Bike sharing, an increasingly common urban amenity now found in Nashville and Chattanooga, among an estimated 600 or so other cities, takes another step this week toward a future Memphis launch.
The concept was studied by the city earlier this decade, but not pursued for financial reasons. Instead, a private group spurred by communications consultant Doug Carpenter, named Explore Bike Share, has taken the lead on bringing the practice to Memphis, and is introducing the concept to Memphis this week at a series of bike share demonstration stations around the city today, Thursday and Friday.
I took a spin on one of the bikes at a preview event last night in the Edge District. Bike share bikes are typically heavier and bulkier than ones you’d own yourself, and these, from vendor B-Cycle, were in line with those I’ve seen in other cities. This makes them a bit slower and safer than typical street bikes, something akin to a beach cruiser even though they are three-speed.
The “Explore” moniker is appropriate for what the bike share plan in Memphis (as in most cities) seems to want to accomplish: These bikes are more about urban/neighborhood exploration and short-distance commutes than lengthy greenline runs or spandex-clad cycling seriousness. And while they provide an alternative to local bikers who may not want to transport their own all the time, it seems like the most fruitful markets are visitors (particularly Downtown) and expanding the portion of bike users in Memphis beyond current bike owners.
At the preview event last night, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland lauded the initiative as a recruiting tool in a battery of urban amenities people are coming to expect.
“The mayor’s right. This will make us competitive with other cities. But it’s also the cool thing, the fun thing, the thing that my, our, the next generation wants to see in our community,” said Downtown Memphis Commission honcho Terence Patterson, who mentioned taking note of similar programs in other cities during recent travels. “It’s going to be great for tourists who want to bike from the Peabody to Sun Studios. And it’s also great for folks who don’t want to take their own bike to work. They want to take a bike and go in and out and commute.”
The DMC recently doubled an expected investment in Explore Bike Share and Patterson noted that they hoped to support the effort on an ongoing basis.
Explore Bike Share is a little more than halfway to its $4 million fundraising goal, with hopes to launch the program next year -- where it could find nice synergy with both the relocation of ServiceMaster to Downtown and the opening of the Harahan Bridge -- and this week’s demo is about fundraising in addition to getting Memphis more familiar with the concept.
At demo stations this week, Explore Bike Share is letting people test out the bikes and is also signing people up for “founding” memberships ($15 per month), offering a chance to “pay it forward” via $200 donations that would provide an annual membership to a “Memphian in need,” offering “adopt a bike” for $500 donations, where you can have a name, dedication or quote engraved on one of the bikes.
Bike Share Demo Locations:
11-2 p.m. Overton Square
4-7 p.m. Intersection of Union Avenue & Main Street
Thursday, July 28
9-1 p.m. South Memphis Farmers Market
6-9 p.m. Levitt Shell
Friday, July 29
11-2 p.m. FedEx Forum — Food Truck Friday