(TNS) — A bike share program that would allow you to find a GPS-tracked bike, unlock it and pay $1 per half hour of ride time — all with an app — is coming to Hartford, Conn., this spring. LimeBike, a California startup with big-name Silicon Valley money behind it, is rolling out a pilot program with 300 bikes in Hartford in late March or early April.
Unlike programs in New York City and Boston that anchor shared bikes at docking stations, LimeBike follows a free-standing model: Cyclists can ride one of the company’s lime-green bikes and drop it wherever they disembark. Simply lock the back wheel, LimeBike’s website touts, and the bike is ready for its next rider.
Bike share programs, long a fixture of Asian cities that were once seen as harbingers of hip in America, are now commonplace in American metropolises. Cities such as New York, Boston and Washington tend to pitch their bike shares to younger crowds as a way to ferry them from trendy abode to startup workplace, all with minimal environmental impact and the added benefit of exercise.
“As a resurgent city, bike share is an expected amenity,” said Tony Cherolis, the Transport Hartford coordinator at the Center for Latino Progress. “It’s no longer even a bonus — we can’t say ‘Look! We have bike share!’ It’s expected at this point.”
Cherolis said 30 percent of Hartford households do not own cars, and 21 percent have no access to a car at all. “From a mobility, quality of life, job access perspective, this is big,” he said.
LimeBike is a year-old, Northern California-based startup that received millions from Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that was among the first to back Twitter, Facebook and Airbnb. LimeBike rolled out its first bike share program in Greensboro, N.C., last June, deploying a 125-cycle fleet to the city’s University of North Carolina branch campus. There are now about 10,000 of the startup’s electric green bikes in 22 cities and on 11 college campuses.
Hartford would not be LimeBike’s first foray into the New England market — last fall, the Boston suburb of Malden completed a six week pilot program that proved popular enough to bring the green bikes back this spring. Kevin Duffy, Malden’s strategy and business development officer, said the city managed to avoid the cycle clutter that has plagued other towns with LimeBikes, and that the service proved popular among commuters who rode home from the city’s Orange Line station. Most Malden residents rode the bikes for less than a mile, he added.
LimeBike has said it will make one New England-specific tweak, Duffy said. When snow is falling, the company will disable its service until the weather clears.
But the Silicon Valley-backed startup is not without its detractors. LimeBike has drawn flak in Dallas, where a glut of companies offering shared bikes have littered the streets with cast-off cycles. Last week, LimeBike tweeted a video of its CEO removing one of the company’s bikes that had been sawed in half and bolted to a telephone poll in protest.
The Dallas Morning News quoted Mayor Mike Rawlings as saying the bikes seem to “asexually reproduce or something.”
Cherolis, the Center for Latino Progress coordinator, said there’s no doubt LimeBike “is a disrupter transportation technology.” But he said the company will monitor areas where bikes tend to accumulate, and work to redistribute the cycles more evenly across the city.
Another challenge will likely be the city’s dearth of bike lanes. Although Hartford received a “Bicycle Friendly Community” designation from the League of American Bicyclists in 2016, bike lanes are relatively rare in the city, and those that exist often overlap with lanes intended for cars. In a particularly messy interchange, Broad Street’s bike lane is intersected by cars turning onto an I-84 onramp.
Hartford officials will hold a series of meetings with LimeBike representatives in coming months that are open to the public.
“It’s good for the city to be on the front end of a disruptive technology like this, rather than fighting to catch up to it,” Cherolis said. “But having a city flooded with cars, versus a city flooded with bikes — I’m pretty sure I’d pick one over the other.”
©2018 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.