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Baltimore bikeshare program revived, 300-bike network possible by next fall

Exclusive agreement with Denver-based B-cycle calls for no public subsidies.

Above: Launched last year, Washington’s bikeshare program has more than 6,000 members and 18,000 daily users.

Bikesharing may, in fact, be coming to Baltimore. After delaying the program last spring, the Rawlings-Blake administration today entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with a Denver company to operate a 250-to-300 bike network for residents and tourists.

Bikesharing provides short-term rentals through computer-controlled kiosks that release and keep track of rented bicycles. The first 30 minutes of use is free, and the system is designed to encourage the use of bicycles to replace cars and buses on short trips in and around urban areas.

Today’s agreement, approved by the Board of Estimates, gives B-cycle LLC the exclusive right to negotiate a concession with the city so long as no operating subsidies are required. The original bikesharing plan was suspended last April because of fears that it would require “upfront” city funds.

Private Funding and Memberships

Under today’s agreement, B-cycle needs to raise about $1.2 million in private funds to build the bike network.

“The agreement costs the city essentially nothing,” Nate Evans, who oversees the city’s bike programs, said in an interview. B-cycle plans to raise capital through corporate sponsorships as well as individual membership fees for unlimited use of the system’s bicycles.

If all goes as planned, Evans said, “phase one” of bikesharing – 25 kiosks and up to 300 bikes – will be launched next September.

The exact location of the kiosks, often dubbed “B-stations,” has not been determined. “While we have a good idea of where we want to put the stations, we want to work with communities and other stakeholders to determine where each one would best serve their needs.”

Looking like an ATM machine flanked by a bike-docking platform, the kiosk would use “smart card” technology to enable riders to access and return bikes by either swiping credit cards or membership cards.

On the east side, kiosks may be located at or near Northeast Market on Monument Street, Patterson Park, Highlandtown, Canton (O’Donnell Square and the waterfront), Fells Point and Harbor East, Evans said.

In south Baltimore, kiosks are tentatively slated for MARC Camden Station, Cross Street Market and Tide Point, home of sports clothing maker Under Armour and a convenient jumping-off point to the city-run water taxi.

In west Baltimore, the city hopes to establish a kiosk at Hollins Market. In North Baltimore, kiosks would be located around Mt. Royal Avenue, Penn Station and Johns Hopkins University.

Evans said it is still up in the air whether kiosks would be built during phase one at State Center, Bolton Hill, Hampden or 25th Street/Remington.

Eventually, the city wants to tie in most of the city to the bike network, aided by the expansion and improvement of bike lanes and bike trails.

Growing Urban Trend

Bikeshare programs have been established in a dozen U.S. cities, including Boston, Chicago, Denver, Miami Beach, Minneapolis, New York, Portland and San Antonio. Washington’s Capital Bikeshare has 1,100 bicycles at 110 kiosks across the city and in Arlington, Va.

Until today’s agreement, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had expressed little public interest in bikesharing. At this morning’s Board of Estimates meeting, she praised the concept and said, “I look forward to it. I’ve just gotten back into [biking].”

She said B-cycle will supplement other “green” transportation programs – including the Charm City Circulator, hybrid car charging stations and Zipcar carsharing – to “make our communities more livable” by reducing traffic congestion and creating a healthier environment.

The program is aimed, for example, at commuters using MARC who need to travel a mile or so from the train station to their workplace or daytime appointments. Bikesharing will permit one-way travel and multiple trips in a single day. It is not designed for long-term rental.

Since making its debut in Denver in April 2010, B-cycle has been utilized over 100,000 times. More than 40% of those rides replaced a car trip in the city’s downtown area, Ryan O’Doherty, Rawlings-Blake press spokesman, said.

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