Birmingham bike-share program pedals into downtown business life
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Still sporting dress slacks and a business-appropriate v-neck wool sweater, Barry Moss strapped on a helmet and mounted one of eight cruiser bikes made available to Alabama Power Co. employees through a company bike-share program, the first such program in downtown Birmingham.
Moss and two colleagues rolled from the Alabama Power parking deck on Sixth Avenue North down to Railroad Park and then to Taziki's restaurant on Southside for lunch.
Having recently signed up for February's Mercedes half-marathon, Moss appreciated being able to get a little exercise on his lunch hour. "I'm trying to do stuff to keep myself in shape," he said.
A brigade of bikers in business attire is an unusual sight on the streets of Birmingham, but the concept of bike-sharing is widespread in Europe and is rapidly gaining momentum in the U.S.
On the East Coast, Washington and Boston have programs, and New York plans to launch the nation's biggest by summer. Most of the programs require per-ride rental fees or an annual membership to participate.
In the South, New Orleans, Nashville and Charlotte are considering setting up bike-share systems. Last summer, Spartanburg, S.C., was the first Southeastern city to launch a program. However, it was closely followed by Montevallo, which officially launched its ValloCycle program Oct. 13 with more than 50 bikes.
Helped along with a donation of bikes from Regions Bank and from Bob's Bikes in Homewood, Montevallo was the first city in Alabama to create such a program, Regions also donated bikes to campus bike-sharing programs on the Birmingham-Southern College and Samford University.
Several Alabama Power employees take advantage of the nice weather and use the company's bike share program on their lunch break in Birmingham. Michael Sznajderman, left, Barry Moss, right, and Tenika Johnson, back, leave for the ride. (The Birmingham News/Michelle Campbell)
Aaron Traywick, project coordinator with ValloCycle, said that thus far 20 or 30 members have paid the $25 annual membership fee that allows them to check out bikes for a week at a time. There are 50 bikes available at three locations, and ValloCycle has created bike maps for the city and organized two community bike tours. Traywick said he was glad to see Alabama Power launching a bikeshare program in Birmingham.
According to Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman, the company held a soft-launch of its program the final week in October. About 50 employees have signed up to participate through an online registration system that allows people to reserve bikes.
About 35 rides have been taken, Sznajderman said, noting that rain and cold likely have kept the numbers down. The company plans a higher-profile launch of the program in the spring.
Sznajderman said the bike share program has multiple motivations. Employees who participate get a health and recreational benefit. It provides an alternative to employees getting in their cars for short trips in the middle of the day, so it has the potential to decrease traffic and air pollution.
"The program also underscores our support for improving bicycle and pedestrian access in downtown and encouraging more downtown activity, growth and development," Sznajderman said. "It's also in line with our longtime support for parks and greenways as one way to improve quality of life in the community."
Lindsey Gray, program director for CommuteSmart, said she hopes more businesses will follow Alabama Power's lead. Businesses that participate in CommuteSmart -- the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham's initiative to encourage carpooling, biking and other alternatives to single-rider commuting -- can request the installation of bike racks at their places of business. The racks are provided by CommuteSmart and can be tailor-made to the size and space available.