Baltimore to launch bike-share program Friday

Baltimore will launch its long-awaited, $2.36 million bike share program Friday.

After previous unsuccessful attempts, Baltimore will launch a long-awaited, $2.36 million bike-share program Friday with Canadian firm Bewegen Technologies, offering 200 GPS-outfitted bicycles for short-term rental at 20 stations around the city.

To celebrate, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other officials plan to ride the new bikes in a parade from one of the inaugural stations at City Hall to another at the Inner Harbor on Friday morning. A news conference will precede the parade; food trucks and activities at West Shore Park will follow.

Another 30 stations and an additional 300 bicycles will be added by this spring, officials said. The first stations also will include Cross Street Market, Hollins Market, the Shot Tower in Jonestown, Harbor East, Canton, Charles and Eager streets, the University of Maryland BioPark, and a few others, said Jay Decker, the city's bike-share coordinator.

The bikes cost $2 to rent for 45 minutes, and users can buy a monthly pass for $15.

Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, a bicycle advocacy organization, said bike sharing will be "critically important to changing the landscape of transportation in the city and showing biking is a safe, reliable and viable mode of transportation."

Jon Laria, chairman of the mayor's Bicycle Advisory Commission, called the program invaluable to promoting Baltimore's economic development and reputation as a forward-thinking city.

"This is really something cities have to do," Laria said.

The launch follows years of attempts by city officials to implement a bike-share program. The city was stymied in one previous attempt by a previous vendor's bankruptcy.

Laria said the wait turned out to be a blessing because it gave Baltimore more time to observe other cities' programs, find a better vendor and get technology, such as a fleet of electric pedal-assisted "pedelec" bikes, that wasn't previously available.

"In a way, the delay has been a positive thing, because the market has matured and allowed us to find an exceptional vendor — Bewegen's great — and allowed the bike technology to mature also so we could have the best bicycle," he said. "Pedelec is an option that didn't exist, and I think it's going to really transform the Baltimore fleet."

Cornish said she has had a chance to try both the regular and pedelec bicycles.

"Both are super fun to ride, easy to use and provide a really comfortable riding experience for bike riders, both new and experienced," she said.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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