Norfolk, Va., Moves Ahead with Dockless Bike-Share

The city is the first in the region to implement the on-demand bike platforms after years of planning.

by Jordan Pascale, The Virginian-Pilot / April 6, 2018

(TNS) —NORFOLK, Va. — The region's first bikeshare launches today in Norfolk after years in the planning stages.

A ceremonial "first ride" is set for 11 a.m. at Civic Plaza near City Hall in Downtown. Bikes will be available for rent after that.

The new Pace bikeshare is a newer version of the bikeshare systems that have swept cities across the nation over the last decade.

While old systems forced users to ride bikes from one docking station to another docking station, the new "dockless" system allows riders to park at any public bike rack in the city.

But in other cities, that's led to problems of abandoned bikes and what neighbors say are eyesores and inconveniences.

Meanwhile transportation advocates are heralding the addition to the "most multi-modal city in Virginia" as another easy option to get around.

The bike rental service, paid for by sponsorships and user fees, helps fill the gap between distances that are too far to walk, but too short to grab a taxi, Uber or public transit.

More than 150 white bikes are fanned out across 30 locations around Downtown, the NEON art district, Ghent and Old Dominion University.

Who can use it? What are the bikes' features?

Riders must be at least 18 years old, have a smartphone and the Pace app. The bikeshare is currently only accessible to those with a smartphone, but Pace is working on creating a way to use them without a phone, according to its website.

The city expects it to appeal to a wide audience like visitors, students, occasional riders, those who don’t have a car, or friends who want to join in on a bike ride but don’t own their own bike.

The cruiser-style bikes have an adjustable seat that can fit most riders with heights between 5’2” and 6’2” and weighing up to 250 pounds.

It also comes equipped with electronic gear shifts, lights, a basket, a back wheel rack, a bell and lock.

How do you use the bikes?

  • Download the Pace app and signup for an account.
  • Search the map to find a bike near you.
  • Go to the location and choose your bike — the number is near the handlebars.
  • Click the same bike number in the app to unlock it remotely.
  • You can make quick stops and place your bike on hold while you run in to an errand or coffee.
  • Slide the orange tab on the back wheel to lock it and use the cable to lock it to a rack. Don't leave it on a sidewalk.
  • To end your ride, tap "end rental" in the app and lock it to a public bike rack or a Pace rack.

Rides start at $1 for 30 minutes and you're charged by the half hour.

Where are they and where can you ride them?

You'll find Pace stations at landmarks like Nauticus, Waterside, the Chrysler Museum, the Ted Constant Center, Foreman Field, near dorms on ODU's campus. You'll also find them in the Chelsea and Berkeley neighborhoods and along 21st Street near places like Total Wine and the Baker's Crust. Riders must lock bikes at a public bike rack or Pace station.

The bikes are not supposed to go outside the city limits. If they are left outside city limits, the user will be charged a fee.

Employees will redistribute the bikes around town via van if too many pile up at one station.

What have other cities' experience been with dockless bikeshare?

While they've certainly added another mobility option in other cities, some residents are less than thrilled. One group in Dallas started an Instagram account "Dallas Bike Mess" to document the odd places bikes have been left. In D.C., there was similar backlash.

Since the technology is so new, some say that education could fix a lot of problems.

Pace will also charge your credit card if you leave the bikes in the wrong area, hopefully adding a financial deterrent for those too lazy to find a bike rack.

How does the city plan to avoid theft and abandoned bikes?

While the bikes are technically "dockless" the back wheel can be locked so a thief can't just hop on and ride away. Though there have been instances where thieves simply pick up the entire bike and tote it off. Capital Bikeshare, a docked system in D.C., lost 60 of its 4,100 bikes to theft in its first seven years.

As for abandoned bikes, Pace bikes come equipped with GPS to allow someone from the company or city to come pick up the stray bike.

Pace asks residents to call 833-321-PACE if they see an abandoned bike not locked up to a rack.

DC dockless bikeshare company LimeBike put together clever informational videos to educate riders on where it's appropriate to park them.

Do you have to wear a helmet? Where can I find bike laws and rules?

It's not required, but Pace suggests you were a helmet — you'll just have to bring it yourself.

As for how to best ride a bike in Norfolk, check out our rules of the road for riding. But the basics include riding in the same direction as traffic and signaling your turns.

Here's some tips on how to safely bike and drive around Norfolk's new bike loop

Next steps and are there any plans for expansion?

The original plan called for having Portsmouth and Norfolk to go in together for the bikeshare. That plan fell apart, but Norfolk does hope to expand the program to other parts of the city. So far, no other south Hampton Roads cities have plan for a bikeshare of their own.

The new bikeshare complements the introduction of other newer bike amenities around the city including protected bike lanes in Ghent and Park Place and upcoming amenity upgrades to the Elizabeth River Trail. City officials think that success of new bike ecosystem will beget more success and more riders.

©2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.