By Joshua H. Silavent - Staff Writer
August 28, 2012 - Imagine for a moment that you’re riding a bicycle that will never get a flat tire, requires no pesky chain, is made of 100-percent recycled, American-made parts and includes all the safety features you could ever want or need.
Now picture thousands of these bikes stationed throughout Long Beach, ready to hit the streets, providing easy, affordable access to the city’s eclectic neighborhoods, like Retro Row, the East Village and Belmont Shore.
If this reads like a fairy tale, then prepare yourself for the reality.
In late August, the Long Beach City Council partnered with Bike Nation, Inc. to implement a revolutionary bike share program that is destined to become a leading example in California and across the nation.
Bike Nation will invest $12 million to launch the program in the first quarter of 2013, with no financial burden on the city’s taxpayers. However, the city will engage in a revenue-sharing program with Bike Nation during the life of the 10-year contract.
The initial rollout will include an estimated 2,500 bikes and 250 parking stations strategically placed throughout Long Beach to meet growing demand for two-wheeled transport.
“This state-of-the-art bike share program will serve local residents, businesses and visitors,” Mayor Bob Foster said in a statement. “Bicycling is helping to promote business growth as well as a healthy, active lifestyle. And this new partnership will continue to move us forward to becoming the most bicycle-friendly city in the nation.”
The membership-based program is diverse enough to meet the needs of all riders. For example, an annual pass, costing $75, gives users access to the bike share system 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Users in this category will receive a membership card, which allows them to walk up to any bike station, confirm their identity and, within a matter of seconds, have access to a bike.
“There’s no dwell time,” said Derek Fretheim, chief operating officer of Bike Nation.
More casual users, meanwhile, can simply sign up and pay for access with a credit card at station kiosks whenever they wish to ride.
In July, Bike Nation launched its beta system in Anaheim. Installation is set for completion in September and includes 100 bikes and 10 stations. Furthermore, the bike share program will get its start in Los Angeles, Westwood, Venice and Hollywood beginning in the fourth quarter of this year. This $16 million investment will include 4,000 bikes and 400 stations.
But Long Beach is set to become the model for Bike Nation as it hopes to expand to beach communities across Los Angeles and Orange counties.
“I think Long Beach is, by comparison, positioned for successful bike share systems primarily because they have done a nice job developing infrastructure to make it easy for folks to get around,” Fretheim told the Business Journal.
Indeed, for years Long Beach officials have promoted the city as a leader in developing urban, bike-friendly roadways. Bike Nation helps bring it all together.
“The nice thing about Bike Nation is the deployment and number of bikes that they are offering,” said Steve Goodling, president and CEO of the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau. “So, it will give our city the ability to link many parts of the community.”
Long Beach is one of the most diverse communities in all of Southern California. This allows the emerging bike share program a unique opportunity to address the transportation needs of everyone from senior citizens and tourists to minority households and weekend beachgoers.
“Bicycling is the most inexpensive and flexible form of transportation,” Fretheim said.
Moreover, the bike share program can help link the many neighborhoods of Long Beach, providing riders with bikes and station docks from the university to downtown and beyond.
Of course, there is a significant economic upside, too.
“Bike share helps business districts in at least three ways,” April Economides, general manager of the bike share program in Long Beach, said in an e-mail. “First, it literally puts them on the map – they benefit from increased exposure and marketing. Second, it brings them new customers. For example, I would think all business districts would want a few stations to entice tourists there. And, third, it converts some existing car-driving customers into bicyclists, which opens up parking spaces. Encouraging bicycling into our business districts is both an innovative and comfortingly old-fashioned way to address parking issues and traffic.”
It also carries environmental benefits, something Californians are uniquely attuned to understand.
“[The Bike Nation] staff understands the importance of biking both from an economic standpoint and from a green standpoint,” Goodling said.
Bike Nation’s bicycles seem to define what state-of-the-art means. Each bike is equipped with a GPS tracking unit, essentially obviating concerns about theft. And the quality of bikes surpasses any beach cruiser or model available in other bike share or rental programs.
“We did take into consideration rider safety and comfort,” Fretheim said, adding that airless tires, thick frame size, chainless shaft drive, broad seats, reflective coating and active lighting are just a few of the unique design characteristics.
Members also will benefit from a mobile app that allows all riders to check bike availability and open docking spaces in real-time.
“Our goal is to have a bike available . . . and an open dock available” at all times, Fretheim said, adding that Bike Nation will track usage times, peak travel periods and high-volume locations to ensure members can access a bike whenever they desire. “We’re going to be very proactive with what we call load-balancing.”
Fretheim said Bike Nation has considered developing a network of self-guided tours as well as educational programs to grow Long Beach into the Golden State’s most attractive bike-friendly community.
“We’re only limited based on our creativity,” he added.
The potential for a massive bike sharing operation to contribute to the overall quality of life is, perhaps, the most positive aspect of the emerging Bike Nation program.
“It further positions Long Beach as a cool place to live, work and play,” Goodling said.
For more details and membership information, visit www.bikenationusa.com.