Chattanooga opens unique bike transit system for better air, health
By Melanie Tucker | (email@example.com)
The city of Chattanooga and its new bicycle transit system are being held up as examples of what can happen when the latest technology marries a great idea in the name of a greener environment and good health.
Chattanooga just opened its Bike Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System to the public last week after three years of strategic planning and partnerships. The system provides 300 bicycles in a network of 28 stations throughout downtown Chattanooga and into North Shore. Using it is easy. Users simply walk up to the solar-powered kiosks or sign up online. Annual memberships are being sold at a very reasonable rate of only $60. There are also 24-hour memberships available for $6 at each kiosk station.
“This project has been in the works for abut three years, conceptually,” said Philip Pugliese, Chattanooga Bicycle coordinator. The formal process began in 2010 with a federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Improvement Grant.”
The system, explained Pugliese, is targeted for commuters in downtown, with the goal of reducing motorized vehicle traffic. This phase one of the project is focused on the central business district, but it also connects to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Pugliese pointed out.
“That is an important part to it,” he said. “Our key target customers for this initially are downtown residents and workers and visitors to our city along with our university students, faculty and staff.”
There are over 400 bike sharing systems throughout the world, Pugliese said, but not that many here in the United States. He said the vendor Chattanooga chose, Alta Bicycle Share, has done similar systems for the cities of Minneapolis, Washington, D.C. and Boston. The bicycles are a design by Public Bike System Co. and created specifically for public bike share use.
There hasn’t been enough time to gauge the public’s reaction, but Pugliese and others see this as the first step in a project that will expand to include outlying areas.
Bigger and better
“We already have plans to take the system from the core business district into the neighborhoods along our greenway network,” Pugliese said. “That way we will be able to provide folks both transportation and recreation opportunities as part of the system.”
Pugliese admits Chattanooga is smaller than most cities that have installed similar bike transit systems. He said theirs is a pilot program that will be monitored for public response, but there is more to it than just providing bikes.
“As a higher health status risk state, that also plays a part,” he said. “Tennesseans in general are less active than people in other states. That’s a concern. We are working with other partners, including the health department and university researchers to look at ways to remove any barriers to usage.”
The grant usage obligation is to improve air quality, but there are also obvious benefits to improving the health of the city’s citizens, Pugliese explained.
The federal grant that built this system totaled a little over $2 million. There were no local funds involved. Local funds, however, might be needed as the system is expanded.
Chattanooga has a thriving downtown area and they have been operating a free electric shuttle there for the past 20 years. This biking transit system is seen as an extension of that.
Eyes on Chattanooga
Now that it’s operational, plenty of eyes and ears will be on the city to see how this innovative project pans out. Pugliese said he receives calls almost daily from cities asking questions about this plan. He said cities like Maryville can make this work because of its expansive greenway system and the fact it’s also a college town.
Like most projects of this caliber, it did take longer than expected to get it up and running. But there haven’t been other huge obstacles to the plan. Pugliese said the solar-powered kiosks and other technology implemented here are things his community and others can get behind and support. There is a user-friendly 7-inch color LCD screen at each kiosk, hybrid credit car readers, a wireless GPS interface and member card and smart card readers. The bikes will also be equipped with a secondary locking system that will allow the user to secure the bike for short stops without having to return to a station.
According to Alain Ayotte, CEO for PBSC Urban Solutions, the organization behind the concept, development and operation of the fist large-scale bike sharing system in North American and one of the partners in the Chattanooga project, Chattanooga is the first city to take advantage of this new operating system. “We thank the City of Chattanooga for its assistance and support in developing this new system, which is a tangible improvement over our original design and will now be used in all new cities, including New York,” Ayotte said.
That makes the City of Chattanooga feel good about where it’s going with all of this.
“We are very excited to have the very latest technology in bike sharing anywhere in the world at this moment,” he said.