Earlier this year Atlanta finally launched its bike share program, with 100 bikes spread among 22 stations midtown and downtown. Supporters of the program see it as a way to promote another transportation option in what is becoming a more dense and walkable urban area, and now the city is pushing to expand bike share to the Westside.
The hub for Atlanta’s bike share is already in the Westside. The warehouse where the city’s bikes go to get repaired is located across from a set of train tracks and a gas station in a nondescript building.
On a sunny afternoon that’s where Timberley Jones, who handles marketing and community outreach for the program, was working. She said the process for renting a bike begins with a credit card and an app called SoBi, short for Social Bicycles, which helps users locate and reserve bikes.
“(Once you sign-in) you get an email with your account number and your pin, and you can enter your pin directly onto the back of the bike to unlock it,” Jones said. “Once you unlock the bike, you just drop the lock [attached to it] and the lock goes with you.”
For one-time riders its $8 an an hour, but there are much cheaper deals for students and frequent riders. For example, there’s a monthly membership for $15 that includes 60 minutes per day of cycling.
The city hopes to add 10 stations into Westside neighborhoods, which Jones said is a good idea.
“The residents on the Westside ride bikes always – we’ve been riding bikes,” she said. “A bike share shouldn’t be something for people that just have access. The people on the Westside need access too.”
Atlanta’s Chief Bicycle Officer, Becky Katz agreed. She added that there’s another reason the city wants to focus on the Westside.
“It’s an area that’s had less investment but it’s also obviously a historically African American community,” said Katz. “In bike shares across the country they have had lower ridership from African American communities.”
Katz said because of Atlanta’s demographics, the city wants to make bike share for everyone and that’s why they’ve created the Westside Bikeshare Champions program.
Ten Westside residents were just hired to promote bike share in their community by attending neighborhood meetings, leading bike rides and collecting community feedback on where stations are located.
That’s important said Zahra Alabanza, she’s the head of the local cycling group for African Americans called Red Bike and Green. She’s also working with the city on the champions program.
“Bike share on a whole like, ‘yay it’s great. Its coming.’ There is some positivity to it, but what does it actually address?” said Alabanza. “When things show up into our community [we want to know] how does it better a community overall?
“Not how does it make it look cute and trendy and put us on the market for ‘oh Atlanta has bike share’, but how does it really enhance our ability to live well in our communities?”
One major hurdle to that is bike share doesn’t yet accept cash. Jones said that’s something the program knows and is working on.
“‘Because we’re moving into the Westside, that’s something we want to work on – bike equity – so that more people can ride the bikes,” said Jones.
She said they’re looking at how other cities, like Philadelphia, have incorporated a cash model into their bike share programs.
For now, riders will still need a credit card and there’s just one bike share station in the Westside at Castleberry Hill, but there are plans for more at the Atlanta University Center and Vine City neighborhoods in the spring of 2017.
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