Bicycle Sharing Coming to Providence

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — A bike-sharing program is on its way. If all goes as planned, the city will soon have some 200 bicycles and 20 bike-share stations scattered across the East, West and South sides.

The Board of Contract & Supply recently awarded management of the project to Alta Bicycle Share of Portland, Ore. Alta runs bike-share programs for Boston and New York City. Social Bicycles Inc. of New York will provide the bikes and bike stations. Dynamic Bicycles of Bristol will have its chainless pedal system used in the bikes.

The program won’t be operational until Alta finds a sponsor, or set of sponsors, to help finance the project. The company said the bike-share program will be up and running within six months of securing sponsorship. Alta intends to line up a sponsor(s) soon because of its relationships with many companies in North America.

“We expect to have a quick and successful sponsorship process,” Alta CEO Michael Jones wrote in a letter to the city.

The program will be revenue-neutral to the city, leaving Alta to raise an estimated $800,000 to launch the program and collect the $500,000 needed each year for operation.

Many details still need to be worked out, but it’s expected that riders will participate through memberships — paid daily, monthly or annually — to access the program's bicycles. With a membership, the bikes would be available anytime, with the first 30 minutes free. Members would pay an estimated $2 for each additional hour. A one-year membership is estimated to cost between $60 and $80.

“Yeah! Sign me up. I can’t wait,” said Amelia Rose, chairwoman of the city’s Environmental Sustainability Task Force, when news of the bike-share plan was announced at the committee’s Dec. 5 meeting.

Additional planning also needs to be done with the Department of Public Works for bike rack installations, signage and painting on roads. The city is also looking for help from groups such as the Rhode Island Bike Coalition and Recycle-A-Bike to educate drivers and bikers about the rules of the road.

“A lot of people don’t even know what side of the road to ride on,” task force member Angie Bannerman Ankoma said.

Brown University and Johnson & Wales University are expected to host some of the bike hubs as part of the program's first phase of development. Rose asked that public high schools also have access to the bikes.

Alta conducted bike-share studies for Providence in 2010 and 2011. The reports recommended 22 stations across a 1.4-square-mile area centered downtown. The suggested bike hubs locations are expected to be applied to the bike-share system.

Social Bicycles doesn't require electrified kiosks, but relies on racks for parking. The bikes are self-locking and can even be parked away from a rack. Riders can locate them through a GPS tracking system. A smart phone app is typically needed to reserve and locate an available bike.

Phase I of the project locates hubs at the Statehouse, Train Station Plaza, Providence Place Mall, Kennedy Plaza, RISD, Johnson & Wales, the Dunkin' Donuts Center, Jewelry District, Empire and Westminster streets, two at Brown University, Thayer Street, Wayland Square, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, and Hope and Olney streets.

Phase II includes Memorial Park, URI-Providence Campus, Garbaldi Square, Upper South Providence, Smith Hill, Providence College and the Brown Athletic Center.