by Evan Banks
Bike to Work Day is this Friday. While cycling may not be everyone’s preferred mode of transportation, increasingly metropolitan areas have been embracing it a plausible means of getting to-and-from. Over the past year, City Hall has been working diligently to roll out the Pony Express Bike Share. Its intention was to create an accessible means of transportation and recreational opportunity for people. The pilot program saw success last year through a federal grant. The Public Works & Transportation Department, which has taken control over the program due to the Health Department’s necessary shift to public health concerns, has sought to expand the program. Through community partnerships, sponsorships, and public involvement, the city seeks to encourage bike-friendly culture. Programs such as these in other cities around the world have seen resounding success and St. Joe is following suit.
Officials at City Hall and many members of the community have shown their support. Caitlin Zibers, Transportation Planner for the Public Works & Transportation Department at City Hall believes that the program will benefit everyone. “There are two types of users. The first would be for recreation – we have an amazing parkway and trail system in St. Joe which is perfect for riding the bikes. The second would be someone who would be interested in cycling as a form of transportation, in which case these bikes are perfect for shorter distances for those who want to run errands or commute to work or class.” However, there has been some skepticism regarding a share program based on the “honor system.” Zibers comments that that skepticism was ill-placed: “31 of the 40 bikes were returned last year which is over 75% of the fleet. I think some people expected all of the bikes to be stolen or damaged, so we were pleasantly surprised that so many were returned. This also gives me hope that the honor-system model could continue to work and that by adding more bikes we can continue to increase the fleet size with the majority being returned each year.” With most start-up bike share systems budgeting for a full-replacement by the end of their initial year, this is a remarkable success.
Considering this success, the program provides opportunities for local businesses and community partners on which to capitalize. Not only will the program benefit the people using the service it also provides spaces for businesses to support culture and their own enterprise. Zibers is working to use partnerships to ensure the program’s longevity. Businesses are encouraged to show their support for the system through spaces on the bike racks and bicycles themselves. The sponsorship program has been expanded to include options ranging from $300-$2500 and three new bike racks are in the works to be added to Missouri Western’s campus to connect the university with the greater city and downtown. In the interest of ensuring longevity the bikes have been upgraded to withstand substantial wear-and-tear.
Zibers points to success in other cities. Specifically, Manhattan KS which has increased their fleet size to the hundreds. They have done so using the “honor system” in much the same way as St. Joe. Both systems have been able to do so at a fraction of the cost of larger metropolitan areas which utilize other systems that have cost between hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. Should the program continue to show success, it can be upgraded to more technologically advanced programs that utilize cellphone apps and GPS systems. To increase support and functionality, Zibers encourages citizens, elected officials, and businesses to, “explore public policies and infrastructure improvements that would increase safety for cyclists –such as sharrows and dedicated lanes.” With biking proving to grow as a reliable and consistent means of transportation in many cities across the United States, St. Joseph is keeping up with changing trends in transportation and recreation. While over the past year there have been few bikes visible in the racks, the return rate has demonstrated that this is because they are in circulation and while not seemingly the case, this is demonstrative of success. Bikes sitting in the racks are not being ridden. Should the fleet size see a sizable increase, more bikes will be made available to more individuals thus adding to the program’s considerable benefits.
Current bike rack stations are located at the Remington Nature Center, the Radisson, across the street from City Hall, the Courthouse, Felix Square, the 6th and Angelique Transfer Station, Patee Park, and the trail head at Maple Leaf Parkway. There is a map on the MPO website at Stjoempo.org. Any interested parties in sponsorship or utilizing the system can request more information from Cailtlin Zibers at Czibers@stjoemo.org or 816-236-1471.