In commemoration of Howard County's 10th annual Bike to Work Day on Friday, bicyclists were given a sneak preview of the Columbia BikeShare pilot program that is scheduled to launch in early July.
Connected by a three-mile loop, the BikeShare system will have 70 bikes across seven stations in Columbia, featuring standard eight-gear and electric-assist models. Stations will be located at Howard County General Hospital, Howard Community College, the Crescent development, Columbia Town Center, Lake Kittamaqundi, Oakland Mills Village Center and Blandair Park.
On May 19, bicycle riders pedaled into the Columbia Whole Foods parking lot, where grocery cart corrals served as bike racks and vendors offered free services, including bike checks by Race Pace Bicycles. Regional Transportation Agency, Princeton Sports and Columbia Association representatives also attended the event.
Howard County's Office of Transportation and Howard Commuter Solutions hosted the celebration, which spans across Howard, Carroll, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties and Baltimore City. The Baltimore region's Clean Commute Initiative encourages riders to participate to promote healthy and environmentally friendly lifestyles.
Chris Eatough, the county's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said the county partnered with Bewegen Technologies to manufacture the bicycles and stations for the BikeShare program.
"We expect biking to grow as a mode of transportation here in Howard County," Eatough said. "The BikeShare will be helpful in that, because it's a new way of using bikes."
Memberships are now available online, where riders can sign up for yearly, monthly or one-time passes at $85, $15 or $2, respectively. Each pass includes the first 45 minutes of using the bikes, after which riders will be charged $2 every 30 minutes.
Riders who sign up for yearly passes before the launch earn founding member status and receive 60-minute rides and a commemorative water bottle. Members will get occasional customer surveys to fill out, Eatough said, so the department can learn more about bike riding patterns in the area.
The program will be monitored over a six-year period, costing approximately $750,000. Eatough said community partners are providing about $700,000, including $450,000 from the Horizon Foundation over the next three years, and the remaining $50,000 is coming from the county.
Viviane Lépinay-Thomas, a Bewegen Technologies representative, said station kiosks and bicycles are designed to keep track of how many trips are taken on each bike, its total distance traveled and GPS location.
"When you unlock a bike, you'll have a timer so you know how long you've been riding," she said. "It's a pretty smooth ride. For the electric assist, when you start pedaling, the motor kicks in and gives you an extra push. If you want to go uphill, it's going to help you get there faster and without breaking a sweat."
Electric-assist models are designated by a lightening bolt on the back of bikes, which also have adjustable seating and front baskets.
"I think it's really good," said Mike Westendorf, 54, of Oakland Mills. "I think when people try it, they'll realize it isn't so hard."
An avid bicyclist, Tom Gruneberg said he stopped by the event on his way to work as a special education and physical education teacher at River Hill High School in Clarksville.
The Columbia resident said he isn't sure there will be a high demand in the county, unlike similar systems in Baltimore or Washington, D.C.
"I think a lot of people, who are bikers, have their own bikes," he said. "If it works out, that's great."
Over the years, Gruneberg, 43, said he's enjoyed participating in Bike to Work Day and finding time to hit the road without his car.
"I think it's good to get a car off the road for a day and this encourages people to do that more often," he said. "The infrastructure for biking in Columbia is definitely improving and I'd like to see that continue. It may not be feasible for you to ride your bike to work every day, but the more you can do it, the better."
Promoting a healthy lifestyle and a way to commute is the goal, added Ellicott City resident Joe Sating, who bikes about 18 miles to his job at Fort Meade.
Following the BikeShare's July launch, Eatough said the transportation office will study the community's ridership before making plans to expand elsewhere in Howard County.
"We'll see how it's working and how it's being used," Eatough said. "Then, we can decide if it can be expanded and where the funding would come from. We expect people, especially in the Downtown Columbia area, will use bikes for transportation."
For more information on the BikeShare program, go to https://howardcountybikeshare.com/.