We discuss how the first two years of Cincinnati’s bike share program have gone, what tweaks have been made during that time, and where the system is going next. We also discuss Red Bike’s challenges in neighborhoods that are hillier and not as bike-friendly as Downtown Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine.
Since launching nearly two years ago, RedBike has been embraced by the region in a way even the bike-share system’s early proponents had not imagined.
When RedBike opened to the public on September 15, 2014 it included 29 stations, but has since swelled to 57 stations spanning two states, four cities and more than a dozen neighborhoods. The ability to expand and integrate the system across state and city lines is particularly notable as it is a feat most other bike-share systems in North America have not yet achieved.
This relatively rapid expansion has been fueled by higher than expected ridership. As of early July, RedBike had hosted 116,739 rides – or about 5,300 per month. Bolstered by more than 1,500 annual members, these ridership totals translate into some 17,683 different people who have ridden a RedBike.
“Red Bike has gotten off to a dream start. Our community has embraced this new form of transportation,” Leslie Maloney, President of the Red Bike Board of Directors and Senior Vice President of the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, said in a prepared release. “We will work to continue providing the highest quality and most fun transportation option in Cincinnati.”
Following the trends of bike-share systems elsewhere throughout the world, approximately 74% of its riders have either never ridden a bike before or at least not within the month before RedBike opened. This data makes many bike advocates in the region looking for ways to improve road safety for the surge of new cyclists out on the streets.
The biggest news in RedBike’s recently released annual report, however, pertains to its finances.
While many bike-share systems around the country have struggled financially, RedBike has been able to operate in the black since its inception, and has grown its cash reserves year-over-year.
In 2014 RedBike had a total of $234,251 in expenses and $1,144,911 in revenues. That net income grew in 2015 when the bike-share system had $484,389, but $1,740,792 in revenues. This net income, RedBike officials say, is used to purchase capital equipment necessary to keep the system fully functional.
While it is difficult to find bad news in the financial details released by RedBike, one might look at the fact that direct program income (user fees) cover only 65% of program expenses. When factoring in sponsorships, a fairly reliable and steady stream of income, it covers nearly 118% of program expenses.
All of the other income sources help to further stabilize the system, keep it operating at reliable and optimal levels, and are helping build a reserve fund that could be used to offset unexpected capital expenses or lower than anticipated operational performance.
“UC Health is thrilled to be the presenting sponsor of the RedBike program,” said Dr. Richard P. Lofgren, President and CEO of UC Health. “As someone who lives downtown, all I have to do is look outside to see how successful this program is, and how bike share has been embraced by the citizens of Cincinnati.”
With National Bike Month coming to a close, the rhetoric surrounding the fate of the city’s lone protected bike lane continues. Following weeks of discussion and political wrangling, the city’s latest politicized transportation project will be studied again after two initial reports were found to be inconclusive by some leaders at City Hall.
The debate is, perhaps not coincidentally, taking place while the city’s bike community is becoming more active in terms of numbers of riders, group rides and political activism.
Last night at the Mercantile Library dozens crowded the venue to hear a panel discussion and engage in discussion about the current and future state of Cincinnati’s bike network. Organized by Queen City Bike and other area advocacy groups, the event served as an opportunity for people to constructively discuss the good and bad about the city’s bike infrastructure.
First adopted in June 2010, Cincinnati’s Bicycle Transportation Plan has served as the official document meant to guide policy decisions at City Hall. Since its adoption, however, the planning document has largely sat on the shelf, with targets for the development of bike lanes and other infrastructure falling behind schedule.
Mayor John Cranley’s administration has made it very clear that they are not interested in the development of on-street bike lanes, particularly those that are physically protected from automobile traffic. In lieu of pursuing those targets, the Cranley administration has instead focused on off-street bike trails; while also providing the critical upfront investment to launch Red Bike.
“Under our public-private relationships and support of council and a very vibrant cyclist community, in my opinion, we’re going to be the most bike-friendly city in America in four years,” Mayor Cranley told Aaron Renn in 2014. “We have three major bike trails that can be connected on abandoned train tracks into downtown; and, candidly, we intend to get all three of them build in the next four years. There’s just nothing like it in any city.”
National studies have found that protected on-street bike lanes not only provide the greatest level of safety for both bicyclists and motorists, but also encourage a greater range of demographics to bike. According to the American Journal of Public Health, this is largely attributable to the fact that streets with protected bike lanes saw 90% fewer cyclist injuries per mile than those without.
When it opened in July 2014, the Central Parkway protected bike lane was the first of its kind in Ohio. Since then other cities around the state have developed their own protected bike lanes, but Cincinnati has gone back to discussing the merits of the project after a handful of motorists complained that it made the roadway more dangerous and confusing to navigate.
Those suggestions were refuted in a report issued earlier this month that found conflicts along the 2.2-mile stretch of Central Parkway with the protected bike lane are no different, or even safer, than on other comparable streets around the city; but that further experience and education is needed for motorists.
“The Cincinnati Police Department and DOTE both believe that as drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians become more familiar with the area and with the rules for the bike lane operations, there should be fewer conflicts,” the report concluded. “DOTE will continue to monitor conditions, and improvements may be made in the future as best practices evolve.”
Whether the future of Cincinnati’s bike infrastructure continues to focus on off-street bike trails, or shifts to a more balanced approach is yet to be seen. Queen City Bike is hoping last night’s event, and others to come in the future, will help grow the number of people advocating for a more robust bike network, but also refine the vision based around what it is the community wants to see pursued.
The Cranley administration has put forth a proposed budget that increases spending on bicycle infrastructure, but the overwhelming majority of that money has been tagged for off-street trails, not protected bike lanes or other sorts of infrastructure improvements.
City Council has until the end of June to review, make proposed changes and approve next year’s budget. This will give the growing bike advocacy community a strong opportunity to make their voices heard.
One of Pendleton’s newest multi-family residential developments has not only saved a historic structure from the wrecking ball, but it has also become one of the city’s most bicycle friendly destinations in the process.
Cincinnati-based BiLT Architects designed, developed and rehabbed the 1870s tenement building to fit what they called a modern urban lifestyle. They were able to do this by retaining original architectural details, while also responding to new trends in Cincinnati’s rapidly growing bicycling community.
Located at 512 E. Twelfth Street in Pendleton, the seven-unit development offers an unparalleled amount of amenities for bicyclists looking to take advantage of the building’s central location.
On-site, the property has dedicated bike lockers and a fully outfitted bicycle workstation with bicycle stand, pump, and repair tools. Tenants can also purchase 50% discounted memberships to Cincy Red Bike, connecting them to a network that has grown to 385 bikes at 50 stations throughout Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
These efforts have earned Abigail Apartments the distinction of being the first apartment building in the city to be named an official “Bicycle Friendly Destination” by local advocacy organization Queen City Bike, of which Abigail Apartments is also a member.
The project does not have dedicated on-street parking, but this has not been an issue for prospective tenants. For example, the developers say, some people with employer-provided parking downtown have said they might leave their car parked at work and instead walk and bike for their other trips.
BiLT Architects’ Andre Bilokur said that he and his partner, Patricia Bittner, designed the project with people like their daughter in mind – renters who work in the center city want to live a car-free or “car-lite” lifestyle near all of the action, without sacrificing affordability or good design. More broadly, they expect the project to appeal to people on either side of having a family – young professionals and “never nesters”, or empty nesters, much like Andre and Patricia themselves, who also live and work in Over-the-Rhine.
BiLT purchased the property in late 2014 from OTR A.D.O.P.T., and, thanks to a tax abatement from the City of Cincinnati and an Ohio Historic Tax Credit, they were able to restore the structure and preserve many features of the original tenements, including refinished hardwood floors, restored windows, room layouts, and even privy closets. Accent patches on the walls also cleverly reveal old layers of plaster from former occupants.
The apartments began pre-leasing in April and will welcome the first residents in the coming weeks. Rents range from $840 to $880, or $1.50 to $1.60 per square foot.
This is BiLT Architects’ second adaptive reuse project in the area, following a townhouse project they designed and developed 1431-1435 Elm Street.
Andre and Patricia say more such projects are in the pipeline, including a set of commercial properties currently under construction near the townhomes on Elm Street. They say that these are expected to come on line by the end of the summer. A future phase at 1437 Elm Street will add a new construction, single-family home between the townhomes and commercial properties.
It’s no secret that the center city boasts a seemingly endless number of things to see and do, for both visitors and locals alike. Moving about from one destination to the next will soon get easier when the Cincinnati Streetcar opens for service, but, for those able to do so, Red Bike serves as a perfect tool to check out as many places as possible.
By taking transit, walking or riding a bike, you can avoid the hassles of fighting traffic, looking and paying for parking, and can check your concerns about parking tickets or other hassles. Plus, it’s also a great way to get some exercise in the process.
Downtown Cincinnati Inc. knows this well.
To help promote such information, they partnered with US Digital Partners on a video to showcase just how convenient and enjoyable it can be to explore the center city by bike. And thanks to the continued expansion of Red Bike, you can now take it to go beyond Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.
If the embedded video does not function properly, you can watch it on Vimeo here.