DOWNTOWN PROGRAM | From River Market to Crown Center

Bike rentals are coming to downtown Kansas City

By summer, 200, outfitted with locks and baskets, should be set up at 20 spots.

Updated: 2012-01-27T06:29:23Z

By MIKE HENDRICKS

The Kansas City Star

Say you took the bus to work downtown and had to hoof it several more blocks to your destination. Might you instead hop on a bike for the last stretch if one were available at the bus stop?

Or say you drive to work downtown every day. Would you rent a bicycle over your lunch break for some exercise or simply so you could grab a bite to eat a little farther away from the office?

BikeWalkKC is counting on positive responses to those questions, as well as interest from tourists, for the success of a new bike-sharing program unveiled Thursday.

By summer, 200 bicycles, outfitted with locks and baskets, should be stationed at 20 locations between the River Market and Crown Center, the bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group says. Rentals will go for no more than 45 minutes. But as long as a cyclist checks in at those intervals, he or she could ride BikeShareKC bikes over and over again on a day or yearly pass.

“I’m very excited for Kansas City,” said BikeWalk KC spokesman Sarah Shipley. “We have lot of public support.”

Among those supporters is Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, which pledged financial and marketing assistance in the joint announcement. Blue Cross spokeswoman Susan Johnson wouldn’t say how much the health insurer is donating, but said it’s making a “a significant contribution” toward the $1 million startup costs.

Blue Cross sees bicycling as beneficial to a healthy lifestyle and is soliciting help from other big donors.

“We can’t do it alone,” Johnson said, “but we’re confident it will go forward.”

The Kansas City Council passed a resolution supporting the effort Thursday and promised to stripe bike lanes between bike-sharing stations.

Similar programs have been successful in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Once BikeShareKC gets established, Shipley says, the program might expand to the Country Club Plaza and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“The initial capital costs are really expensive,” Shipley said, “but over time it will pay for itself.” Revenue comes from user fees. Annual memberships will cost $60 and day passes $5 to $6. Day users will need a credit or debit card to remove a bike from the racks. There’s a side benefit to that, besides the revenue generated.

“People don’t generally make off with them when it’s their credit card,” Shipley said.

It’s not the first time bike sharing has been tried in Kansas City. In 2001, the Go Green Bicycle Initiative partnered with about a dozen area employers, including The Kansas City Star.

Their workers could check out the bikes, all of which were painted green, to run errands or burn some calories. It was the same model used in many other communities.

“It was a good idea in concept,” said Kansas City Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinator Deb Ridgway, “but eventually they all failed.”

One reason was that maintenance on Go Green bikes was spotty at best. Tires went flat. Chains rusted.

But BikeShareKC promises to do daily maintenance and will even provide roadside assistance. “We’ll have a triple-A for bicycling,” Shipley said.

For a look at the bikes and more information, go to bikesharekc.com.

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738, or send email to mhendricks@kcstar.com.

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