Don’t have a bicycle handy, but want to run errands on two wheels or get some lunch-hour exercise?
One way to do that is through bike sharing. Grab a rental bike from a nearby location, and off you go. Return the bike to the same place or another spot closer to your destination.
Such a system, called BCycle, already operates on the Missouri side of the Kansas City area, with 41 stations serving downtown, Midtown, the Plaza, the jazz district and Trolley Track Trail, as well as North Kansas City and Longview Lake.
Now, Johnson County governments are embracing the concept.
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The first bicycles are expected to show up next year in several Johnson County parks and then perhaps in Olathe, which is studying the idea. Overland Park officials are considering whether to tap into regional-planning funds to investigate the idea next year.
“It is well documented that cycling has many benefits, including overall health and happiness,” said Megan Merryman, a project manager for the Johnson County Park & Recreation District. “It’s a low-impact exercise that is achievable for most people, and it supports an ecologically friendly transportation alternative.”
A bike-sharing system, she added, encourages the use of bicycles for errands and casual recreation.
For those who don’t own bicycles or have left them at home during the workday, bike-sharing can be a convenient — and cheap — alternative.
BCycle’s $65 annual pass, for example, costs just under 18 cents per day for year-round access to a bicycle with unlimited 60-minute rides. It’s $2 for each additional half-hour. Other payment plans are available for visitors or occasional riders.
“We want to take all the excuses away from people who say it’s not easy to get out and active,” said Eric Vaughan, director of bike share and business services for BikeWalkKC, which operates BCycle and will maintain the county’s bikes.
In 2014, Merryman said, the Mid-America Regional Council awarded transportation funding to BikeWalkKC to expand bike-sharing into Johnson County. Alterations to the funding program made nonprofits ineligible to sponsor projects, so the county park system took over.
Johnson County hopes to begin installing its own system, costing just under $337,000, late next spring under the BCycle banner.
The county intends to place a total of 70 bikes in Shawnee MissionPark, Heritage Park, Coffee Creek Streamway Park, the new Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village, and at the new Arts & Heritage Center near 87th Street and Metcalf Avenue. The transportation grant will cover 80 percent of the cost, and the county will pay the rest.
With BCycle, Merryman said, park visitors will be able to venture farther onto nearby trails.
“Johnson County is fortunate to have miles of paved trails,” Merryman said. “The trails meander through several cities in Johnson County, and several of our trails link to city trails, which offer a variety of destination opportunities and connection points for future bike share stations.”
Olathe officials began a study of bike-sharing at the request of its City Council, according to Lisa Donnelly, park project planner for the city. The city has been gathering opinions about potential routes at www.olathebikeshare.com and, so far, more than 600 ideas have been submitted.
Comments received through mid-December were to be considered for a report to be submitted to the city by BikeWalkKC, which is consulting on the project.
“If the city moves forward with bike-share, Olathe would hope to establish itself as a progressive city that offers opportunities for active alternative transportation and recreational value,” Donnelly said.
In general, she and others said, bike-sharing works best in places with multiple destinations like employers; shopping, recreation and entertainment venues; churches, parks, trails and transit connections.
In the future, bike-sharing systems are likely to be more sophisticated — and flexible — than the one built in Kansas City.
“There are some new things to consider: whether to continue to use a bike system with a docking station or to move to a smart-bike system,” said Brian Shields, city traffic engineer for Overland Park.
With smart bikes, the cyclist can end a ride virtually anywhere and lock the bike, which then can become available for someone nearby with a smart phone.
“Then, the next person looks for it online and uses their phone app to unlock the lock,” Shields said.
Johnson County will purchase smart bikes but install several kiosk stations as well, Merryman said.
Topeka already has a smart-bike system, said Vaughan of BikeWalkKC, which will soon begin incorporating smart-bike technology into its system of docking stations.
“That’s sort of the latest and greatest in bike-share technology,” he added. “The technology is in the bike, not the station.”