Wilmington takes another look at bike sharing

UNCW halted its bike-sharing program after classes went virtual in 2020. Now campus docks are running out of bikes. (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands Williams)

WILMINGTON — The Covid-19 pandemic has dampened the growing trend of bike sharing just as conversations about bringing the service to Wilmington resumed. Now discussions about introducing a local program are resuming.

Bike-sharing companies place bikes in public spaces for passers-by to rent for a small fee, usually payable through an app. It’s a popular way to get around for tourists, students, or anyone else who doesn’t want the hassle of owning and carrying a bike.

For the third time in five years, the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization could issue a call for tenders. The WMPO’s main board will be asked to approve the move possibly as early as this month.

The WMPO and the city have been trying to introduce the transit mode to the area since fall 2017. In 2018, a vendor was selected from an initial request for proposals.

Wilmington has a deal with Zagster for 100 bikes at 25 stations. To cover the cost of the program, the company planned to find a title sponsor. But Zagster didn’t and the contract was terminated in January 2020.

A subsequent request for proposals was issued, and just as the review of responses began, the pandemic halted the research. At the time, vendors weren’t implementing new programs, said WMPO’s Nick Cannon. Zagster went bankrupt. UNCW’s bike-sharing program, which launched in 2016, ceased when classes went virtual, leaving the campus deserted with students and faculty.

Going forward, WMPO and the city will evaluate their options based on desired fleet size, number of locations, and docked or dockless programs. Managers will need to consider whether to pass the full cost of the program on to users or find a larger source of funding, perhaps seek another title sponsorship.

There is also the option to partner with UNCW on the program as the university reintroduces bike sharing to its campus.

“It was very appealing to students not having to bring their own bike to campus, being able to use it when they needed it, and not being responsible for their own bike,” said said Cannon, the transportation demand management coordinator. the WMPO Technical Coordinating Committee at a meeting on Wednesday. “They would really like to start a new program.”

The City of Wilmington is the only member under WMPO jurisdiction to express interest in bike sharing, Cannon said. However, any jurisdiction could join if feasible.

WMPO also provides transportation planning services to New Hanover County, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Wrightsville Beach, Brunswick County, Belville, Leland, Navassa and Pender County.

If a request for proposals is issued, staff and a committee will review bids and price offers and then make a recommendation to council and the city. The tender would resemble the one launched in 2020, which called for the program to start in the most densely populated areas, frequented by tourists, and near cycling facilities.

Wilmington has the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail – 15 miles from Wrightsville Beach via UNCW to Wade Park – and the River to Sea Bikeway, which runs 11 miles from downtown to Wrightsville Beach.

The city is also accelerating a project to open a 4.3-mile trail along Greenville Loop Trail and finalize acquisition of the right-of-way for a future 1.4-mile trail along Masonboro Loop. He coordinates with NCDOT and Duke Energy/Progress on a 0.7 mile Kerr Avenue Trail and is also working on extensions to the Park Avenue Trail and the Hooker Road Multi-Use Trail.

As part of a North Carolina Department of Transportation project to widen Gordon Road, a 2.5-mile multi-use trail is proposed between Eaton Elementary School and North College Road. Construction to turn the road from two lanes to four is expected to begin in 2024.

WMPO is asking the State Department to make additions to the plan. He is preparing to pass a resolution formally calling for marked crosswalks at all signalized intersections to ensure there is a safe way to access equipment from both sides of the street.

The draft resolution argues that current designs will not create a “safe environment for cyclists and pedestrians”.

The WMPO board will likely pass the resolution at its next meeting on January 26.

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