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April 26, 2012

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Alloyed, modern, Chattanooga Bicycle Transit System (CBTS) stations have now been placed throughout the downtown area. These 30 stations, strategically placed in areas of greatest potential use by commuters, workers and visitors, will be stocked with 300 bicycles beginning on April 25 (as this edition hits the streets).

Out of all the developments in the past 20 years in our downtown area, this is one that would have seemed the most unlikely among Chattanooga’s major revitalization efforts.

If you consider what must transpire for something like a bicycle transit system to become feasible for a city, we would seem like a distant candidate even just a few years ago. A mix of a somewhat concentrated urban area, the right number of destination points through that area, a concentration of residents, workers and visitors who would have the greatest potential to use the system. All this must be in place to make the system viable.

Beyond the infrastructure and hardware needs of a bicycle transit program, perhaps even more important to a successful implementation is the desire of a community to see it happen, and the belief in its transformative effect on a city. This is key. No matter how many developmental factors are in place for such a thing, if the desire among city leaders, interest groups and the public it intends to serve is not there, nothing else matters.

The sport-cycling community has existed for many years in Chattanooga. That vibrant set of enthusiasts and the services to it from cycling shops around the city have developed a strong presence in the city and region. The 3-State 3-Mountain Challenge and the Tour de Cure are both upcoming events that highlight this enthusiastic and active component of the area’s outdoor activities. There is little doubt that this presence has helped move the bicycle into the consciousness of the city as not only a sporting or wellness venture, but a form of practical transportation.

That’s the idea of CBTS and their operational partner, Alta Bicycle Share, Inc. That bicycles are a practical, inexpensive, environmentally friendly way to get from Point A to Point B. Alta Bicycle Share has operations in Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago and New York City, to name a few, with overseas operations in places such as Melbourne, Australia. Chattanooga is the first city in the Southeast to have a full deployment of the bike system. That’s a nice badge to be wearing and it’s an impressive development in terms of urban transportation as well as capital investment in our infrastructure.

“Planning for a project of this magnitude took months of coordination with the city, private business owners, non-profits, and individuals,” said Jeremy Pomp, general manager of Bike Chattanooga, adding future expansion is in mind as well. “As with our other operations, we do expect expansion to occur based on an increase in demand after our first year of operation.”

During the unveiling ceremonies of the CBTS station map and installment of the first station at Outdoor Chattanooga last week, I spoke to one of the board members of Bike Chattanooga. As that ceremony was taking place, he said another “major announcement” around the concept of biking and alternative transportation was being planned for release on May 5. Pushing him further to reveal any details, he said, “I obviously can’t give you any details now, but I will say this—it’s a game changer. And not just for Chattanooga. It’s groundbreaking nationwide.It’s huge.” Intriguing words, certainly. We’ll be all ears come May 5.

Any future project that brings to the city new transportation options that are publicly shared and truly alternatives to the automobile are welcome. We have the opportunity to take advantage of the momentum of the bike share transit system and we have the perfect-sized downtown to make it a practical for everyday, quick transportation. It could prove to be one of the most enhancing and transformative developments the city has experienced so far.

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April 26, 2012

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