Monday, July 18, 2011

Wheels turning on bike-sharing proposal

Posted By on Mon, Jul 18, 2011 at 2:10 PM

One month after local bicycling advocates, foundations and government officials began to discuss bringing a bike-sharing program to Pittsburgh, cycling advocates say they are teaming up with university researchers to figure out how a system might work here.

"It's exciting," says Scott Bricker, executive director of BikePGH, a local bike-advocacy group. "Now we're at step two. We're starting to figure out how this is going to happen."

Last month, representatives from B-cycle, a Wisconsin-based company that operates bike shares around the country, met with local officials to talk about how the short-term bike-rental systems function, and how launching one in Pittsburgh could benefit the city. The presentation earned high praise from the more than two dozen bicycling advocates, city planners and foundation officials who attended the meeting.

On July 8, Bricker sent a follow-up email to presentation attendees. The email announced that BikePGH is partnering with Carnegie Mellon University professor Robert Hampshire and a group of graduate students from CMU's Heinz College to develop a business plan for a Pittsburgh bike-sharing system. "Meanwhile," Bricker's message continued, "we are already exploring different business models and potential funding streams."

Hampshire could not be reached for comment. But Bricker tells City Paper that Hampshire and his students will be tasked with studying bike-sharing best practices around the world "to get more of a handle on how it can work" in Pittsburgh. Bricker says they will begin their research in the fall.

"There's still a lot of background work to do," says Bricker, noting that bike shares are very new. (The oldest one in the U.S. started slightly more than a year ago.) "There are a lot of question marks."

Especially when it comes to funding: How much money should come from local foundations? How much support should the city and county provide?

Bricker says no one knows the answers to those questions yet. But given last month's overwhelmingly positive reaction to the bike-sharing presentation, he's optimistic that enough people are motivated to make bike-sharing a reality here in Pittsburgh.

"It was surprising and refreshing that everybody got it and saw the value in it," Bricker says. "People after the meeting were saying, 'How do we make it happen?' rather than 'Why don't we put a stake in it?'"



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