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Pedaling Push For DNC 2012

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Charlotte is wheeling its way down a path to have a burgeoning bike-share program up and running in time for the Democratic National Convention, with an eye toward keeping the pedals churning long after the political circus leaves town.

The city council’s Planning and Transportation Committee last month gave the green light to launch planning for a demonstration bike-share project, at a price of about $30,000, to be spinning its spokes by next September in time for the DNC, while staff continues work on a feasibility study to determine the costs and logistics of an ongoing bike-share program for the Queen City.

Similar pedaling operations have begun cropping up of late in cities across the country, as a required cool jewel to adorn any hipster urban core’s crown. So naturally, Charlotte needs one.

The program’s premise is fairly simple: stations equipped with payment kiosks and corrals for bicycles are set up at strategic locations throughout town; for a daily or hourly fee, or with a paid membership, people can take a bicycle from a station, ride it for a certain number of hours and return it to another bike station.

Charlotte’s demonstration project will be geared in its scope to the uptown loop as the DNC hits town, with results and feedback from the project rolled into a larger feasibility study. The total cost of the study, part and parcel with the demo project, is pegged at about $90,000, said Dan Gallagher, a planning section manager with the Charlotte Department of Transportation. Funding will come via private sponsorship and from a portion of the city’s bike program budget, which stands at about a half-million dollars a year, Gallagher said.

The study will determine, among other factors, how much an ongoing and larger bike-share program would cost. Although it’s likely that whatever the price tag, the city would be responsible for only a fraction of the total, Gallagher said.

“In many cases around the country, the cost is absorbed significantly by a private-sector company running the business,” Gallagher said.

Models under consideration for the DNC demo project include programs that are already operational in Denver and Minneapolis. Charlotte’s trial version would likely use between seven and a dozen bicycle corrals, located at key spots uptown and sponsored and run by a private company.

An ongoing bike-share program for Charlotte would likely be similar to the version found in Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Virginia, which is run by Alta Bicycle Share, a consultant group that manages the program.

For a taste of what might be around the bicycle bend, representatives from Alta were in town earlier this year to share a pitch and presentation with the city council’s planning and transportation committee. Under the Capital Bikeshare venture, which started in 2010 and has grown to include 1,100 bikes docked at 110 stations, riders can hop on board with options that range from a $7 daily pass to a $75 annual membership. The first 30 minutes of each bike trip are free, with each additional 30 minutes incurring an additional fee. The length of typical ride averages about 1.2 miles.

“I thought it was worth giving it a try locally,” said Councilmember Patsy Kinsey, a member of the planning and transportation committee. “Other cities are using similar programs and seem to have had positive results.”

As part of a comprehensive transportation plan for Charlotte, Kinsey said, it makes sense to integrate biking as a viable option. A bike-share program, she said, fits into that mix.

“If we’re trying to cut back on individuals using their automobiles, this is one way we could possibly help to offer some alternatives,” Kinsey said.

A main goal of Charlotte’s feasibility study, Gallagher said, would be to determine where stations for bike pick-ups and drop-offs would work best and provide the most convenience, benefit and ease for users. Prime spots, at least initially, would likely be scattered around Center City.

“We’d be looking for logical places that people would want to go for short-distance trips, be it errand-based or for business people or visitors and tourists,” Gallagher said, which could be expanded to include bike stations dotting the county’s expansive greenway system.

All of which begs the obvious question, as the Queen City’s bike-share demo project gears up for the DNC’s arrival: who’s up for a little two-wheeling fun through a veritable armed camp fortress of a Center City teeming with protesters and various and sundry other types of potential mayhem?

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