Would you share a bike?
(PHOTO: Shawn Hoffman of Schenectady hops on a Social Bicycle Thursday available during a Capital Region bike share demo by Bufallo BikeShare on State Street in Schenectady. PATRICK DODSON/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER)
We prize our cars, the freedom they afford, even when there is not a parking space to be had or the trip is just down the street.
So here is the question: Would you take advantage of bicycle sharing program if one existed in Schenectady? In Saratoga Springs? In Albany or Troy? A story from today:
SCHENECTADY -- Confused by the number of identical white bicycles along State Street Thursday morning, Shawn Hoffman approached a nearby information table.
"Are these bikes for rent?" he asked Michael Galligano, executive director of Buffalo Bike Share/Buffalo Car Share, which is in Schenectady to run a week-long bike sharing test program.
Galligano explained the program, how it is a free demo here this week (after registering with a credit card; in Buffalo the company charges after the first hour). His non-profit is working for the Capital District Transportation Committee to see if bike sharing could work in mid-sized to smaller Capital Region cities as well as (albeit to scale) initiatives in larger cities.
Galligano said in Buffalo usage is split between recreational and people just looking for a quick and easy mode to get to another part of town. In the "hubless" system, bikes are allocated thoughout a community at select points where riders can pick one up or drop one off. A pin number allows a registered user to check out a bike.
"The avid bike rider will not be using bike sharing," Galligano said. "They have their bike."
This week riders can register at State and Jay streets (for just Friday the hub will move to Jay Street in front of City Hall), with bikes available there, on Union Street in from of Union College's Webster House and on Union Street in front of the First Reformed Church.
The target audience is people like Hoffman. The 43-year-old from Schenectady couldn't believe his luck Thursday: Just the night before he talked with his out-of-town girlfriend about renting bicycles for her next visit.
"Can I try it out?" he asked. Soon he was tooling on one of the "social bicycles," mostly stripped down save for a basket and a GPS system that allows people to check them out and track where they go.
"I haven't been on a bike in awhile," Hoffman said. He quickly went from unsteady to smiling. "This rides like a charm."
He got off, signed up, and promised to use the program when his girlfriend comes to town next week and the pilot program shifts to Troy before moving on to Saratoga Springs and then Albany. "It's absolutely going to work for me," he said.
The question this pilot program seeks to answer is whether it will work in the Capital Region.
"We want to see what the interest was for bike sharing in the region and maybe encourage it," said Carrie Ward, a transportation planner with the Capital District Transportation Committee. She said as of now the CDTC suspects such a program in select area cities is "not feasible — but could be," provided there is an investment in infrastructure (lanes, paths, markings bike racks).
Galligano, here from Buffalo, said he was struck by the absence of bike racks in the refurbished State Street area near Jay Street.
"I don't understand why bike racks were not installed," he said. "If bike sharing doesn't come but you see 100 bike racks installed, that would be a huge success for the city."
Mayor Gary McCarthy sees the point. "It is one of the things we have not addressed," he said. The mayor continued with the completion of the Erie Boulevard, the city will look at adding other amenities to the area that, after study, could include more bike racks.
McCarthy sees tremendous potential for a bike sharing program if the Mohawk Harbor casino plan is approved by the state.
"If you had a bike stand at the Mohawk Harbor site and one somewhere close to the center of downtown, it would create that convenience," he said. "It's an evolution for the community. I see good things happening from it."