The B-cycle rent-on-the-go bike borrowing network is pedaling beyond a test and beyond downtown Kansas City.
The bike rental operation that launched two summers ago with a dozen downtown docking stations plans to begin an expansion next month that will stretch its network south.
“We are expanding this project very rapidly,” said B-cycle spokeswoman Sarah Shipley. “We’re really filling in the gaps for the bus. It’s just a great way to go from parks to parks and all around the Plaza.”
By doubling the number of its bike-sharing stations and increasing its stable of bicycles to as many as 140 from the existing 90, she said, the service hopes to better augment public transportation and make it easier to ride between key areas of the city.
B-cycle is anchored in a series of unmanned docks where riders can check out bikes with credit cards. They pay nothing for the first half hour, $2 for each subsequent 30 minutes or $7 for an entire day. A bike can be taken from one dock and returned to any of the other B-cycle stations.
The stations cost about $50,000 to build, install, outfit with bikes, cover with insurance and pay for GPS tracking that gives a better picture of usage. For instance, that information suggests the average ride covers 2.5 miles. B-cycle typically gets corporate sponsorships or government grants to defer the cost. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas was the primary sponsor of the downtown docks.
B-cycle expects to complete the expansion by the end of June. The new locations include four in Westport, four on the Country Club Plaza and one each at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Waldo and Brookside neighborhoods.
Ridership can fluctuate from time of the week to time of the day. When The Star went looking for riders on a recent weekday afternoon at some of the most popular kiosks, the stations weren’t attracting many users at that time.
Yet there are also loyal patrons, people like Andy Marske. He uses B-cycle to get to and from his bus line and his office.
“Sometimes I’ll just get a bike and ride somewhere to clear my head and get away from my desk at lunchtime,” he said in an email.
He is eager for an expansion — he envisions one day stations at the Truman Sports Complex and Johnson County — to make it easier to reach broad areas of Kansas City.
Shipley said some people who work downtown check out the bikes for the morning and evening commutes. Tourists tend to use them on weekends, often picking up a bike at Union Station to explore downtown or the 18th and Vine District.
“Tourists do the typical tourist activities,” she said. “And they tend to have the bikes out for a longer time.”
B-cycle arrived in Kansas City in 2012 and logged 5,300 bike rides that first year. That number is growing about 20 percent a year, Shipley said.
Shipley said the service hopes to break Kansas City of car-centric customs, encouraging people on foot and on bikes to interact with each other more.
The service now asks people to “imagine a Kansas City where a B-cycle station is never far from reach. … Imagine B-cycle being there where you need it most.”
The Kansas City parks board cleared the way earlier this month to put some of the docking stations on city land.
By expanding, the B-cycle network could figure as the “last mile” for existing bus lines and the coming streetcar line.
It may also tap into a seemingly growing enthusiasm for biking in Kansas City.
Darrin Sopoci, a mechanic at River Market Cyclery, sees more people grabbing a pair of handlebars with the expansion of bike lanes and trails.
“It is slowly but surely getting better.”
The Star’s Lynn Horsley contributed to this report.
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