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Friday, July 5, 2013

Checking In On Chattanooga’s Bike Share

(Flickr/Elly Blue)

(Flickr/Elly Blue)

Bike sharing programs are cropping up in big cities around the country: from New York to Miami to Chicago.

And Chattanooga, Tennessee has been running one of the first bike shares in a small southern city for a year.

Phil Pugliese, the bicycle coordinator for Outdoor Chattanooga, which runs the bike share, says there are unique challenges.

“We are in what is often termed the stroke belt,” he told Here & Now. “We have high rates of hypertension, diabetes, obesity and so introducing bicycling to change that cultural dynamic is something we’re really interested in being part of.”

Pugliese thinks the Chattanooga bike sharing program already is getting people interested in being active.

“We’ve had people who haven’t been on a bike… in 20 plus years, and they get out, and are now riding their bike out to lunch,” Pugliese said.

Funding Challenges

New York City’s bike program has corporate sponsorship from Citibank, but mid-size cities like Chattanooga have to rely on other sources of funding.

“We are going to be dependent on membership revenue,” Pugliese said. “We do have some local sponsorship and advertising revenue, but it definitely is a more challenging equation in smaller media markets like ours.”



Well, back here in the U.S. there has been a lot of reporting about New York City's new bike-sharing program. Chicago just kicked off its program last week, and they join similar bike shares across the country, from Miami to Boston to Omaha.

But can these kinds of programs work in mid-sized cities, like, say Chattanooga? That is where we want to go now as part of our Getting There series on transportation and infrastructure. Let's bring in Philip Pugliese, he is bicycle coordinator for Outdoor Chattanooga, and he joins us now from the studios of WUTC. Welcome.

PHILIP PUGLIESE: Thank you for having me.

HOBSON: Well, so how is it going? I mean, Chattanooga is a mid-size city. It's not New York; it's not Chicago. How's it going there?

PUGLIESE: It's been an interesting development process. We launched in July of last year, and it's been going very well. Our residents seem to like it, and visitors are very excited to find that they can get around our city by bicycle.

HOBSON: How many kiosk locations are there?

PUGLIESE: We currently have 31 in our system with about 300 bicycles, covering primarily our central business district, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus, north of the river and then one out at the Tennessee River Park, our greenway network.

HOBSON: You know, in New York we see Citi Bikes. That's C-I-T-I, as in Citibank. They've got sponsors. They've got a revenue stream coming in to help pay for this, and obviously people are paying for it when they use them. How is it funded in Chattanooga?

PUGLIESE: Our system was initially funded through a congestion mitigation, air quality improvement program grant, in partnership with the Federal Transit Administration and our local transit provider, CARTA. And that allowed the purchase of our capital equipment and launch and initial operating expenses.

So, we're obviously not a major media market, such as New York City. So we don't have the benefits of a title sponsor just yet. But we are seeking one.

HOBSON: Is it sustainable, do you think?

PUGLIESE: It's going to be challenging in mid-size markets. We are going to be dependent on membership revenue, of course. We do have some local sponsorship and advertising revenue. But it's definitely a more challenging equation in smaller media markets such as ours.

HOBSON: Well, tell me more about that. I mean, what are the challenges that you're facing now that other cities, if they decide to do this, might face? And maybe you've got some advice for them.

PUGLIESE: Well, one of the unique things, Chattanooga being a Southeastern city, we are in what is often termed the Stroke Belt. We are - have a very high inactive population. At the same, while Chattanooga's recognized as an Outdoor Adventure city, and we have a huge population of people who are excited about being outdoors, we have high rates of hypertension, diabetes, obesity.

And so, introducing bicycling to change that cultural dynamic is something that we're really interested in being a part of.

HOBSON: And has it worked? I mean, are people willing to get off the couch and get onto the bike?

PUGLIESE: We think so. It's starting. It's going to take a little bit of time. But we've had people who haven't been on a bike and done that type of thing in 20-plus years and they get out and are now riding their bike to lunch. So we're trying to engineer activity back into people's lifestyle.

HOBSON: Now, I have to say one of the things that I notice when I see these bike share programs - and I think that they seem like a great idea - but they don't have any helmets. And so it's essentially a sanctioning of people riding without helmets. What about that? I mean, do you have helmets available for the people that are riding bikes through cities?

PUGLIESE: Users of Bike Chattanooga receive a discount coupon if they wish to purchase a new helmet at one of our local bicycle shops. Generally, Tennessee state law requires the use of a bicycle helmet only for operators under the age of 16. So our system is designed for those 16 and older. And really it just becomes a matter of personal choice if one wishes to bring their helmet with them.

HOBSON: But these are people who may not have much experience biking. I mean - and they're in a city with cars and everything else that comes with a city. Do you think that's a problem? Do you think that's something that's going to have to change as these bike-sharing programs mature?

PUGLIESE: It doesn't appear so. The early evidence shows that bike share bike crash rates are extremely low, even compared to normal bicycle traffic crash rates. The bikes are just extremely stable and upright, and people have been riding safely with our traffic system.

HOBSON: What do you hope this program is in 10 years? What do you hope it looks like in Chattanooga?

PUGLIESE: We would like to see it expanded throughout our neighborhoods, adjoining the central business district, and then have nodes of operation in north Georgia, as well as some of our suburban communities, and really providing the flexibility and a continuum of transportation choice, where people have the freedom to use the right transportation tool for the trip at hand, whether that be that a personal vehicle, a car-shared vehicle, mainline transit, electric shuttle, or bicycle transit or walking, that they have that opportunity to choose and make that decision, make it an economical and convenient choice for them.

HOBSON: Do you have any bike sharers call up with flat tires?

PUGLIESE: I haven't had any reports of any flat tires yet. I did have one member whose home unfortunately burned to the ground, and the first thing he did the next day, he said, was call Bike Chattanooga to get a replacement member card.


HOBSON: That was the first thing that came to mind after his house burned down?

PUGLIESE: Apparently. So, he wanted to get his replacement card immediately so he could travel about the city.

HOBSON: All right. Philip Pugliese, bicycle coordinator for Outdoor Chattanooga, thank you so much and best of luck with your program.

PUGLIESE: Thank you for having me.

HOBSON: And just ahead, we're going to check in on one community that is lagging behind in the bike share department, that would be the black community. We'll hear from a group in Chicago that is trying to change that.


And a quick note on news we're following today. The White House says today's somewhat rosy jobs report is another sign that the economy is improving. Others have questions. We're going to take this up later on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. We'll be back in one minute, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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