Forbes.com recently ranked the city of Orlando ninth on its list of fastest-growing cities. Growth can be positive, but it can also bring major headaches for city planners and residents.
One of the most obvious and annoying growth-related concerns facing Orlando is traffic congestion. During peak commute hours, Interstate 4 turns into a parking lot. Even side streets become impassable as the area’s ever-increasing populace fills the roadways, scrambling to get to work and back.
And then there’s the cyclist. He whizzes by on a side street, free of the encumbrance of traffic. There’s a chance he’ll reach home before you do, and in a much better mood.
Two-wheeled commuters are on the rise nationwide, as well as here in Central Florida. With SunRail fresh on the tracks, Central Floridians are jumping aboard the idea of public transportation in droves; more than 50,000 riders took to the rails in the commuter train’s first five days of service.
Every year the League of American Bicyclists ranks states by the percentage of bike commuters. In 2013, Florida ranked 17th overall, with a 59.3 percent increase in bike commuting since 2005. And that number is likely to rise in the Orlando area, as rail riders take to two wheels to get to and from SunRail stations.
Having recognized the need for alternate modes of transportation to and from SunRail, and the vital role cycling can play in easing congestion, Orlando city leaders recently sent out a request for bids to bring the growing trend of bike sharing to the city.
Last month, they awarded the contract to a team of Rollins grads who founded SunCycles, inspired by popular bike-sharing programs in other cities, such as Washington, D.C.
It was on a trip to D.C. that one of the founders, Peter Martinez, first got his wheels turning with the idea of bringing bike sharing to Orlando.
“When I was in D.C., I saw all these bikes flying everywhere. I was in a taxicab getting passed by these [bike share] bikes. They were passing us in the bike lane and I was intrigued by the concept,” Martinez said.
Bike sharing works like this: throughout the city, there are stations or hubs with bikes that cyclists can rent on an hourly, monthly, or even annual basis. Users register a credit card, choose a level of membership, and reserve a bike at the location of their choice. When it is time to pick up the bike, they head to the hub and enter their reservation code on the bike to unlock it.
SunCycles, which is now a part of CycleHop, will initially offer a minimum of 20 stations located throughout downtown and surrounding areas.
Prior to the official launch in December, Martinez said anyone can suggest a bike share hub location through the app Social Cyclist available in the App Store or on Google Play.
Currently, Orlando Bike Share is considering locations in downtown Orlando, Baldwin Park, and near SunRail stations.
“We’d certainly like to be in such a bike-friendly community like Baldwin Park, but it is all in what the people suggest. We will go where riders want us,” he said.
Winter Park has its own small-scale version of bike sharing thanks to a grant from Healthy Central Florida that made a handful of bikes available for checkout from the Winter Park Public Library. The city has said it will also keep tabs on the Orlando Bike Share program to see if a similar program could expand across city lines, making bikes more broadly available to Orlando-area residents.
Martinez encourages those interested in growing bike sharing in Orlando to get involved and speak up.
To learn more about Orlando Bike Share, or to suggest a station location, visit orlandobikeshare.com
“We have a great opportunity to bring this to Orlando, but we need everyone’s help to do it. You’ve seen this in other cities, if you want to make this a success, speak out, share it with friends, suggest a station or consider sponsoring one.”
Many of the hubs will have ad space that local businesses could use to promote themselves, while supporting bike share.
The bikes will be equipped with GPS tracking to prevent theft and enable lost bikes to be easily located. The onboard computer, electronic lock and bike lights will be powered by solar cells located on the back of the bike. Each bike will feature a chainless drive shaft, which will decrease maintenance and repairs. They’ve even included a shopping basket. The only thing riders will need to provide is a helmet.
With a population base more than 2 million in the greater Orlando area, and no end to the growth in sight, Martinez said bike sharing is an idea whose time has come.
By removing common bike ownership worries such as maintenance and theft, Orlando Bike Share aims to bring cycling within everyone’s reach.
According to Esri statistics, the average Orlando resident spends over $9,000 per year in transportation costs alone, a number that can be lowered with bicycle commuting.
When asked about convincing Orlando residents to give bike sharing a try, Martinez said, “Once people see bikes cruising past them while they are stuck in traffic, just like I was that day back in Washington, D.C., people will learn there is a better way to get around.”