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City seeks vendors for bike share program

Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Tuesday a release of requests for information for the city's bike share program. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore is again attempting to launch a bike share program and join cities like Washington and Paris that offer the short-term rental service.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Tuesday that the city is seeking a vendor to manage, operate and maintain 250 bikes and at least 25 Charm City Bike Share stations across the city. Proposals from potential vendors are due next month.

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"We have to provide for a variety of transportation options," Rawlings Blake said. "The implementation of a successful bike share system will be a boon to our city's transportation network that will continue to boost economic development in Baltimore City."

She said the self-service bicycles will provide a healthy, environmentally sustainable transportation alternative that will connect residents, commuters and visitors.

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Bike share programs work similarly to Zipcar, which for a fee provides pickup and drop-off of cars at unmanned stations in parts of Baltimore.

"There's no higher priority than bike share, and establishing a program in Baltimore," said Jon Laria of the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Commission. "We need it here," he said.

The program is seeking nongovernment sponsors and advertising. The city has $2.8 million from the state and federal grant to launch the first phase the program, officials said.

Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, said the bicycling advocacy group is excited about the prospect. She said Bikemore members hope they and other groups, including corporate sponsors, will be included in planning conversations.

"The success of this program is going to be based on the willingness of the Department of Transportation to allow other partners to come to the table with ideas and solutions," Cornish said.

The scope of the program is one concern for Bikemore. If the program is truly expected to help address the city's transportation needs — and not simply serve as a tourist attraction — it should be more robust, Cornish said. Washington's program, for instance, has 3,000 bicycles and 350 stations, she pointed out.

"If you say it's going to be a transportation solution, that looks different than 250 bikes," she said.

The city has attempted twice to launch a bike-share program. The latest attempt was delayed after the hardware and equipment vendor selected by the city filed for bankruptcy.

Earlier, in 2010, the city tried to launch with a company called B-Cycle of Waterloo, Wis. But the program failed to launch before the contract expired. At the time, the contractor was responsible for covering all of the start-up and operating expenses, including buying the bicycles.

The bike share program is separate from the city parks department's Ride Around the Reservoir program, which allows residents to borrow bikes and helmets and ride through city parks. The program was temporarily suspended in May 2014, when four dozen bicycles were stolen in Druid Hill Park.

William Johnson, the city transportation director, said the bike share programs are different because the bikes are secured by a built-in mechanism until a user pays to rent one. He said officials have not heard of other programs experiencing large thefts.

In addition to bike shares, another important step for biking in Baltimore is creating more bike lanes, Laria said. He noted that two new bike lanes on Roland Avenue and Maryland Avenue are slated to open next year.

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"We need those lanes to facilitate bike commuting, as well as to promote safe recreational riding," Laria said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

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