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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Would Bike-Share Work in Fort Thomas?

Red Bike, Cincinnati's new bike-share program, has announced plans to expand into Northern Kentucky/Facebook

There has been quite a bit of buzz recently surrounding Cincinnati's new bike-share program, Red Bike, eyeing Northern Kentucky as a possible location for future expansion. News sources from both sides of the river, in fact, have reported that it's not so much a matter of if Red Bike will expand south of the Ohio River, but when.

While urban core NKY cities like Covington, Newport, and Bellevue are being mentioned as the most immediate and obvious candidates for inclusion, would a city like Fort Thomas be worth considering?

Bike-share programs are popping up all across the nation, chiefly as urban transit alternatives to automobiles and train systems. Red Bike, one of the newest in the U.S., is only in its second month of operation and already seeing success way beyond officials' expectations. As early as one month in, Red Bike was reporting ridership seven times that which they initially estimated, according to the Cincinnati Business Courier.

Beyond the basic health benefits of using a bicycle to get around, numerous studies have documented the impact bicycling infrastructure has on a local economy. One study looking at bike activity in Wisconsin found that a single bicycle commuter can generate as much as $2,100 of economic activity within a year, and a recreational bicycle rider as much as $2,400. That's per rider.

Local leaders are looking at bike share in the same way. Jody Robinson, Assistant City Administrator in Bellevue, told the River City News, “There’s a real beauty in getting people out of their cars and on foot or bicycle because they will see their community in a more engaging and authentic way, which will lead to even more interconnection between the business districts."

In the same RCN piece, Jason Barron, executive director of Red Bike, echoed the sentiment.

"Barron believes it will encourage inter­city commerce," the report said, "both across the Ohio River, between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, but also within Northern Kentucky, across the Licking River, between Kenton and Campbell Counties."

Debbie Buckley, Fort Thomas Director of Economic Development, can see the same potential. When asked about bike-share in Fort Thomas, Buckley told FTM, "I think it's an interesting concept as it might encourage folks to visit Fort Thomas."

"I've not heard anyone mention it, but I wish they would!" she said. "The question is, why aren't they talking about it?"

Buckley did mention that she's heard some discuss the idea of a bike rental facility in Tower Park, but no mention of bringing bike share to Fort Thomas.

With the growth of Fort Thomas's central business district, the economic impact of bike-share should be perking local leaders' ears. This seems especially true because of Buckley's and others' expressed desire to draw more "out-of-town" consumers to Fort Thomas businesses. A bike-share station in Fort Thomas's Towne Center, for example, could pose an opportunity for businesses.

But, despite the theoretical economic impact, the question remains whether or not Fort Thomas residents would use bike-share bikes, or if other Northern Kentuckians would use bike-share to visit Fort Thomas.

In simple geographical terms, Fort Thomas's position at the top of a hill poses an immediate, obvious obstacle for both inbound and outbound bike share traffic. The entry way into Fort Thomas that poses the least incline would be Memorial Parkway, which, in one way, would make sense due to its connection with urban core cities like Newport and Bellevue, both primary candidates for Northern Kentucky bike-share.

Memorial Pkwy, though, is also rather intimidating for even some more seasoned riders, with very little shoulder and higher traffic speeds. A bike lane on Memorial, which could alleviate that intimidation factor, would also prove challenging for city officials to initiate, in that it is a state-maintained roadway.

Another consideration is the amount of time it takes to pedal a bike-share bike, which has a coaster-style frame with only three gears, to make it from the riverfront locations in Newport or Bellevue that stand as the most likely spots, initially, for Northern Kentucky bike-share. The 30-minute time-limit may not be enough for some riders to make the trip.

It might also be because bicycle culture is only starting to find its way up the hill into Fort Thomas. Most commonly, cyclists seen pedaling through Fort Thomas are doing just that -- pedaling through Fort Thomas, clad in lycra and other professional gear, making one leg of a longer ride that only more seasoned riders tend to make.

Population density and what Barron calls "originations and destinations" -- or, where people are coming from and where they are going -- ultimately play the primary role in determining where a bike-share station will be located. Urban core communities usually make more sense because of the density of both residences and businesses.

For this reason alone, it seems likely that Fort Thomas would not fall into the initial phase of a Northern Kentucky bike-share program, but that does not mean it could never be.

In the end, Barron said, it will come down to support from city officials and residents if any bike-share in Northern Kentucky is going to succeed. “It’s absolutely a political issue,” he told RCN. “People need to make it obvious they want (bike-share) here."

Fort Thomas City Administrator Don Martin agrees that hearing support from city residents would be the first step. "If the public expressed a strong desire for this program I think it would certainly garner discussion among the elected officials," he told FTM. "I can't state affirmatively what the city's response would be, but we would certainly give a consideration."

What do you think? Would you be interested in seeing Fort Thomas included in Northern Kentucky's bike-share plans? Let us know in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter!

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