Cedar Rapids beginning study of automated bike rentals downtown

Bicycles available for rent from the Bcycle kiosk in Des Moines. (Dave Franzman/KCRG-TV9)
Bicycles available for rent from the Bcycle kiosk in Des Moines. (Dave Franzman/KCRG-TV9)(KCRG)
Published: Mar. 1, 2017 at 4:45 PM CST
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Would visitors, or even people working downtown, using a bike sharing program if Cedar Rapids offered it? That’s a question the city will ask a consultant to answer in trying to determine if there’s a demand for such a low-cost, automated bike rental system found in many urban areas.

Right now, bike sharing exists in only one spot in Iowa. That’s the Bcycle program launched in Des Moines back in 2010. That city is expecting to expand the service by adding new locations this summer.

The program, popular in areas with large college campuses or urban areas, works by letting users swipe a credit card or using a smart phone app to rent a bike for a short time from a self-service kiosk.

The Cedar Rapids City Council, on Tuesday, approved a resolution hire an expert to study whether the program would work here. If the answer is “yes” such an automated bike rental program probably couldn’t start before fall.

Kyle Moscrip, general manager of Hall’s Bicycle in downtown Cedar Rapids, says his business rents bikes now for $20-35.00 a day depending on the bike model.

But he isn’t worried about a bike share program really competing because it would offer only a “stripped-down” bike sometimes with just one speed. In fact, he thinks it might help business because people who give biking a try with a bike-share rental might eventually want to own a bike of their own.

“Starting off with a rental or a bike share, you’d get the idea of biking and try it out for a while. I thing that’s great,” Moscrip said.

The Bcycle service in Des Moines operates like most systems. Users select a bike from a rack, pay a small fee to unlock it, and then ride and return or leave the rental bike at another kiosk location. The cost is usually a few dollars an hour.

Bill Micheel of the Cedar Rapids Community Development Department says the city envisions a system that would encourage visitors to grab a bike downtown and pedal to some of the close-by attractions like the NewBo District or Czech Village. In some areas, the rental bikes serve as a cheap method of transportation.

But the market in Cedar Rapids, if it happens, is likely to focus on visitors.

“The primary focus, at least in the beginning, is going to be an amenity for the city of Cedar Rapids. This is something our visitors can use if they don’t have a bike with them,” Micheel said.

Micheel said biking groups as well as others have expressed interest in the idea—enough to prompt the city to hire a consultant for a study.

City planners expect to have a report to show to the city council sometime this summer.

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