, B-cycle will be financed by ads and user subscriptions, with annual memberships priced at $65. Members get RFID cards that they can use to to check out bicycles at individual docks with a wave of the hand. The first 30 minutes of each ride are free, with each additional hour priced at one dollar.

The stations can run on solar or A/C power. Denver has chosen to place their kiosks in plazas and other pedestrian spaces, not in parking lanes like they do in Paris.

One of the interesting features that distinguishes B-cycle is its tracking system. Each bike is equipped with a GPS unit, so users can access their member profiles online and see where they biked, how far they rode, and how many calories they burned. The cumulative GPS data from the entire system should also prove to be a valuable resource for transportation planners. "It gives cities a lot of information on where cyclists are going and which routes are being used," said Burns. "They can make more intelligent decisions about where to invest in infrastructure."

Buoyed by Ray LaHood’s recent statements of support for bicycle infrastructure, Burns was appropriately bullish, for a bike-share exec, on the future of bike-share in American cities. "Once people see it can happen and that it can work, and people in those cities appreciate it," he said, "we think it’s gonna explode."

  • Doug

    For anyone who thinks this is a great idea, as I’m sure most of Streetsblog does, get ready for the media to very quickly follow up after the launch with stories of bikes being stolen, abandoned, or vandalized. (One can imagine the NY Post or local TV news doing such stories if bike sharing comes to New York.) This is as sure a bet as the sun rising tomorrow.

    The response should be simple: bike share programs in cities that have them account for a certain number of bikes to be lost or stolen, much in the way that car rental companies account for some cars to break down or be involved in accidents. Do we judge car rental companies a failure because a certain percentage of their fleet is unavailable at one time or another?

    I’d be willing to take bets on when the first of these stories appears. Nothing is as predictable as anti-bike press.

  • B-Denver

    Umm did you not read that the bikes have tracking devices?

  • Gavin

    While Paris had some notable theft/vandalism problems (50% of bikes lost), I expect Denver will see fewer problems. You see, to sign up for the program in Denver, you have to provide a major credit card and they will hit your card with $1000 if you don’t return the bike. Vandalism remains a concern, of course, but the real question is: will people really use these anyway? I mean, if you really want to use a bike for short trips, don’t you already have one? Outside of tourists and the occasional suburbanite who uses one to get to the ball game as a lark, I don’t see this succeeding.

  • Paul

    For short trips, sure it can work. I bike about 50% of my trips. Other times I walk, train or both. I don’t always have my bike, or want my bike with me, so this would be great for the in-between trips or where I can ride to and from the train/streetcar and not worry about having my bike stolen or damaged. I think bike share is a great addition. Now for the infrastructure. Also, Dublin is a huge success story: http://www.good.is/post/dublin-s-bike-sharing-system-might-be-the-most-successful-in-the-world/

  • Gavin, these programs aren’t designed for people that always have their bike with them. It’s for someone who has a 45 minute lunch break and wants to check out a restaurant that is just out of walking range but comfortably within biking range. Theyre not going to lug their old bike downtown just in case. This way, if it’s sunny, and they’re in the mood, they can borrow a bike.

    In denser cities like NYC, it would solve one of the main commuter problems (which is getting countless billions thrown at it):
    -You arrive at GCS but work near Penn
    or vice versa.

    Too far to walk in a timely matter, annoying to do via subway (must transfer) and the buses are too slow.
    Solution: 10 minute bike ride. And since it’s not your bike, no risk of theft or damage if you had decided to leave a personal bike locked up near the station every day.

  • It will be interesting to see how the GPS functions and if it seems to have an affect on theft and vandalism (though there is no baseline, I assume there will be times when police etc. get a bike back because it appears on their Batscope).

    I suppose the calories burned thing might be useful for some people, though I would not be thinking about this whilst cycling to a movie to see my sweetheart.

    B-Cycle Denver also requires one to 18 or over to register, though other bike share operations allow younger folks with some kind of parental authorisation. I would think that any city in the USA would do all it can to get young people on bikes, but the current rule means that many teens can get a Colorado driver´s license before a B-Cycle membership.

  • Todd, the 18 and over might be because Colorado law requires helmets for those under 18. Im not sure, it’s just a guess. If the mandatory helmet law is for under 15, perhaps the minimum age would be 15.

  • Elizabeth

    Slight correction on the article: in Denver’s bike sharing program, usage fees are accrued at a steeper rate than described above. After the free first half-hour, additional 30-minute increments are increasingly expensive, such that a 90 minute to 2 hour ride would come to $6.60, and another $4.40 per half hour after that. I point this out to illustrate the key to the program: it’s designed to facilitate short rides — “too short to drive but too far to walk” — a great idea but thus far a little challenging to explain to the public.

  • Jass, ja perhaps that is the completely stupid reason for that. Of course Denver basically kills pitbulls on the spot, so we have to expect other stupid ideas.

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