Government

New bike share could boost business in downtown Cedar Rapids

First phase of program begins with 45 electric-assisted bikes

Riders, including Cedar Rapids City Council member Scott Olson (right), ride Monday evening in the Fourth Avenue SE bike lane while trying out the new VeoRide electric-assisted bikes during the launch of a new bike share in Greene Square in Cedar Rapids. The program is expected to expand over the summer and fall. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Riders, including Cedar Rapids City Council member Scott Olson (right), ride Monday evening in the Fourth Avenue SE bike lane while trying out the new VeoRide electric-assisted bikes during the launch of a new bike share in Greene Square in Cedar Rapids. The program is expected to expand over the summer and fall. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — After years of talk about starting one, the initial phase of a bike share program began Monday with predictions from business leaders that it will bode well for the city’s core.

“I think it is going to have a big impact,” said Jesse Thoeming, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Downtown District. “Sometimes folks don’t have that luxury to walk from the MedQuarter to downtown or NewBo to downtown for a meeting or lunch or coffee. I think it will move the needle in a big way in connecting these districts.”

It’s nice to see Cedar Rapids following in the footsteps of forward-looking cities offering these types of amenities, he said, noting he hopes people use the vehicles appropriately.

Abby Huff, executive director of the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District, added that “we hope the bike share program allows more people to understand how easy and quick it is to get from Czech Village to New Bohemia and also from downtown and the MedQ. We look forward to more people exploring our great district and having fun while doing it.”

After years in discussion, the bike share launched with 45 electric-assist bikes and 22 bike stations, marking the start of Bike to Work Week and offering free rides and bike helmets for those in need.

“As you pedal they give you a boost,” Spencer Dickerson, a regional manager for VeoRide, said of the electric-assist bikes. “If you want to go faster, pedal a little more.”

VeoRide of Chicago is the operator and is absorbing most of the cost for equipment. The company founded by two Purdue University students operates in 30 cities, including Pella.

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”It’s really easy,” said Charles Johnson, 45, of Cedar Rapids, who said he hopes to use the bikes to get between jobs. “They’ll be a big hit. They’re pretty cheap. People will use them lot.”

Johnson was among several dozen people who got to test ride the bikes during a Monday evening launch event.

A grant from the Wellmark Foundation covered the cost of several of the bike share stations.

The city had projected spending upward of $500,000 to launch a bike share until VeoRide stepped forward.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said the program would pay for itself and reminded users the bikes must follow the same rules of the road as cars and urged riders to wear bike helmets.

In June, the fleet is expected to grow to 150 electric-assist bikes and 90 stations located in downtown, New Bohemia, Czech Village, Kingston Village and MedQuarter.

Mount Trashmore is expected to get eight to 20 fat-tire bikes. About 30 electric-assist scooters are expected to be added as a trial from August to October.

The cost is $1 to unlock a bike or scooter, and 15 cents per each minute of use. Discounts for low-income riders are available. Unlocking and paying for the bikes is done through a free smartphone app. The promo code of 5seasons provides credit to try a ride for free until Friday.

Cedar Rapids officials have said they are attempting to tread carefully, especially with the scooters, to ensure they are a good fit for the community. While the bikes and scooters have proved popular in many cities, they’ve also faced criticism as being dangerous to pedestrians and of being discarded all over like litter.

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Kris Van Gent, of Iowa Bike Co. of Pella, helped bring VeoRide to Pella. The bike shop serves as a local contractor to help manage the operation, which includes 65 traditional bikes.

“We are just shy of a year with VeoRide and overall it’s gone pretty well,” Van Gent said. “We’ve had lots of ridership, lots of good feedback. We had the Tulip Festival a week ago and the bikes were put to good use.”

Two of the area’s biggest companies, Vermeer and Pella Corp., are considering getting dedicated bikes for their campuses, he said.

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

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