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Bike Sharing Program in Cincinnati Eyes Northern Kentucky

What will it take for a bike share program to roll its way into Northern Kentucky?
The answer — and this also applies to actually cycling across one of our many bridges — is that it’ll be a lot less difficult than many might think, especially since Red Bike,
Cincinnati’s bike share program launched this October, is already setting wheels in motion south of the Ohio River.
Just two months after installing thirty bike share stations and over 250 bicycles across Downtown Cincinnati, Over­-the-­Rhine, and Uptown, Jason Barron, Red Bike spokesperson, says the time is rapidly approaching when Northern Kentucky communities should start gearing up.
“If we hustle, and people make it a priority, we can have bike share up in Northern Kentucky next year,” Barron said over his coffee, warming up at Roebling Point Books &
Coffee in Covington just after riding a Red Bike down from Over­-the-­Rhine through record cold temperatures.
For some city officials, those gears are already turning.
Mayor Sherry Carran of Covington, who is also a board member for the non­profit Green Umbrella, has been involved in the Red Bike project since its beginnings. "We knew that the Northern Kentucky phase was going to be on the fast track," Carran said.
The mayor joined Southbank Partners President Jack Moreland and Bellevue Assistant City Administrator Jody Robinson in a meeting last week about the initiative.
Now, Barron admits, shooting for an operational bike share program in Northern Kentucky as early as next fall is ambitious. “The first step is always finding the cash,” he said, which will need to involve cooperation among cities and corporate partners.
"Each city is going to have come up with a sponsor,” Carran said. "We will be having a key stakeholder meeting in December so we can get more input from people about locations."
Funding typically poses one of the biggest, or at least most time­-consuming, challenges.
But there are numerous opportunities to explore, Barron said, which beyond city involvement could include non­profits, community organizations, corporate partners, and even seeking out federal transit grants.
The last of those avenues would probably pose the biggest challenge, since so much of the Northern Kentucky political discourse currently surrounds the Brent Spence Bridge, a project many believe to be the federal government’s responsibility to fund and is seen by many as priority for any federal spending in the area.
Above all, though, Barron said, “It starts with cities and with the citizens.” Without that sort of support, not only would finding funding prove more difficult, but a bike share program would also be less impactful.
“It’s absolutely a political issue,” he said, adding that without open support from Mayor John Cranley in Cincinnati, Red Bike might not have gotten off the ground. “People need to make it obvious they want (bike share) here."
Robinson, from Bellevue, agrees. "To realize our goal to be part of the Red Bike network,” she told The River City News, "takes our communities to not only ride, but help make the investment. Great things unfortunately do not come for free."
"(The River Cities) will be working together to build partnerships and find grant opportunities to help fund the project. It will only make the Northern Kentucky riverfront more vibrant and desirable,” she added, pointing to upcoming, national­ draw events like the MLB All­Star Game in July as a strong motivator for making this happen.
And Red Bike will be looking for such initiative from the cities. “We’ll absolutely take guidance from civic and corporate leaders (in Northern Kentucky),” he said.
For Robinson, much of whose work consists of revitalization projects for Bellevue’s main urban corridor, Fairfield Ave., bike share poses a way to unite Northern Kentucky’s River Cities in a new way.
"I’m very excited about the opportunity Red Bike provides to further facilitate building the region as a community by providing a fun, healthy alterative mode of transportation,” she said. "It truly will add to the dynamic that makes the urban core extraordinary."
Along those lines, Barron believes it will encourage inter­city commerce, both across the Ohio River, between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, but also within Northern Kentucky, across the Licking River, between Kenton and Campbell Counties.
City officials seem the same potential. Robinson said, “There’s a real beauty in getting people out of their cars and on foot or bicycle because they will see their community in a more engaging and authentic way, which will lead to even more interconnection between the River Cities’ business districts."
When thinking about how much cash might be necessary to fund the project, Red Bike will also have to consider where they would install bike share stations throughout Northern Kentucky, and how many.
When it comes to determining where a bike station goes, it really comes down to originations and destinations, Barron says. That is, where people are going, and where they’re going home to. Density of residential properties, along with density of retail, dining, entertainment, or workplace destinations are the primary factors Barron considers when thinking about a bike share location.
Red Bike has already begun collecting feedback on Northern Kentucky locations through social media, and, according to Carran, plans are already being made among the River Cities’ leaders to determine which locations would be best suited for Red Bike.
Population density is only part of the equation, Barron said. "There’s a little bit of science and guidelines to it, but a lot of it is an art,” he mused, as he paced around the intersections of Greenup, Park Place, and Third St, at the foot of the Roebling Bridge, carefully weighing Red Bike’s options on the block.
Off the cuff, he considered everything from sidewalk depth, curb space, and street width to patio seating, parking spaces, and street side trees and utility structures that could be disturbed by a bike share station.
The Licking Riverside district is one of Red Bike’s prime targets for a Northern Kentucky bike share location, along with Newport on the Levee and Mainstrasse Village.
In fact, Red Bike has gone so far as to solicit the services of Geographical Information Science students from the University of Cincinnati’s School of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning (DAAP) to study how Northern Kentucky space is laid out by property use, socioeconomic status, commuter status, and other criteria, to develop preliminary recommendations for bike share locations.
All­in­all, everyone’s perspective will be considered, Barron said, and initial studies indicate over twenty spots in the Northern Kentucky urban core that could, one day, become a bike share location.
But will all of them be part of the initial expansion in Northern Kentucky? Probably not, according to Barron, who says the key to a successful launch of the Northern Kentucky phase will mirror his approach to growing Red Bike on the Cincinnati side: slow and steady growth.
The fact remains, though, that the truth behind Red Bike is that they’ve been looking forward to pedaling down to Northern Kentucky from the start. Even Red Bike’s name, according to Barron, reflects this. Many bike share programs across the country, he said, are named simply after their city. Denver Cycle, for instance, or Nashville Cycle. But when considering “Cincy Cycle,” Red Bike leaders thought twice.
“We don’t want this to be just for Cincinnati,” Barron said. “It’s for Northern Kentucky, too."
So they went with a simple, straight­forward name that everyone could connect with.
Rest assured, Red Bike, Northern Kentucky looks forward to having you.
Written by Pat LaFleur, RCN contributor
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Photo: ​Red Bike in Covington/RCN