Annapolis prepares to launch bike-share program in mid-August

Danielle Ohl
Contact Reporterdohl@capgaznews.com

A new bike-share program will arrive in the city in mid-August as part of a partnership between Annapolis, Anne Arundel County and start-up Zagster.

Mayor Gavin Buckley has announced the partnership with the Cambridge, Massachusetts company, which will install bike-share racks at locations in mostly downtown Annapolis. It’s a two-year pilot program.

There will be 50 bikes available for use at 10 locations, said city Chief of Comprehensive Planning Sally Nash The locations are mostly set, pending approval from the Historic Preservation Commission for docking stations within the Historic District. There are two locations — at Market Space and the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County on Church Circle — still under review.

Other likely locations include Whitmore Park, Noah Hillman Garage, St. John’s College, Pip Moyer Recreational Center, the Annapolis Maritime Museum, the Heritage Complex, Loew’s Hotel and Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

Bike shares have been cropping up across the region, including in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. The programs feature either docked or “dockless” bicycles that users can pay for at either a docking station or via an app.

In the docked model, bikers unlock their cycle from one station and return it to another. Dockless programs typically operate with apps, which track the bikes via GPS.

The Annapolis bike share will be a hybrid model using Zagster’s Pace bicycles. To use it, residents can download the free Pace Bike Share app to locate available bicycles, unlock them and pay for the rides. After their trip, users can return bicycles to designated Pace stations as well as any of the city’s 31 public bike racks.

Rides cost $1 per half hour, with monthly packages available. The Annapolis pilot comes at no cost, Nash said, thanks to a sponsorship from Coca-Cola, which will advertise on stations.

“Pace is excited to bring dockless bike sharing to Annapolis to offer residents and visitors a fun, convenient and healthy new way to explore the city,” Zagster vice president of market engagement Lindsay Shields wrote in a statement. “Pace lets people find and rent a shared bike anywhere in the city and make point-to-point trips — all with just a smartphone — making it easy for riders to commute to work, move around the city and enjoy all that Annapolis has to offer.”

Bike-share programs have hit rough patches in Baltimore, where the city in 2017 temporarily shut down the program because of thefts and vandalism. In Washington, trial programs for dockless bikes left the vehicles littered, often vandalized and blocking building entrances and sidewalks.

Because the Annapolis bikes can be returned to any public bike rack, city officials hope to avoid the littered vehicles plaguing other cities with completely dockless models.

“You can’t just return them on the sidewalk,” Nash said. “Hopefully, that won’t happen.”

Norfolk, Virginia, in April launched a nearly identical program to “wild” success, said city spokeswoman Lori Crouch. The Norfolk system has about 283 bikes, which users ride an average of 250 times a day, Crouch said. In three months, users have taken more than 20,000 rides.

The program has surpassed expectations, said Norfolk Councilwoman Andria McClellan.

“We have been pleasantly surprised with how often the Pace bikes are used and the diverse geography they’re used,” McClellan said. Initially, the Norfolk bikes were installed in the city’s downtown core — similar to the Annapolis model — but now, bikes pop up in every neighborhood, McClellan said.

Bike litter hasn’t been an issue, she said, though sometimes bikes end up locked to lamp-posts and fences. A “rebalancing team” returns wayward bikes to the appropriate stations, McClellan said.

Much of Norfolk’s success is due to biking infrastructure, which the city put in place ahead of the program and continues to expand throughout the city. Buckley has announced his intentions to create a designated bike lane on Main Street and to connect existing bike paths throughout the city, though work has not yet begun.

Jon Korin, president of Bicycle Advocates for Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, said he’s cautiously optimistic about the bike-share program. The biking community is looking to expand and promote “active transportation,” Korin said, but he hopes the city can improve downtown biking infrastructure to help the program thrive.

“Right now, downtown Annapolis doesn’t have any marked bike lanes,” Korin said. “There’s a fraction of the population that would be comfortable riding with cars, but that’s a skinny part of the population. There’s a much broader part of the population that feels more comfortable with a safer place to ride.”

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