By Jess Grimshaw
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
City officials and bicycle enthusiasts say they face several hurdles as they prepare to launch a new bike share program next year that the city has dedicated $2.8 million to build.
Caitlin Doolin, the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for Baltimore’s Department of Transportation, said in an interview that the biggest challenge facing Bikeshare is finding a sponsor that would provide additional funding and help maintain the city bike share network.
The $2.8 million from the city will fund phase one, which includes the first 25 hub locations, 475 docking racks and 250 bicycles.
However, a sponsor would allow the city to eventually double the number of bikes and hub stations in the network and to maintain the system once it is implemented in 2016. In return, Doolin said, the sponsor would have control – with city approval – over name rights, colors and branding of the Bikeshare program.
“We want to double the 250 bikes seeded for the program but for that we need a private sponsor,” Doolin said.
Doolin also explained that once the sponsor is found and a contract is obtained, the city will need to move quickly. The contract must be acted on within a specific time frame under city guidelines.
“There’s a tight time frame of about eight months once the contract has been signed,” she said. “Eight months is the average, but of course Baltimore wants to try and be better than the average as well.”
The DOT is in the process of hiring a marketing firm to handle finding a private sponsor. Doolin said it is common for health companies to sponsor Bikeshare programs, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield in Chicago, because healthy active mobility is compatible with the brand’s image.
Previous attempts by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to close a contract with a private party to sponsor the program have fallen through, as reported by CBS Baltimore.
Under the program, city residents, commuters, tourists and others who are visiting Baltimore would be able to rent a bicycle to ride around the city. The hub station locations have already been selected and posted on Bike Baltimore’s website. These areas include major neighborhoods like Fells Point, Canton, Power Plant Live, Harbor East and Hollins Market.
Fees that bike renters would pay the Bikeshare program have not been specified, according to the Department of Transportation public information officer, Kathy Dominic. However, nearby Washington’s Capitol Bikeshare program allows users to rent a bike for $8 for 24-hours, $28 for a 30-day membership or $85 for an annual membership.
In addition to the Bikeshare program, the city’s Bike Master Plan, which was released last February, proposes 90 miles of new city bike lanes and trails by 2028. The city currently has a network of 100 miles of mostly unprotected bike lanes and 39 miles of trails.
Doolin said the city is “aggressively and creatively” working to plan and start construction on new bike lanes and trails detailed in the master plan.
According to Doolin, connecting the Jones Trail with the Gwen Falls Parkway is on the mayor’s Bicycle Commission’s agenda, but the project is still far away from receiving the attention and funding to make it a reality.
Research indicates that bicycle infrastructure is vital to creating a safe and enjoyable experience for bikers.
A February 2013 study by Dr. M Anne Harris of the School of Occupational and Public Health in Toronto found that having bike infrastructure and lanes in a city reduces bike-related injury by about 75 percent in intersections compared to intersections without bike lanes.
The Bike Master Plan will be executed in stages, but the project isn’t projected to be complete until 2028. This could raise some serious safety concerns for Bikeshare users if the project launches next year.
Doolin said there has been debate over whether bike lanes or a bike-share program should come first, adding that it is a little like “the chicken and the egg argument.”
“A lot of cities put in Bikeshare first, which ends up justifying the need for infrastructure, promotes and makes biking popular, and pushes the need for more infrastructure,” Doolin said.
U.S. Census data shows that bicycle use has increased in cities with Bikeshare programs, including Washington, Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco.
Daily commuters, residents of the city, bike enthusiasts and tourists alike would use new bikes, bike lanes, protected tracks and trials to get around the city.
Making Baltimore a more bike friendly city would improve the general health of the population by providing a low-cost and entertaining form of activity. It would also help to reduce single-occupancy vehicles, thereby improving gas emissions in the city and reducing traffic, according to several studies by health officials and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
A study published on sfbike.org shows how having more people on bikes would also help to boost the economy by connecting neighborhoods with commercial districts, attracting talented workers, keeping them productive and creating more retail visibility.
Doolin said that choosing the right streets that people want to walk and bike on, such as Boston Street, would help businesses in those areas survive.
Providing bike infrastructure and a Bikeshare program would also allow more equitability and mobility for Baltimore residents. According to Baltimore City’s DOT website, 34 percent of Baltimore residents do not own a car.
“Mobility is a human right and the city should be designed for access to everyday needs like food, jobs, medical aid and housing,” said Liz Cornish, the executive director of Bikmore, one of the largest bike activist organizations in the city. “Right now the city is isolated and biking is an affordable and attainable way to provide access and mobility.”
Bikemore currently has about 500 members and Cornish said she has seen increased interest in the organization as well as an increase in the number of people attending events.
Though disappointed by past communication efforts by the city, Cornish said she is enthusiastic about the re-commitment she has seen from the city to engage with bicycle activist organizations .City officials partnered with Bikmore and the DOT Oct. 17 on the Future of Biking event.
Cornish said she is grateful for the cooperation from the DOT and wants people to recognize the value Bikemore provides by creating an environment for communication with Baltimore city planners.
Baltimore’s Bike Master Plan is an 86-page comprehensive document outlining the current conditions, plans, policies and benefits of creating a bike-friendly Baltimore.
The city’s plans could get a boost from Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent announcement that the state is offering $14.2 million in grants for bicycle and pedestrian projects.
Cornish said she is happy with the progress. However, she said she would like the plans to be broken down into smaller chunks. By focusing on creating cohesive bike networks in the city that connect retail, neighborhoods and schools, it would be faster to implement and city residents would see higher benefits, she said.
Despite some opposition to executing the Bike Master Plan and Bikeshare program, the benefits that these programs will bring to Baltimore has generated a lot of support from city government, organizations and residents.
“For any project, there is always support and opposition and Baltimore is no different,” Doolin said. “Baltimore has a lot of diversity with diverse needs but there has been overwhelming support from the mayor’s office and from businesses in the Greater Baltimore Committee.