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Sneak peek at possible bike-share infrastructure in downtown Sacramento

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One version of what a Sacramento bicycle-sharing program might look like was on display Thursday at Ninth and I streets.

Representatives from B-cycle, a Wisconsin-based company that supplied equipment to 14 bicycle-sharing programs across the United States, including Denver and Honolulu, were on hand to answer questions about their systems.

According to B-cycle representative Jason McDowell, the infrastructure has come a long way since bicycle-sharing programs began cropping up in the past decade.

“We’ve had a chance to learn from the mistakes of others instead of making those mistakes ourselves,” he said, referring to the early struggles of the bicycle-sharing program in Paris, where there were constant reports of theft and vandalism in the early days.

“Since 2010, we have only lost one or two bikes,” he added, saying that neither was stolen from one of the stations when it was locked up.

Local officials are currently working on a study to examine the feasibility of a bicycle-sharing program in the Sacramento region.

Getting a working program off the ground will likely take $1 million – $3 million, but that’s a figure proponents say is public transit on the cheap.

“It gets people out of their reliance on the car, and in makes them active,” said Chris Morfas, senior policy coordinator for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District.

With the study costing about $30,000, some have wondered why there is a need to spend the money, but Morfas said it is a small price to pay to ensure that installing the infrastructure will make a good return on investment.

“We want to make sure we know that we’re putting the stations in the areas where people will use them and that placing them there makes sense,” he said. “In transportation spending, that’s relatively small.”

The report is expected to be completed by spring of next year, at which point local governments can decide if it’s something that’s right for the region, and if it is, they can seek funding.

B-cycle is only one vendor of bicycle-sharing infrastructure that may be considered by the region if it moves forward with the process, and it is housed in the same building as bicycle manufacturer Trek Bicycles.

“From Trek’s perspective, they’re not looking to make a lot of money off the bikes,” McDowell said, referencing the estimated $1,000 – $1,400 that each bicycle will cost. “What we’ve seen is that installing something like this flips a switch – cities become much more bike-friendly, and from Trek’s perspective, it encourages people to go out and buy their own bikes.”

A pilot program coordinated by the Midtown Business Association last year was deemed unsuccessful after a string of thefts and vandalism, but it was a markedly different system from the ones in use in places such as Boulder, Colo., and Washington, D.C.

The Midtown program used widely available bicycles and was launched on a small scale. Systems offered by companies such as B-cycle use specialized bicycles with unique styles and locking mechanisms that aren’t commercially available, and they start with greater numbers of bicycles.

The bikes are secured with dual locks on each side of the front fork.

“In Denver, we started with 500 bikes,” McDowell said. “What usually happens is the city either forms a nonprofit or partners with a nonprofit to keep the programs going.”

Like other methods of public transit, the bicycles can display advertisements, which helps offset the cost of upkeep. Additionally, nominal fees are paid by users.

According to a B-cycle brochure, typical fees are $5 – $10 for a 24-hour pass, a seven-day membership is about $30 and an annual membership is about $65, with the first 30 minutes of using a bicycle bearing no additional charge.

Typically, usage beyond 30 minutes adds a fee, depending on how long the bicycle remains rented.

“The idea is that this completes a public transit network,” McDowell said. “People can get off a train or a bus, get on a bike and ride that last mile to work, where they can turn in the bike at a large office building.”

Elizabeth Studebaker, executive director of the Midtown Business Association, said she thinks the program would be good for business, giving options beyond cars and making visitors have greater access to businesses.

“It’s also really great for tourism,” she said. “It gives people working an easy way to get on a bike and ride to a restaurant for lunch or do some shopping. It’s kind of exploding all over the country.”

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