Automated street bicycle rental systems make quick trips around the cities of Washington, D.C., San Antonio, Chattanooga and Boulder a breeze, but the question being asked by a nonprofit promoting cycling is whether a similar system could soar in the city of Dayton.
Andy Williamson, 32, and Scott Murphy, 34, share a love of recreation. Williamson is a regional director for the International Mountain Bicycling Association and Murphy is a recreational bicycle rider and mechanical engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
As representatives for Bike Miami Valley, an organization that advocates for bicycle-friendly public policy, the two are making the rounds of government officials, planning organizations and private business groups to discuss their research paper, “Miami Valley Bike Share Feasibility Study.”
It will be unveiled to the public Friday at the Miami Valley Cycling Summit in Springfield. The event is sponsored in part by Cox Media Group Ohio, owner of the Dayton Daily News. They provided an advance copy of the study to this newspaper.
Mike Ervin, co-chair of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said pending new downtown housing units, including hundreds of student apartments planned for the old Dayton Daily News site at Fourth and Ludlow streets, as well as newly-created bike lanes on major arteries like Brown Street, would help make a bike share program a success.
“There are all these things that make this doable,” Ervin said. “We are reaching a critical mass point.”
Bike share programs have caught on in major cities. Cincinnati and Columbus are studying them. They promise more lively downtowns and a way to energize street life. Added benefits are improving health through exercise and cutting down on tailpipe emissions.
They work like this: A user swipes a credit card or a membership card at a secure bike docking station to release one of the heavily-built bikes for a short trip around town, or month-long lease. Membership cards could be sold at the Greater Dayton RTA or at public libraries.
The bikes are step-through and low-slung, durable for city streets but not particularly suited for trail riding or very long distances the way mountain or ten-speed bikes are engineered. A day with the bike could cost perhaps $5 and a month $25. An annual pass might cost $60.
Users return the bikes, which can be tracked with location devices and other safeguards to prevent theft, to any one of the docking stations around town.
Andrew Rodney, a city of Dayton planner who is also a member of Bike Miami Valley, sees the system as an important ingredient to rebuild interest in the center city. The bicycles work for distances of between a mile and three miles — too short a trip to use a car, too far to walk, but an ideal biking distance.
Workers downtown could use bikes for meetings or lunch, students at the University of Dayton and Sinclair Community College could explore the city and visit nearby friends. “A bike fits that window perfectly,” Rodney said.
San Antonio’s bike share was so successful that the city is expanding from 14 bike stations and 200 bikes in May 2011 to a targeted 50 stations and 500 bikes by year’s end. Chattanooga’s system is adding three more stations. Setting up a system with up to 22 stations, an ideal number to begin with, wouldn’t be cheap, Williamson and Murphy said.
A cost estimate puts start-up expenses at $1.2 million, but the project would be eligible for federal grants. Research into how to implement bike share programs has already been underwritten by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“Several cities have taken advantage of multiple federal grants,” Murphy said.
A system of a couple hundred bikes wouldn’t pay for itself entirely. It would need an annual subsidy of up to $500,000 to keep going. Fares should recover 74 percent of those annual operating costs within five years, based on the experiences of other systems. That’s better than other public transportation systems, Murphy said.
According to the study, factors that would determine success are demand from the most likely user group, the 18-year-old to 39-year-old set, and their population density. A system here should locate docking stations in a four-square-mile area surrounding downtown, but weighted to the southeast to include the University of Dayton campus.
Some likely stations include Dayton Art Institute, Miami Valley Hospital, RiverScape MetroPark, Sinclair Community College, Brown Street near the University of Dayton, Courthouse Square, Fifth-Third Field, the Oregon District, and the Wright-Dunbar Historic District, Murphy said.
The study will be posted Friday on BikeMiamiValley.org.