Cincinnati City Leaders to Move Forward with Ohio’s First Bike Sharing System

A new study, prepared by Alta Planning + Design, has determined how and where a bicycle sharing system could be implemented in Cincinnati in a way that will compliment its expanding Bicycle Transportation Program.

The recently released report was called for by city leaders in May 2012, and identifies a 35-station, 350-bike system that would be built over two phases in Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton, Clifton Heights, Corryville, Clifton, Avondale and the West End.

“We went into this study wanting the public to be a big part of the process. They contributed more than 300 suggestions for stations and cast nearly 2,000 votes,” said Michael Moore, Director of the Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE). “Thanks to all their input, this study helps ensure bike share is relevant and useful to the residents and commuters in the downtown neighborhoods.”

Several neighborhoods throughout the city were determined as potential areas to be included in a future Cincinnati bike share system. Map provided by Alta Planning + Design.

City officials also say that locations throughout northern Kentucky’s river cities were also popular, and would make for a logical expansion in the future should system arrangements be achieved.

According to the report, the 35 station locations were identified through public input and through a variety of suitability factors that include population density, percentage of residents between the ages of 20 and 40, employment density, mixture of uses and entertainment destinations, connectivity with existing and planned transit networks, and the terrain in the immediate area.

“In general, there are enough positive indicators to suggest that bike sharing is feasible in Cincinnati,” Alta Planning + Design wrote in the 49-page report. “There are no fatal flaws, although a smaller dependency on visitors and ordinances restricting advertising would need to be overcome to make the system financially viable.”

The financial viability of the project is particularly important in Cincinnati’s case as city officials have determined that a privately owned and operated system would be the best business model for Cincinnati.

Alta Planning + Design estimates that the potential 35-station system, spread throughout Downtown and Uptown, would cost approximately $2 million to construct and nearly $200,000 to operate annually. While user fees are expected to sustain a portion of the annual operating costs, system operators will most likely need a variance to city law to allow for advertising on the stations, as is commonplace for bike sharing systems throughout the world.

More than 2,000 responses helped determine public support for potential station locations [LEFT]. The initial system would be built out over two phases in Downtown and Uptown [RIGHT]. Maps provided by Alta Planning + Design.

“As of now we do not intend to invest any public funds in the system, other than in-kind assistance with marketing and station siting,” explained DOTE Senior City Planner Melissa McVay, who recently sat down to discuss Cincinnati’s bike culture on Episode #8 of The UrbanCincy Podcast.

Annual membership fees and hourly rates would be determined by the eventual company selected to operate the system, and would be contingent upon how much money could be raised through advertising and local sponsorships.

In addition to drilling into local details and demographics pertinent to a potential Cincinnati bike sharing system, the feasibility study also compared Cincinnati to other cities throughout North America that have operational bike sharing systems.

Through that analysis it was found that Cincinnati’s system would be smaller than those in Miami, Boston, Washington D.C., Montreal and Toronto, but that it would be larger than systems in San Antonio, Des Moines and Chattanooga. Cincinnati’s system is also anticipated to have a more favorable trip comparison, for the first year of operation, than both Minneapolis and Denver.

The report also estimates that Cincinnati’s system would attract 105,000 trips in its first year of operations, with that growing to 305,000 in year five once both Downtown and Uptown regions are operating, with approximately 25 percent of trips replacing a vehicle trip.

“We want Cincinnatians to be able to incorporate cycling into their daily routine, and a bike share program will help with that,” Moore explained. “Bike share helps introduce citizens to active transportation, it reduces the number of short auto trips in the urban core, and it promotes sustainable transportation options.”

The City of Cincinnati is expected to issue a request for proposals, within the next month, that will call for bids from an operator of the planned system. If all goes according to plan the Midwest’s sixth, and Ohio’s first, bike share system could become functional as early as the operator’s ability to acquire funding.

  • I noticed something like this in London when I visited last year…very cool.

  • I may just be overlooking something obvious… but if one particular destination (or several for that matter) are far more popular to end at and individuals want to leave the rented bike there but there are not stations open how is that problem resolved?
    and if bikes only depart from one particular station often and end at another with no return trip how do they get replaced from their original station?
    or are they requred to be returned to their original station?

    • BathtubGin

      I believe part of the system is to have trucks driving around, moving bikes to balance availability.

  • I’m hoping that the program is set up so that a member can take and return bikes at different locations, and pay only for the time used (or a maximum daily rate). For example, I might walk from OTR to downtown, but then want to bike back… so I take a bike from a downtown station and return it to an OTR station.

  • Mel

    Bikes can be returned at any station, not just the one where you originally rented it. If for some reason the station where you want to return the bike is already full, that station will credit your account to give you extra time to take the bike to another nearby station. The system will also give you real-time info via mobile phone or web so you can check in advance to see if there is a docking point available at your destination. The system operator will also be required to “re-balance” the stations daily, meaning they will travel between stations with a truck so they can take bikes from popular destination stations and return them to popular origin stations. The first 30 minutes of a trip are usually free, and then you are charged in 30 minute increments.

  • drew

    living in the clifton gaslight, i’m excited about this. i’ve been wanting a bike, but know i wouldn’t ride it enough to rationalize the expense. this will be a great alternative.

  • Mark Christol

    I kinda don’t understand this.
    A. Most people go the way they came.
    B. While a 1 size fits all approach works with cars (machines), it doesn’t really apply with bikes (tools). Different bikes ride different ways that appeal to the individual & then they have to fit the individual.
    I recently rented a bike in New Orleans. Hated the bike, but it worked for tooling around sightseeing and going, essentially, nowhere. That seems to be the goal here but can residents support it? NOLA relies on a big tourist market that Cincinnati doesn’t have.

  • Need something for the steep hills. I will never be able to ride up Ravine St.

    • Gary M

      Electric bikes with rechargable Li-ion batteries could solve the problem of steep hills in Cincy.

  • G-Sco

    If this is such a good idea, why haven’t private developers done it already? More tax money gone!

    • As stated in the article, no city money will be used on this system. This story is highlighting the feasibility study that was completed by a private firm that shows that there is in fact a good business opportunity here. The City of Cincinnati is now marketing that feasibility study and soliciting proposals from private companies who are interested in building and operating the system.

      On a side note, your private developers argument is kind of silly. There are lots of things (police/fire coverage, libraries, sewers, roadways, the court system, education, affordable housing, etc) that are valuable that the private sector has no interest in doing. Not all valuable things produce a profit, nor should they.

  • Brian Finstad

    I live in Minneapolis where Nice Ride, a bike sharing system, began three years ago. A lot of the questions and concerns I read on here are the same as what was discussed in Minneapolis at the time. I can tell you that it turned out to be hugely successful. As you travel about the city, you see Nice Ride bikes EVERYWHERE (you can’t miss them – they’re lime green). It has had a positive impact especially on small businesses. The system surpassed expectations very quickly and expanded dramatically during its second season.