TAMPA — In a city notorious for the safety of people on bikes, there is no shortage of riders ready to take to the streets on two wheels.
Coast Bike Share announced Monday its membership topped the 10,000 mark this weekend, some seven months after its Tampa bike share program was launched. The company is also opening a call center in Tampa and partnering with the University of South Florida, which plans to add a bike share program on its Tampa campus during the fall semester.
With 300 bikes at about 30 hubs in downtown Tampa, the Channel District, Hyde Park and Ybor City, Coast’s distinctive sky-blue two-wheelers have quickly become a feature of the city — especially on the Riverwalk, which offers 1.8 miles of contiguous cycling.
The popularity of the three-speed bikes has even surpassed Coast’s estimates for ridership, confounding detractors who predicted the combination of extreme summer heat and Tampa’s dangerous roads would deter riders, said Coast Tampa program director Eric Trull.
“Most people didn’t’ think it would be a successful program,” Trull said. “We’ve proven that wrong. It’s very successful and here to stay.”
Riders of the rental bikes are split about evenly between Tampa Bay locals and visitors to the city, Trull said. Most of the members paid the $5 single-day membership fee. Customers average about 2.5 miles per ride. Bikes can be rented using a smartphone or with a credit card.
The completion of the Kennedy Plaza segment of Riverwalk has been a big boost to bike rental, Trull said. Bayshore Boulevard’s 4.5 mile contiguous sidewalk and Davis Islands are also popular spots for rides.
“We’ve gone well beyond what we’ve planned and we’re excited to see what happens when it cools down and people can ride all day long,” Trull said.
Coast’s proposed partnership with USF will put 100 bicycles painted USF green onto the Tampa campus. The first three hours of bike rental will be free for students and the program is intended for students to get around campus, Trull said.
Both Eckerd College in south St. Petersburg and the University of Tampa run free-bike share programs. USF officials said their bike share program will begin soon after students return for the fall semester.
“It falls in line with our commitment to sustainability and environmentally friendly initiatives,” said USF spokesman Adam Freeman. “It makes a lot of sense for USF to be involved in this.”
Coast Bike Share, a partnership between CycleHop and Social Bicycles, also runs bike shares in Orlando and Phoenix, Arizona. New programs for Ottawa, Santa Monica and Long Beach, California, are also in the works.
Service calls from all those communities will be handled at a new call center Coast is setting up in Tampa. The company is adding four positions aimed at college students and expects that number to increase to 12 later this year.
The bike share program is one of Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s initiatives to rid Tampa of its reputation as one of the deadliest communities for pedestrians and bicyclists. The Tampa Bay area was named the second most dangerous metropolitan area in the nation for pedestrians in a 2014 report issued by the National Complete Streets Coalition.
Since 2011, the city has added 34 miles of bike lanes bringing its total to 55 miles. It is planning to add another 48 miles of new bike lanes or paths, including new lanes on Platt and Cleveland streets and the conversion of Cass and Tyler streets into two-way roads to include a barrier-separated bike lane on Cass.
Kurt Galatro, a 54-year-old fitness coach and physical trainer who rides 350 miles a week, said Tampa’s embrace of two-wheeled transport is welcome but the city still lags behind St. Petersburg in linking bike lanes into a cohesive network.
“I think they’re doing a good job getting started but they need to start connecting these things together,” Galatro said. “We’d get more use if there was a better connection from Hyde Park to downtown. There’s no easy way to get in or out of downtown.”