Houston Starts Small As It Tries Out First-Ever Bike Share

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B-Cycle Runs Denver and San Antonio Bike Shares (Photo: Andrea Bernstein)

(Houston, TX -- Gail Delaughter, KUHF)  A city that loves to drive is taking its first step toward setting up a bike share program. Starting this spring, people in downtown Houston will be able to use  solar-powered kiosks to check out bikes for short trips.

The city has given a $105,000 contract to B-Cycle to operate the program.

The program is starting on a small scale, in what officials term as a "demonstration" of the technology. There will be a total of 18 bikes and three kiosks, located within blocks of each other at three downtown locations. One will be at the convention center, another at the main public library, and a third kiosk will be located at Market Square park. Users of the system can register on a website or at the kiosk themselves.

Ray Cruz with Houston's Fleet Management Department says over the next year they'll gauge the public's interest in the program, as well as how it should be set up on a wider scale. "Obviously the city of Houston's footprint is huge, and to satisfy our needs we have to take into account how it would be received." If the program expands in the future, the city will have to set up individual systems for different neighborhoods, considering Houston's sprawling geographical area. Officials are also talking about setting up kiosks near the city's expanding light rail lines.

Houston is listed as a non-attainment area by the EPA in terms of air quality, and the heavily car-dependent city has been looking at bike sharing for the past couple of years as a way to reduce vehicle emissions. The pilot program is modeled after San Antonio's bike share, which currently has 20 kiosks at popular destinations. The Wisconsin company that installed San Antonio's system, B-Cycle LLC, will also install the Houston system.

The Houston City Council has approved a $105,000 contract to get things up and running. Each bike cost a little under $1000 and the kiosks cost about $10,000. The project is funded through an EPA climate showcase grant and will be operated through a partnership with the city and the nonprofit group Bike Houston. A local bike shop has volunteered to maintain the bikes at no cost for a year.

Cruz says response to the bike share pilot program has been positive so far. The city has been working to develop an extensive bikeway network, which now totals about 460 miles. Also figures from 2011 show a big jump in the number of Houstonians who ride their bikes to work.

The city is currently working on a website where people can sign up for the program.

New York and Chicago are expected to launch their bike share programs this summer.