Toledo, Ohio, Moves Toward First Bike-Share Program

Bike-sharing company The Gotcha Group will operate a system with 100 bikes and 18 stations throughout the city, starting in August or September

by Tom Henry and Mark Rosenberg, The Blade / May 31, 2018

(TNS) — Who will foot the bill to maintain Toledo’s forthcoming bike-share program? Will the program galvanize the city to install additional storage racks and new trails for avid bikers? Could traffic data from the program’s “smart bikes” inform where Toledo officials place future bike lanes? And how many riders will need to utilize the bikes for the program to be deemed a success?

Toledo community members and biking advocates plied Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, Sean Flood, the CEO of the company bringing bike-sharing to the city, and city officials with some tough questions at a public forum on biking on Wednesday night.

The meeting, billed a “Community Bike Conversation” by the city, was held inside Wildwood Metropark’s Ward Pavilion in West Toledo.

Though the unveiling of the bike-share program was the impetus for the forum, Kapszukiewicz told the crowd that this was the first step toward overhauling the city’s biking infrastructure.

“We’re not only initiating new programs like this,” he said. “More than anything else, we want to start a conversation and a dialogue with the community.”

Mr. Flood’s company, The Gotcha Group, will operate a system with 100 bikes and 18 stations, starting in August or September. On Wednesday morning, Mr. Flood attended a Metroparks Toledo board meeting to discuss the bike-share program.

The program here, depending when it’s launched, will be the company’s 34th or 35th in major U.S. cities. Its Charleston, S.C., office is its headquarters for programs east of the Mississippi River; it also has an office in Los Angeles for programs west of the Mississippi.

The Gotcha Group’s bikes are equipped with what Mr. Flood described to the Metroparks board as a “very powerful” GPS to track movement. It will generate long-term usage data for local transportation officials to learn more about how and where people bicycle in urban settings, he said.

“The back of the bike is a computer,” Mr. Flood said.

The data has even been used to determine how many calories riders burn in each community, he said.

The bicycles coming to Toledo will be American-made, manufactured at the company’s Charleston office, Mr. Flood said.

He told The Blade the program is now expected to begin in August or September, once a name for the bikes and the color for them is selected by local officials. Each fleet of bicycles carries a name and color unique to every community they serve, a branding strategy designed to help promote local connections.

“We want it to be part of the fabric of the city,” Mr. Flood told The Blade.

And for the company’s name itself?

The Gotcha Group sounds catchy on its own. But just so you know: Gotcha, according to Mr. Flood, is an acronym for Green Operated Transit Carrying Humanity Around.

Gotcha’s bid of $294,500 was selected by Metroparks in late March. A federal grant obtained by TARTA will pay for up to $262,760 of the program.

The program is being created by the park district, the city, several major businesses, and other groups, including TARTA. The operation contract will be managed by the city. A vote is expected soon by city council.

In 2015, Toledo unveiled a bike plan that recommended the development of 13 bike trails connecting major destinations across the city.

That same year, the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments released a 30-year transportation plan that emphasized the need for developing biking infrastructure and improving biker safety.

The TMACOG study found that in 2010, only 1.25 percent of commuters in the area used a bike to get to work, while more than 92 percent drove alone or carpooled. Hugh Benning, president of Toledo Area Bicyclists, a recreational biking group that boasts about 460 members in the Toledo area, used to count himself among those bike commuters.

“Toledo is sadly behind the game as far as getting something put together that’s appropriate for cyclists so people can commute to work in some degree of safety,” Mr. Benning said.

However, Mr. Benning believes the bike-share service could catalyze the city to become more biker-friendly across the board.

“The more bikes that we have on the road, it’s going to help push the issue in terms of improving conditions, not only improving the road but having marked bike lanes” Mr. Benning said. “It’s almost like putting the cart before the horse, but you have to start somewhere.”

Scott Carpenter, Metroparks’ director of public relations, said enhanced biking opportunities could aid the city’s long-term economic development.

“When we look around the country at other communities with whom we compete, particularly for young people, bike trails and bike-shares are all part of their strategy to build livable communities for our era,” Mr. Carpenter said.

At Wednesday night’s forum, David Dysard, an administrator for Toledo’s Division of Engineering Services who has helped spearhead the 2015 Bike Plan, held up a green-and-white sign emblazoned with a bike, a rendering of the Veterans’ Glass City Skyway bridge, and the slogan “Bike Toledo.”

Peter Gendron, who in 1872 invented the wire-spoke wheel, which revolutionized the bicycle, was a Toledo industrialist, Mr. Dysard told the crowd.

“We have a history that suggests we should be involved with bikes,” he said.

©2018 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.