City sees transportation opportunity in cycling through infrastructure upgrades, bike-sharing
Residents and tourists of Austin soon will have a new way to take a spin around town once Austin B-cycle brings 11 initial bike stations online with 110 bikes for public use.
"Whether you want to go from the Capitol to South Congress [Avenue], from the Convention Center to City Hall or to Whole Foods and Republic Square, in December, we've got you covered," said Elliott McFadden, executive director of Austin B-cycle, a nonprofit organization managing the bike-sharing system that launches Dec. 21.
The 24-hour system aims to bridge the transportation gap in public transit by providing people a final-mile connector from the city's mass transit system to their final destination.
The cost of Austin B-cycle ranges from an $8 day pass to an $80 annual membership. Once a member checks out a bike, the first 30 minutes of the ride is free, and each additional half-hour costs $4. In order to check out a bike from a station, a user must first swipe his or her credit card to access the system. The rider then chooses a bike and rides to another B-cycle station near the destination, at which point he or she checks back in the bike.
"Traffic issues have a direct impact on the livability of our city, and it's clear [that] to protect our quality of life we need to provide more transportation options for our community," Austin City Councilman Chris Riley said.
By March 2014, the B-cycle bike-share system is expected to be complete with 40 stations and 350 bikes.
The project comes in part from a $1.5 million federal grant the city secured and an additional $500,000 in local donations raised from organizations including South by Southwest Music and Media Conference, Austin Parks Foundation, Cirrus Logic and the Downtown Austin Alliance.
Craig Staley, board chairman of Austin B-cycle, said in other cities that have a bike-sharing program, nearly 30 percent of the bike-share trips replace a car trip. In Austin, if each B-cycle bike is used once per day, that same percentage would equal about 45,000 car trips per year, Staley said.
Tim Starry, a shop coordinator with Austin Yellow Bike project, said he is excited about the new system coming online. Yellow Bike is an East Austin–based nonprofit bicycle advocacy organization that started in 1997 and used to run a bike-sharing program until it was discontinued when it was announced that Austin B-cycle was coming.
"[Bike share] puts more bicycles on the road. It shows people how they can use bicycles for very simple transportation needs [such as] short distances and routine trips that are now mostly car-based," Starry said. "And the more bikes on the road ... you start to see demand for bicycle facilities, and that's going to put more pressure on the city to improve."
Bicycling can be a vital piece in the city's transportation system, Riley said.
"Bikes can provide a fun, safe and convenient way for folks to get around," Riley said. "What we've seen in other cities is people are interested in biking but concerned about their safety, and if you make significant improvements in terms of your bicycling infrastructure, you can make biking appealing to far greater numbers than we see here today."
Nathan Wilkes, an engineer with the city's Bicycle Program, said Austin is looking to update its bicycle plan and create an Urban Trails Master Plan that would make for a more inclusive and safe transportation system.
"We're looking at a holistic, active transportation network," Wilkes said. "We're no longer thinking about what we as a city can do for cycling, but we're thinking about what bicycling, as a tool, can do for our city. That's a huge paradigm shift."
For Austin, Wilkes said approximately 2 percent of the population falls into the category of "strong and fearless"—willing to ride a bike regardless of the conditions. Another 39 percent of residents fall into the category of "interested but concerned"—willing to use protected cycling infrastructure. By giving residents another transportation option for short trips, Wilkes said he believes there can be a sizable reduction in congestion within the urban core.
One way to make cycling a more appealing option to residents is by installing cycle tracks, a bike lane in the roadway that is physically separated from motor vehicle traffic.
One example of the cycle track network being worked on by the city can be found on Guadalupe Street. Riley said Guadalupe Street is one of the city's most important corridors and has seen increased activity because of development in the West Campus area. The addition of the cycle track helped improve traffic without removing vehicle traffic lanes, he said.
What other cities are doing
Austin is not the only city that has grown a bike-share program. Cities such as New York City and Chicago all have bike-share systems and have looked at ways to integrate cycling into their transportation systems.
Nathan Roseberry, senior bikeway engineer with the Chicago Department of Transportation, said Chicago set a goal in 2011 of 100 protected bike lanes in four years. Before that goal, the city had no cycle tracks and no buffered bike lanes. By the end of 2013, the city will have 70 miles of protected bike lanes—20 miles of cycle tracks and 50 miles of buffered bike lanes. In June 2012, Chicago also launched its bike-share system with 300 stations and 3,000 bikes.
"When you guys unveil your [full] bike-share system come March, it's going to be so different out there," Roseberry said. "You're going to see that many more bikes; it's going to be that much easier to get places—it's a game-changer."
Austin Yellow Bike Project
Before Austin B-cycle, a new bike-sharing system that will be up and running Dec. 21, the city had another bike-share program called Austin Yellow Bike Project.
Yellow Bike started in 1997 and has occupied several locations. The nonprofit moved into its current East Austin location, 1216 Webberville Road, in 2010. The project renovated and painted bikes yellow before making them available for anyone to use.
With the announcement of Austin B-cycle coming to the city, Tim Starry, shop coordinator said Yellow Bike has "passed the flag" of bike-sharing. The nonprofit can now focus on offering free bike repair space, refurbishments and resale, he said.
"A lot of people that use bicycles for other than recreation cannot afford to take their bicycle into a shop," Starry said. "Retail repairs can be fairly expensive depending on your bike and what needs to be done."
Yellow Bike has 12 bike stations at the shop along with a supply of bike parts and knowledgable members to help with repairs.
Some repairs often seen at the Yellow Bike facility include changing a tire and adjusting brakes, gears and shifting.
Yellow Bike also refurbishes bikes for resale and to donate to the community. For more information on the nonprofit, visitwww.austinyellowbike.org.