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Baltimore Bike Share coordinator to leave city transportation department

BALTIMORE -- Baltimore Bike Share bikes at the station located at Light and Conway streets at the Inner Harbor. These are among the bikes returned after a month-long shutdown sparked by widespread thefts and maintenance backups
BALTIMORE -- Baltimore Bike Share bikes at the station located at Light and Conway streets at the Inner Harbor. These are among the bikes returned after a month-long shutdown sparked by widespread thefts and maintenance backups (Jay Judge / Baltimore Sun)

The head of Baltimore's troubled bike share system is leaving the city's transportation department on Friday, one day before the $2.36 million program’s one-year anniversary, officials confirmed Tuesday.

Jay Decker, the Baltimore Bike Share coordinator, is moving for a new job out of state, the Department of Transportation said. He worked in his role for two years, the department said, and made $58,000 in the 2016 fiscal year, according to Open Baltimore.

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Decker declined through a department spokeswoman to be interviewed.

His departure leaves a leadership void atop the Baltimore Bike Share program, which was so hampered by thefts and a long maintenance backlog that hardly any bicycles remained on the street by the end of the summer.

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The city shut down the program for a month on Sept. 17 for repairs and upgrades including a new “Baltimore lock” designed by Bewegen, the system’s Canadian manufacturer.

The goal was to reopen by returning about 50 bikes to the streets. But a Baltimore Sun review of the system on the Monday after the Oct. 15 re-launch found only about half that number, as well as persisting problems with the accuracy of the mobile app that displays where and how many bikes are available.

Riders with bike-share memberships had complained about a lack of communication about the program in the months leading up to the shutdown.

The bikes cost $2 to rent for a 45-minute single trip or $15 for a monthly pass, which provides an unlimited number of 45-minute rides for 30 days.

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Baltimore Bike Share, which launched on Oct. 28, 2016, was supposed to expand from 200 bicycles at 20 stations to 500 bicycles at 50 stations last spring. Transportation officials had hoped to get the system back to initial levels in time for the one-year anniversary. A Bewegen spokesman did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

More bicycles have been returned to the street each week, and the closed docking stations will be reopened soon, said Jim Duffney, CEO of Corps Logistics, a firm in Westport that operates and maintains the system.

Duffney praised Decker, calling him “the best guy to work with.”

“Nobody’s more meticulous and passionate about bike share than Jay Decker,” he said. “He’s the absolute epitome of professionalism.”

Baltimore City will advertise the bike share coordinator position, in which Decker — the city’s only bike planner — also oversaw some bicycle infrastructure planning, the transportation department said.

Liz Cornish, executive director of Bikemore, the city’s leading bicycling advocacy group, praised Decker but said she is concerned that his exit leaves Baltimore “without a single planner in the transit division working on active transportation modes.”

“Jay Decker threw himself into a challenging role. He was a pleasure to work with, committed to making Baltimore better for people who bike and he will be missed,” Cornish wrote in a statement. “Without a dedicated person to steward bike and pedestrian projects toward completion, we are at risk of jeopardizing millions of dollars in awarded state and federal funds. So while I am happy for Jay and his new career opportunity, I am concerned about what this means for the future of transportation in Baltimore.”

Jon Laria, chairman of the mayor’s bicycle advisory commission, said Decker had set up the city’s bicycle planning efforts for success. Now the bike share system needs a title sponsor to support the program so it can fulfill its promise, he said.

"Jay has done an outstanding job finally getting Bikeshare launched, but the launch shows that demand for Bikeshare and bike infrastructure continues to grow,” Laria said in a statement. “[T]he time is right for Baltimore to get serious about making this a leading U.S. city for bicycling.”

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