Government

Cedar Rapids bike share program picks up speed

After initial success, scores more cycles being deployed

Rob Muenchrath, the local fleet coordinator for vendor VeoRide, rides an e-bike Friday to its parking station in NewBo in Cedar Rapids. An initial round of 45 bikes will grow to 150 as the new bikes — available to ride for 15 cents a minute — are distributed in the coming days. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Rob Muenchrath, the local fleet coordinator for vendor VeoRide, rides an e-bike Friday to its parking station in NewBo in Cedar Rapids. An initial round of 45 bikes will grow to 150 as the new bikes — available to ride for 15 cents a minute — are distributed in the coming days. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The full fleet of electric-assist bikes for the Cedar Rapids bike share is expected to roll into Cedar Rapids bike racks over the next week, expanding access and availability for those looking to rent wheels to get around town or enjoy the local bike trail network.

With an initial 45 bikes and 20 bike racks available since May 13, the program’s popularity has met expectations so far, officials say. Once the full 150 bikes are on the ground, they anticipate a critical mass to boost the numbers further.

“I think it has been really successful so far, especially with the number of bikes we have,” said Sylvia Bochner, a city planner. “It still is new to Cedar Rapids, and people are figuring it out.”

VeoRide, the Chicago-based vendor providing the bikes and operating the system at no cost to taxpayers, delivered the remainder of the fleet Thursday and will be unpacking and tuning the bikes before gradually unleashing them around the downtown over the next several days.

The new bikes are emerald green, which matches the city color brand, and have five stripes representing the “City of Five Seasons” slogan. The existing teal green bikes will be phased out as the new ones are deployed.

Other than the paint, a different bell and a cup holder, the bikes function the same.

City crews have added an additional 20 racks since the initial launch, and eventually 90 will be stationed around downtown throughout the summer. City officials still are identifying the best locations for them.

“I’ve seen people in shirts and ties and others in shorts and T-shirts using them, so I think it is a pretty cool program,” said Lawrence Davies, 56, who works in the New Bohemia District.

He added that his phone doesn’t have apps, so he has not yet tried the bikes himself.

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Regan Grekoff, 20, of Cedar Rapids, rented a bike once with a friend late one night and they cruised around for about a half an hour from the Czech Village to downtown. She said her friend had a technical issue with locking the bike and ending the ride, but she did not have any problems otherwise.

“I would say they are more fun at night when there is more action going on, but they are fun and easy to use,” she said.

Data from VeoRide shows the system has supported to 2,350 rides — or 87 per day — over a three-week period through Monday, and 1,375 app downloads. Average ride length is 16 minutes, which is twice the time seen in college towns like Champaign, Ill., said Rob Muenchrath, the local fleet coordinator for VeoRide.

The minimum goal with the full fleet is three to four rides per day per bike, or at least 400 total with an upper target of 600 to 800 rides per day, said Muenchrath, who previously ran a Des Moines bike share for four years.

“Bicycle riding for a lot of people, especially the casual rider, is weather-dependent,” Muenchrath said. “That (number) is pretty good considering how many rain days we had in May.”

Having only a small fleet until now likely curbed some use, given that people like to ride in groups. So if three people go to a rack with only two bikes available, they will likely pass, he said.

The bikes are designed to be left virtually anywhere within the downtown area, but city officials are urging people to leave them in the racks.

Over the past three weeks, the bikes are commonly found along sidewalks, and at least once a bike was left on the side of a street in a Hiawatha neighborhood.

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Bochner noted people can face additional charges for parking outside of a geofenced downtown area, which is denoted on the VeoRide app used to reserve and end rentals. The cost is $1 to unlock a bike and 15 cents per minute to ride.

“In terms of bikes being left outside the racks, we have seen it some, but not to a level where we can’t take care of it,” Bochner said. “We haven’t heard of anything too concerning where a bike is blocking traffic or completely blocking a sidewalk. People call and let us know if is somewhere unusual, but there’s been nothing too egregious.”

One of the jobs of local VeoRide staff is to pick up bikes left in inappropriate places and return them to racks, as well as to perform repairs.

The city also has launched a “walk your wheels” campaign reminding people that biking on sidewalks downtown is prohibited.

Electric-assist scooters are expected to be added as part of a trial in August, timed to the start of the Coe College academic year. City officials also had hoped to add fat-tire bikes near Mount Trashmore, but that plan still is being negotiated.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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