Report sees potential for Baton Rouge bike-sharing program, but also obstacles _lowres

Tampa Bay Times photo by LOREN ELLIOTT -- A University of South Florida student unlocks a bicycle available in a bike-sharing sharing program at a commuter lot on the campus. A report shows potential for bike-sharing in Baton Rouge, but also obstacles such as funding and infrastructure.

A report from the Environmental Protection Agency about the possibility of creating a bike-sharing program in Baton Rouge found that there is strong support for the effort from the public, local nonprofits and elected officials, but there are major obstacles, such as funding and a lack of infrastructure.

The EPA report was based on a two-day workshop in late July that included a public forum attended by about 50 people and a bike tour of the city. East Baton Rouge was awarded a technical assistance grant from the EPA that paid for staff and national experts to conduct the workshop.

In a bike-share program, bicycles are made available to the public for a nominal cost on a short-term basis. Riders can get on a bike at one location then drop it off at another rack. This encourages people to use bicycles as a form of environmentally-friendly transportation for short trips.

Whitney Cooper, development project director for the Downtown Development District, said the next step to setting up a bike-sharing program is to talk about the EPA report. Some of the groups involved in the July meeting were the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Mayor’s Office, DDD, East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission, Center for Planning Excellence, Capital Region Planning Commission and City-Parish Planning Commission.

“We have significant interest from a lot of different groups here,” Cooper said. “The strength is we have to continue to network and define how we are going to implement bike-sharing.”

One possibility may be to do a pilot bike-sharing program centered on an event, such as a downtown festival, she said. Implementing a program at LSU and Southern University is another possibility because there’s significant interest in bike-sharing from college students.

While the EPA report noted that Baton Rouge doesn’t have a funding source in place for bike-sharing, it mentioned a number of smaller cities that have established programs, such as Boise, Idaho; Boulder, Colorado; and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Local nonprofits and transportation organizations manage those bike-sharing organizations. Boise said its program costs $250,000 annually, while Boulder said it spends $463,000 a year on bike-sharing and Chattanooga spent $2 million to launch local bike-sharing in 2012.

“We need to look at financing and what are some possibilities,” Cooper said. “We need to do research and due diligence.”

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.