Community bike sharing in the Capital region. A possibility?

Imagine this: You stroll down the street or hop on a bus to the local bike share station where, with the swipe of a card, you can grab a bike and ride away for the day. And when you’re done, you simply drop the bike at the next station. It’s called bike sharing, and thanks to a lot of community movers and shakers, it could become Lansing’s next great transportation mode.

The vision began when Eric Schertzing, County Treasurer and Chairman of the Ingham County Land Bank, thought bicycles would be a great way to create some connectivity between Old Town and the Neighborhood Empowerment Center located at the old Blind School.

“And that got us going on bigger thoughts, what would we want to link up to improve the mobility and connectedness of our community,” says Schertzing. From there came the realization that Lansing should join the many U.S. cities that boast a bike-share program.

Growing an Idea

Not a new concept by any means. The first bike share was born in Amsterdam in the 1960s and unfortunately failed. The idea, however, gradually took hold and a more sophisticated system made its way across Europe and into the United States.

The way a bike share works is through the creation of bike stations (or kiosks) in designated areas where people who want to use the system buy memberships. As members, they can then use the bikes whenever needed with the simple swipe of a card. Typically memberships are either annual or monthly, with an annual costing around $50. Day passes and hourly rentals are other options as well.

Since 2009, several cities, including Minneapolis, Chicago, Washington DC and New York, to name a few, have successfully implemented bike sharing programs and several Michigan cities are now seeking to do the same.

Creating a Vision

With the assistance of local bicycle enthusiasts, area businesses and other interested parties, the Capital Community Bike Share group (CCBS) was formed, and they worked together to create a plan. Lynne Martinez, a consultant on the project, said that after conducting a great deal of research, they decided the best place to start was with the bike users themselves.

Using a variety of resources, they conducted an online bike share survey geared toward Lansing Community College students, downtown businesses, the biking community and local bike shops. “We got over a 1,000 responses,” says Martinez. “They were very enthusiastic with more than 400 people saying they would use it regularly.”

To further introduce the idea, the group held a bike sharing demonstration in the summer of 2011. The event was a success and plans moved forward for launching a pilot system in the spring of this year. Unfortunately, economic changes have created some funding challenges that have slowed the project down.

Starting a Buzz

Bike sharing systems at the onset are costly, but research shows they’re worth the investment. Not only do they provide a cleaner, greener form of transportation and decrease traffic, they also fuel economies and communities. ”Cities with bike share systems say that people love them,” says Martinez. John Lindenmayer, Advocacy & Policy Director of the League of Michigan Bicyclists, agrees. “I’ve used the Capital Bikeshare in Washington, and absolutely loved it,” says Lindenmayer.  “It was easy to use, and I saw parts of the city I probably would have never seen.”

Martinez notes that people find the bikes cool and exciting. “They generate their own buzz.” That kind of reaction is good. It’s all about “place-making,” according to Schertzing, which he says leads to boosting the economy.

Lansing’s ultimate goal is to create connectivity between East Lansing, Frandor, Downtown Lansing, Lansing Community College and Old Town, with the Michigan Ave. corridor and the River Trail serving as the hub.

Generating Funds

Start-up costs for five six-bike stations are around $120,000. Currently, CCBS is in the process of becoming a non-profit, which Schertzing says is a big step toward building momentum and Martinez agrees. “It will allow us to seek grants and donations, both public and private, so we can pull the money together.”

So far, they’ve generated lots of interest with The City of Lansing, local builders and developers and a few businesses offering to cover some costs. If funding keeps coming, a pilot program could be ready for next summer. “This could be an exciting next step for the city,” says Lindenmayer. It’s one more way to reinvent ourselves and attract more people back downtown.”

“What we need is somebody in the healthcare or private sector to seize upon it for development or marketing purposes,” says Schertzing. “For example, in Minneapolis, Blue Cross Blue Shield was a major sponsor and provided a lot of the capital and funding for the project.”

Building Momentum

Creating excitement around the idea is what Schertzing believes will get the wheels turning. “I’d like to see the organic growth of the project through conversations. It needs to become important enough, critical enough that it goes viral.”
Schertzing sees Lansing as the perfect hub for a bike share, noting that Michigan Avenue’s bus route one, which runs from the Capitol to the Meridian Mall, is the highest traveled bus route in the state. It has more than 1.5 million riders every year.

“There are so many strengths along that corridor,” says Schertzing. “There’s retail, the university, one of Michigan’s largest healthcare centers, the State Capitol - that’s the foundation, and that is more powerful - more dynamic than what any other Michigan community has. There’s no better place to have as a backbone to link bike share to. We have something that no one else has.”

Dawn Gorman is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains.

Photos © Dave Trumpie

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.

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