Howard officials to consider bike sharing program

As Columbia moves toward a more urban-style, walkable downtown center, local officials want to introduce a bike-sharing program similar to those that have become popular in cities across the country.

Howard County officials are working with the Columbia Association to apply for a state grant to evaluate the feasibility of providing bike rental kiosks, for short-term use, at various locations in Columbia and other areas of the county.

Advocates say bike sharing would provide a cheap alternative to cars, ease traffic congestion and promote fitness.

"It makes sense to have this alternative bike system in Columbia," said Jane Dembner, director of community planning for the Columbia Association. "You have to have it in a place where there is a lot of activity and where you would take small trips."

Baltimore is expected to start its own program, and has named B-Cycle as its bike provider, while Washington plans to add about 50 more kiosks to its own Capital Bikeshare. In Denver, officials report that the year-old program has led to 43 percent of downtown car trips being replaced with bike trips.

Carol Silldorff, executive director of Bike Maryland, which advocates for cyclists' interests across the state, said Columbia would be an ideal place for a bike-sharing program.

"Columbia is a place that a lot of people visit, a lot of people work there," she said, and it "has a lot of cyclists."

While many cities have taken to bike sharing, she said it's also been adopted in suburban area, mentioning a successful program in Arlington, Va.

Officials in Washington say their year-old program has been a success.

Chris Holben, bicycle program specialist with the district's Department of Transportation, said Capital Bikeshare has about 20,000 annual members — mostly residents — and about 70,000 daily users.

"There are all sorts of people using them," he said. "It does trend to people who already ride," but its also attracted riders who haven't hopped on a bike in some time, he said.

The D.C. program has 130 stations in the city, and partners with Arlington. Alexandria, Rockville and an area near the Shady Grove Metro stop in Montgomery County will also join the program soon. Holben said the department is installing 30 more stations, with about 50 more expected over the next year.

"We would like to see other jurisdictions join in," he said, saying the Baltimore program will hopefully encourage more MARC train riders who might cycle the rest of their journey to the office. He pointed out that the city program will use a different vendor than Washington uses, which would require riders to sign up for both programs

With increasing ridership, Holben said, bike sharing will not only provide convenience for getting around areas that are often clogged by traffic, but it will help encourage people to get out of their cars and pedal.

"It gives a boost to cycling in general. It gives us that extra visibility," he said.

Washington enjoys the advantage of having worked to increase the number of bike lanes and other infrastructure over the past 10 years, with many miles completely separate from car traffic, he said.

With the Baltimore program beginning, and the possibility of another in Columbia, Silldorff said, "We would love to see this throughout the state. This shows that Maryland is really progressing in regard to bike-friendliness."

An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information. The grant proposal has not yet been submitted to the state; it is due Dec. 22. The story also omitted that county officials are looking to put bike rental kiosks in Columbia as well as other parts of the county. The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

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