In recent months, big cities across the country have seen an explosion in bike ridership. New dockless companies seem to pop up every month in new areas, and the bikeshare companies have been dominating transit news in cities such as Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. Despite the focus of cycling’s role in urban areas, smaller, less-dense communities and even rural areas have shown how bikeshare can serve as an effective tool to improve mobility almost anywhere in the country.
As National Bike Month comes to a close in the next week, we encourage mobility managers to consider bikes as a priority mobility solution to include in your toolbox. Across the country, cities are showing that bikeshare can be for all communities, no matter their size.
The towns of Aurora and Lawrenceburg in Southeastern Indiana joined together last summer to create the River Cities Bikeshare program. There are thirty “ride and return” bicycles across three locations that are accompanied with an app that allows for Bluetooth locking and billing. The rentals cost only $3 for the first hour, and $2 for each additional hour, which makes it affordable for most residents and visitors. In its first 8 weeks, last summer, the bikeshare program already had 1,300 riders, and local community leaders and members are looking forward to it rolling into its second season this year.
Allen County, Kansas, with a population of just 13,000 people, has used a public health focus to develop a successful pilot that can serve as a model for rural bikeability. The community implemented a bikeshare program aimed at meeting the needs of their low-income population that may or may not have access to credit cards or smart phones by creating the “bike library” model. Through this service, community members can “check out” one of the 20 bicycles from four different stations throughout the county. 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.
The “bike library” model has also popped up in other cities with great success. Public library branches in Athens, Glouster, The Plains, Nelsonville, and Chauncey, Ohio created the “Book-a-Bike” program through grant funds and local donations which offers free bike borrowing for library card holders. The program started in 2013, and the first year, the bicycles were technically the library’s most circulated item. The goal of the program is to not only provide a healthy, free avenue for exercise for adults, but to strengthen familial bonds by providing bike options for parents so they can ride along with their kids. The model in Ohio shows that bikeshare programs can go beyond improving mobility to creating a stronger community overall.
Home to the Oklahoma State University (OSU), Stillwater, Oklahoma, boasts a population of nearly 50,000 including around 25,000 university students. 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, weekly, semester, or two-semester 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. Additionally, OSU is working to connect this system with the wider transit available through the OSU/ Stillwater 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.
Montevallo, Alabama is home to the state’s first city-wide bike share program, ValloCycle. The bike share program was developed to highlight bicycles as an alternative form of transportation that can promote a healthier lifestyle and cleaner environment. With its core belief that everyone in the community deserves the freedom and benefits of personal mobility, ValloCycle is available to all those who live and/or work in Montevallo, as well as to local university students. Bikes offered range from traditional cruisers to hand operated bikes for individuals with disabilities, and are available at a low cost. Montevallo has implemented a unique payment program which allows users to either pay a $25 annual fee ($10 for those aged 17 and under) or provide 25 hours of community service. In the time that ValloCycle has been operating, it has been heartily embraced by the local community and the university students. Montevallo serves a great example for others of successful community collaboration to improve community mobility.
These are just a few examples among many that support the idea of introducing bikeshare to rural areas. Programs can exist with minimal infrastructure and offer 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.