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Tampa bike share organizers finalizing details for April launch

TAMPA — With an opening day set for some time in April, the organizers of Tampa Bay Bike Share are now looking for places to park their fleet of rental bikes around Tampa’s downtown core.

So far, the bike share organizers have secured four locations in parking lots owned by two different businesses, said Eric Trull, the group’s marketing manager.

The city still must approve the arrangements, which could affect the as-yet-unnamed businesses’ previous deals with the city regarding how much parking they provide.

The bike share program is being developed by two companies — Social Bicycling, which is supplying the heavy-duty, high-tech bikes, and CycleHop, which will administer the program.

Unlike bike share systems in other cities, which pair basic bikes with sophisticated kiosks, Tampa’s system will flip the model. Simple racks will store sophisticated bikes mounted with GPS and computer systems that users can activate with a code.

The bikes are made to be tamper-resistant. They use a driveshaft instead of a chain. They’re also heavier and sturdier than normal bikes.

Users can buy a yearly subscription to the bike share system or pay by the day.

The city has agreed to provide room on its sidewalks for the project, but not direct investment.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he backs the bike share project as a way to make the city’s urban core more accessible and friendlier to cyclists.

City rules ban people from cycling on sidewalks downtown. Buckhorn has added bike lanes to Ashley Drive and other downtown streets. He’s finishing the 2.4-mile Tampa Riverwalk. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority is moving ahead with a bike path in the shadow of the Selmon Expressway between downtown and Ybor City.

“We want people riding,” Buckhorn said this week.

The Tampa region frequently ranks among the worst in the country for pedestrian and cyclist traffic fatalities. Last year, 28 cyclists were involved in fatal crashes the Tampa region, half of them in Hillsborough County alone. Three of those 14 were in the city of Tampa.

Buckhorn said putting more bikes on the roads will reduce crashes rather than increase them by making bikes more visible to drivers.

“If you never see a bicyclist on the road, you’re not used to reacting to them,” he said.

Trull said Tampa’s sidewalks in downtown and the Channel District don’t have a lot of space for the bicycle racks. A single 15-foot-long rack holding six bikes takes up the space of one parking stall.

For now, Trull said Tampa Bay Bike Share is focusing on building relationships with private businesses willing to give up some of their parking for the racks that will store the bikes. Those who do will get a number of free subscriptions to the bike share system for their customers or employes, Trull said.

The bike share organizers plan to sell advertising on the baskets of their bikes along with other sponsorships within the system.

Trull said the bike share program still hopes to land a major backer willing to underwrite the system to the tune of “a couple million dollars” over five years. In New York City, Citibank sponsored the system. The bikes there carry the Citi logo.

In Tampa, that kind of support has yet to emerge.

“We’re pushing forward regardless,” Trull said.

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Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO

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