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Bikeshare is for Rural Communities, Too

Prairie Spirit Trail

Bikeshare’s rise to popularity within cities has been swift. Large urban areas such as New York, Washington, DC, and Boston have all seen impressive growth within their bikeshare models over the past few years. Despite the lion’s share of rides and attention on these big cities, smaller, less-dense communities and even rural areas have shown how this model can serve as an effective tool the improve mobility almost anywhere in the country, regardless of size.

Check It Out

With a population of just 13,000 people, Allen County, Kansas, shows exactly how planners should be paying as much attention to these areas as the big players. The county has used a public health focus to develop a successful pilot that can serve as a model for rural bike-ability. Due to these innovative efforts, the county was awarded the esteemed Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize.

The program stemmed from a heavy investment in bike infrastructure, namely the fact that such facilities alone didn’t influence how often people decided to bike. Community members noticed that a barrier to usage existed beyond infrastructure, namely a lack of access to bikes themselves. Through that lens, the community explored a bike share program that could meet the needs of their low-income population that may or may not have access to credit cards or smart phones and created the “bike library” model. Through this service, community members can “check out” one of the 20 bicycles from four different stations throughout the county (currently: a non-profit, two commercial retail stores, and the local community college). The bikes can be checked out for different periods of time from minutes to months, and when not in use are maintained by a local bike repair shop.

Funding for the project was provided through a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas and the pilot program has garnered a wide variety of public support. There were already 100 rides through the first 3 months of the program. They hope to expand the system throughout the county as funding permits, and advocates hope this model can catch on in similar communities.

Connecting Campus and Community   

Home to the Oklahoma State University (OSU), Stillwater boasts a population of nearly 50,000 including around 25,000 university students. With 55 percent of students living off campus, OSU depends on commuter services to support both those affiliated with the university and local residents.

In March 2013, OSU launched OrangeRide, a bike rental and repair program to complement the public transit system on campus and throughout the city of Stillwater. The system is available to students and the Stillwater community on a daily ($2.00), weekly ($8.00), semester ($35.00), or two-semester ($60.00) basis, and includes a lock and free maintenance. The system even reserves a certain number of bikes for single-day users to encourage use among visitors and to continue attracting locals who ride less frequently. The university offsets some of the operating costs of the program via offering advertising space on the sides of the bikes which have been used by a variety of local businesses.

Additionally, OSU is working to connect this system with the wider transit available through the OSU/ Stillwater community Transit System. The bus system currently offers 10 deviated routes, and as seen in other communities, the bikeshare program naturally assists in solving some of the first mile/last mile problem by extending the bus catchment area. OrangeRide is an example of how a community and university can work together to create a bikeshare that works for a specific community, in this case a model that was able to lower capital and operating costs through a longer term check out model.

In Summary

Allen County and OSU are two examples among many that support the idea of introducing bikeshare to rural areas. Bikeshare can exist with minimal infrastructure and offers a mobility option that is flexible, easily scalable to meet the needs of a specific community, and, best of all, affordable to communities and their residents. Given the success of these and other rural bikeshare programs, mobility managers should consider how a similar model could be added into their community’s transportation mix.

Image Credit: Kansas Tourism, Flickr, CC

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Alex King

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This post was written by on November 7, 2017 10:00 am

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