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Bicycles on Campus

Public pedalers may soon populate the streets of Philadelphia.

A recent report found bicycle sharing to be feasible in Philadelphia and recommended a startup program of 1,750 bicycles based on comparisons with networks in other cities, including Boston, Montreal and Paris.

Stations — shelving 15 to 20 bikes each — would be spaced regularly across 15 square miles of the city’s center, stretching from the Delaware River to 49th Street. Renting options would range from daily fees with the first half hour free to longer term subscription plans.

The program could be implemented in one to three years, according to Alex Doty, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

The city has reviewed the plan. The Department of Transportation and Utilities responded with steps the city will take to prepare for bike sharing, which include addressing liability and safety issues, as well as planning for more bike lanes.

The project’s multi-million dollar price tag is another major obstacle, Doty said.

The startup cost is projected at $4.4 million, according to the report. If successful, the program could expand to offer an additional 2,750 bikes in a wider area, at an added cost of $6.9 million.

Doty added that although usage fees from bike sharing is unlikely to recoup the initial capital investment, other public transit systems ­— such as trolleys or highways — experience the same fate.

“The way to think of bike sharing is that it’s an extension of the transit system,” Doty said, as fares are expected to cover operating costs. But the main payoff lies in promoting a greener and healthier mode of travel, he said.

It can also improve access to SEPTA by shortening a commuter’s travel time and easing congested bus routes, Doty said.

College junior Jeanne Mariani said she thinks the plan would benefit people who don’t own cars and prefer alternatives to buses or cabs.

Philadelphia offers 242 miles of bike-friendly paths, making up almost 10 percent of the city’s roads, according to the report.

Philadelphia has “good bones” for cycling, said Doty, citing the success of the new bike lanes on Spruce and Pine streets, on which the number of cyclists has doubled since the lanes were introduced.

The city also has the highest percentage of people who bike to work of the 10 biggest cities in America, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2008 American Community Survey.

Doty said students are expected to make up an important part of the market.

College senior Armena Ballard, who got a taste of bike sharing when studying abroad in Seville, Spain, said she enjoyed being able to bike whenever she wanted.

Some students think such a system wouldn’t be as useful for them personally.

“I like walking on campus,” said Jabez Yeo, a sophomore in the College and Wharton.

Ballard, who owns a bike, said cycling in Philadelphia is “definitely harder” than in other places. Drivers are “always trying to get somewhere quickly” and “might not obey every traffic light.”

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