This month Columbia joins the growing list of communities hosting a bike-share program, giving residents a two-wheeled alternative for trips around town.
The pilot program, projected to run for six years, is set to launch May 19, which coincides with the Baltimore region’s annual Bike to Work Day.
“Howard County is definitely moving in the direction of becoming more walk and bike friendly,” says Howard County bike and pedestrian coordinator Chris Eatough, who has been working with several partners on this project, part of the county’s bicycle master plan, Bike Howard.
With Howard County Bikeshare, cyclists will be able to reserve a bike from one of seven locations in person, via mobile app or online. The bikes can be used for recreation and convenient transportation. The seven docking stations are on a 3-mile loop and within or near popular downtown destinations like The Mall in Columbia, Whole Foods and Merriweather Post Pavilion.
Eatough says those who work and live in downtown Columbia, as well as students at Howard Community College, are likely to be the main riders.
“Students can use the bikes to pop over to the mall to do some shopping between classes or to get some food. I think the employees will use the bikes for lunch and happy hour trips after work,” he says.
At press time, pricing was still being finalized, but Eatough expects bike rentals will cost $2 for a 45-minute trip. Annual membership, an option for frequent riders, is expected to cost around $85. This initial rollout will include 70 bikes, 40 percent of which will have electronic assists, or motors.
“The electric assists give you a little push, so you’re not pedaling as hard; it’s just fabulous,” says Jane Dembner, director of planning and community affairs at Columbia Association, one of six community partners helping to make the bike share possible.
“The Horizon Foundation, the Columbia Association, Howard Community College, Howard Country General Hospital, The Mall in Columbia and the Howard Hughes Corporation have all contributed funding, or allowed for a station on their property, or some combination of the two,” Eatough explains.
The program is expected to cost $750,000, with $700,000 coming from the community partners and the remaining $50,000 provided by the county. Rider fees will help cover operational costs. The Horizon Foundation, which aims to improve the health and wellness of county residents, has promised more than $400,000 over three years.
“Bike share really aligns with our goal to make healthy choices easier in Howard County,” says Olivia Doherty, the Horizon Foundation’s director of communications.
The pilot’s success will be measured mostly on ridership, Eatough says, though the county’s office of transportation was still determining targets at press time.
As Columbia turns 50 this summer, for some, this development feels right on brand.
“Columbia has this long tradition of innovation. … It’s a great example of that; bringing the best of city living to our environment in Columbia here,” says Greg Fitchitt, vice president of development for the Howard Hughes Corporation.