Years in the making, the new Bulldog Bike Share is now live on the UGA campus. The bikeshare features a fleet of electric pedal-assist bicycles accessible from 22 hubs across campus, reaching to the Health Sciences Campus in Normaltown and the Park and Ride off College Station, which now leads directly into campus via the East Campus Connector Bridge.
Electric pedal-assist bikes do not have a throttle like a motorcycle. Rather, riders must start pedaling for the motor to kick in, and from there the setting can be adjusted to determine how much help the bike’s electric motor gives. Compared to riding a regular bike up the Athens hills, it feels like you have rocket boosters.
The bikeshare is a partnership between UGA Transportation and Parking Services and the Office of Sustainability. According to Public Relations Manager Rebecca Beeler, “Our goal with introducing the bikeshare system was to expand alternative transportation options on campus and provide our students, faculty, staff and visitors with more choices for navigating campus.”
Anyone with a smartphone can download the Gotcha Mobility app for iOS or Android, create an account, scan the bike and ride anywhere within the service area (a map is available here). It costs $2 to unlock and 10 cents per minute of ride time. The bikes, which are GPS-enabled, must be returned to one of the hubs, but can be ridden fairly far from campus without incurring the $50 out-of-system fee. Bulldog Bike Share also offers monthly and annual subscription options, and these come with a free helmet that riders get to keep.
In the college-town dance, sometimes the university takes the lead, and the Athens-Clarke County government can decide whether or not to follow. In this case, Scott Long, executive director of BikeAthens, thinks that ACC will want to follow, once people experience the pedal-assist bikes for themselves.
“The great thing for our local government is the university has already done the due diligence to select the best company to deliver the service,” Long says. “It is a ton of work for municipalities to start from scratch to select a bikeshare vendor.”
Commissioner-elect Carol Myers, chair of Athens in Motion, the group that designed Athens’ bike/pedestrian master plan, also believes that people will come to value the bikes—and thus support better bike infrastructure—once they try them. “Electric-assist bikes basically take the hills and sweating away from your bike-riding experience—just what we need in this hilly and summer hot community,” Myers says.
She is an avid cyclist herself, and purchased an e-bike last year to replace her car, not her road bike. Myers noted that a community-wide e-bike-share program was part of her campaign platform, along with moving forward with the Athens in Motion plan.
The Athens in Motion master plan takes an extensive look at bike and pedestrian infrastructure. The plan, approved in October 2018, puts forth proposals for expanding sidewalks, bike lanes and paths, and other improvements to increase access and safety across Athens-Clarke County. The next challenge is ensuring funding, and infrastructure projects are more expensive than many people realize. Athens-Clarke County did pass the Transportation Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) in 2017, and part of the needed funding for the bike/pedestrian proposals will come from that.
“When people start to use the bike share more and more, like I have seen in other cities I’ve been to, you will start to see more demand for better infrastructure,” Long says. More demand means projects are more likely to get the funding they need.
For many, it’s a choice to leave the car keys in favor of a more environmentally- and health-friendly alternative. For a lot of other community members, though, it isn’t a choice, whether that’s due to having only one car in the family, the cost of driving, losing a license or other reasons. Bikes, walking and maybe the bus are the only options. The more safe and wide-reaching bike options there are, the better it is for the health and well-being of our whole community.
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