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Environmentby Mark Reutter7:06 amApr 5, 20110

City puts brakes on bikeshare program, citing costs

A 250-bike network will cost more “upfront” than anticipated, so Baltimore may delay implementation for a year.

Above: A couple considers renting a bike at a “B-station” in downtown Washington.

A plan to establish a network of 250 bicycles available to the public – described last month as being in the final stages of development – is being reconsidered and may be delayed for a year, the Baltimore Department of Transportation said yesterday.

While stressing that no final decision has been made, DOT spokesperson Kathy Chopper said the city is leaning toward rebidding the project “sometime within the next year” in order “to encourage a more competitive bidding process which may allow for lower program costs to the city.”

Baltimore officials have been negotiating with two private vendors to operate a fleet of 250 bikes stationed at 25 kiosks where riders could swipe a card to pick up a bike and then drop it off at any station in the network.

The snag is that the two bids “require more upfront capital investment than the city had anticipated,” Chopper said yesterday. She could not immediately say what public investment might be required, but said the city is looking for additional funding sources.

(UPDATED: Chopper phoned this morning to say that officials at the Bureau of Purchasing told her she should not release a figure for upfront capital costs or details on what an upfront investment would cover because they are still reviewing the two proposals submitted. “The people at the Bureau of Purchasing were a little bit nervous of me releasing that information,” she said. “If it were delayed and we had to re-bid it, having that information out there might interfere with the bidding process.”)

Baltimore’s “bike czar,” Nate Evans, also confirmed that the program is in jeopardy. Evans could not be reached by phone, but acknowledged in an e-mail that “it does not seem likely that a vendor will be selected in the near future.”

He added, “With the current economic state, it would not be feasible to implement a bikeshare system at this time.”

Letdown to Potential Riders

News that the program is likely to be delayed will disappoint bike advocates, who have expressed enthusiasm for the program after The Brew detailed the city’s plans for a public bike network stretching from Federal Hill on the south to Canton on the southeast, Charles Village on the north and Camden Yards on the west.

“Can’t wait to see this happen,” commented one reader, saying that he looked forward to riding one-way to a transit station, rather than worrying about locking up his bike for an extended period.

In its Request for Proposals, the city asked private companies to compete for the right to establish a bikeshare program for five years.

The vendors would be responsible for furnishing the bikes as well as establishing and maintaining “B-stations” equipped with Wi-Fi and solar power equipment for easy bike access for city residents and tourists.

Proposed locations of downtown

Proposed locations of downtown "B-stations" in relation to existing bike lanes and transit stations. (Baltimore DOT)

“The initial phase of the bikesharing network will focus on transit connectivity and downtown destinations to provide a transportation option while reducing traffic congestion,” the RFP stated.

The bikes would include a GPS tracking device, theft-resistant lock, front and rear lights, and a cargo rack for carrying briefcases, book bags or other items.

Start-Up Funds Required Elsewhere

Evans told The Brew last month that the program would be privately financed and the city was hoping for a sponsorship by a corporation or nonprofit to pay for start-up costs.

Other bike systems have required such support. Denver’s “B-cycle” program, for example, started with a $450,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente, while KLM-Air France donated a fleet of 200 beach-cruiser-style bicycles for Miami Beach’s program.

The 1,100-bike Capital Bikeshare network in Washington, D.C., and Arlington County, Va., is a publicly supported program. The cost of planning, implementing and administering the network has totaled $5 million, with the first-year operating cost of $2.3 million for 100 bike stations.

The Washington portion of the network is being funded by a $6 million CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Montreal, Toronto, New York, Philadelphia and even Fairbanks, Alaska, have opened – or are in the final stages of opening – bike sharing systems. New York is preparing for 10,000 bikes at 600 stations.

Downtown Safety an Issue

Baltimore’s plan for 250 bikes was one of the smaller programs on the drawing board. The proposal comes at a time when Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has been under political fire for a 2012 budget that boosts downtown tourist and promotional activities while cutting neighborhood services.

In addition to the perception that bikesharing is not an essential program in difficult economic times, there has been some worry that Baltimore does not have enough bike lanes to make public biking safe.

Evans said that the city has opened 70 miles of bike lanes across the city, but many are located in outer city neighborhoods. Biking on downtown streets can be hazardous, in part, because bicycles do not have clear and consistent lanes that separate them from cars, buses and trucks.

Cycling advocates also point to the need to cultivate a bike culture in Baltimore, saying that more cyclists on the road and more motorists willing to share the road with them, will go a long way toward promoting safety.

For more on how bikesharing works, see “Sharing bikes to curb cars.”

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