Atlanta has never been what you’d consider a bike-friendly city. Ever tried pedaling down Courtland Street? Or Memorial Drive? Or Martin Luther King Jr. Drive?
But local officials are trying to change that reputation. Earlier this year Mayor Kasim Reed hired the city’s first-ever “chief bicycle officer”; construction crews have striped more roads with bike lanes (Atlanta now has a total of 84 miles of bike infrastructure—which is equivalent to about 5 percent of all roads in the city); and residents voted to let the city build a series of new bike projects funded as part of a $250 million infrastructure bond package. And after years of analysis, the city finally committed to bring a bike-share program to Atlanta, joining bike-friendly cities such as Portland and Boston.
The long-awaited Atlanta Bike Share was supposed to launch any day now. Back in March, when Reed inked a five-year contract with Miami-based CycleHop LLC, he pledged the program would be up and running before the end of 2015. However, finding the right people to oversee it took longer than expected. After nearly nine months without a permanent planning commissioner, the city brought Tim Keane from Charleston last May. Meanwhile, Becky Katz was hired as chief bicycle officer this past October following a five-month search. Those personnel moves, while ultimately needed, delayed the program’s rollout.
“We’re approaching the launch of the bike share program,” Keane recently told us. “It won’t be done [before the end of the year], but it’ll be coming.”
But fear not, bike share enthusiasts! According to Keane, your dreams of pedaling down Peachtree Street are expected to come true “sometime in the summer.” At that point, Atlantans will be able to rent one of 500 bikes at more than 50 stations located in Buckhead, Midtown, Downtown, West End, and neighborhoods along the Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside Trail. The bikes will be wrapped in advertising and outfitted with GPS-enabled locks that allow the bikes to be dropped off at any of the stations.
Before that happens, though, the city plans to hold a series of public meetings to gain feedback on where rental stations should be located and what kind of educational efforts or services might be needed to get the program off the ground. It’s a process, Katz noted, that’s already started with key partners including local universities and bicycle organizations.
“To me, the bike share program isn’t about the day we launch,” Katz said. “What happens on day two? What happens on day 100? What does it accomplish? That’s paramount in the discussion.”
During those discussions, Katz believes Atlanta Bike Share must be focused on improving public transportation for residents, rather than providing a leisure activity for tourists. To avoid the mistakes seen in cities like New York, Katz prefers to take additional time to ensure that bike-share stations with racks, payment kiosks, and helmet vending machines are placed at the ideal sites. In addition, she notes, cyclists could also potentially have the option to leave a bike on the street for pickup by a bike attendant for an extra fee.
“Biking is about convenience,” Katz said. “That’s what we want in our transportation system. Parking a bike 10 blocks away from where you want to be isn’t effective if you’re running late or the weather’s bad. This will help reduce the barrier to riding.”