Business Development Transportation

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

A new feasibility study shows that a 35-station bike sharing system would attract 305,000 annual trips in Cincinnati. Buoyed by the findings, city leaders plan to release an RFP within the coming weeks that hopes to identify a company that will build and operate the 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.

By Randy A. Simes

Randy is an award-winning urban planner who founded UrbanCincy in May 2007. He grew up on Cincinnati’s west side in Covedale, and graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s nationally acclaimed School of Planning in June 2009. In addition to maintaining ownership and serving as the managing editor for UrbanCincy, Randy has worked professionally as a planning consultant throughout the United States, Korea and the Middle East. After brief stints in Atlanta and Chicago, he currently lives in the Daechi neighborhood of Seoul’s Gangnam district.