Even as arctic weather buffets Philadelphia, the city is preparing its bike-share program for an overdue but welcome spring debut.
With a modest fleet of about 600 chunky three-speeders - strong enough to take a beating and keep on spinning - the city plans to open some 60 docking stations in Center City and beyond, stretching from Temple University to the Navy Yard and from the Delaware River to 45th Street in West Philadelphia. The stations will be located to take advantage of transit stops, cultural centers, and popular neighborhoods. More stations are planned, and experience suggests they will be needed to make the effort a success.
Riders will be able to rent the bikes with membership cards, credit cards, or cash. Though the price hasn't been set, it's expected to be about $5 an hour. City officials say they hope to discourage theft, which could be a major obstacle to the program, by requiring even those paying cash to provide their names and addresses. Unfortunately, helmets won't come with the bikes, so those who value their brains should bring their own sturdy headgear.
Philadelphia has been working toward this point at a characteristically glacial pace since 2009, consulting with cycling enthusiasts, planning groups, and companies specializing in bike-sharing. The program is to be financed by an $8.5 million contribution over five years from Independence Blue Cross, with almost that much in government and foundation funding.
The program is called Indego to reflect the insurer's sponsorship, though officials learned belatedly that another company had trademarked the same name for a "wearable robotic exoskeleton system" to help paralyzed people walk. The Cleveland company that owns the trademark is considering legal action. The dispute should be sorted out quickly; it would be a shame to let it hold up cyclists' spring jaunts.
Philadelphia will join about 40 U.S. cities and 800 worldwide in offering the cheap and healthy mode of recreation and transportation. Bicycle Transit Systems Inc., which is running the program, has reassuring experience providing similar services in Chicago, Boston, and Washington.
The city has plenty of mass-transit gaps for the bikes to fill. And except for the nearly insurmountable Manayunk Wall and other parts of the northwest, it welcomes cyclists with generally flat terrain. But it's not always smooth: City streets can be rough on bikes, which will make it particularly important for the program to maintain them, keeping tires pumped and chains oiled.
Once it's finally here, bike-sharing promises to improve the city's quality of life at a relatively low cost. Even now, the thought of a bike ride on a warm day could begin to cure Philadelphians' cabin fever.