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Pedaling Annapolis’ New Bike-Sharing Plan

Three-year plan places 50 bikes at nine different spots around town 
photo by Audrey Broomfield Jon Korin (left), president of Bicycle Advocates for Annapolis & Anne Arundel County, Mayor Gavin Buckley and Keli Hoyt-Rupert, whose company Pace brought the bikes to Annapolis.
      Whether you live in, work in or enjoy visiting Annapolis, the $64,000 question is where to park. 
      At city core, Church Circle is a central star, emitting streets like rays. From this spherical hub, you choose a street to search for parking. There are small streets, like Franklin and South, and more heavily traveled streets like West, Main and College Avenue. 
     Many drivers go right for Duke of Gloucester Street and the Noah Hillman Parking Garage.
     The ambitious turn left on Green Street to head up one-way Main Street, where you can count yourself lucky if you land a spot. 
     To avoid using a car to get downtown, parking in an outlying garage and catching a bus or the free Circulator has been your main transit option besides walking.
 
Share a Bike
      On August 29, Annapolis kicked off a new way to move through the city. 
      Mayor Gavin Buckley heralded the arrival of new white-and-blue sharing bikes with a cruise down Duke of Gloucester. Pedaling alongside him were Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh and Jon Korin, president of the nonprofit Bicycle Advocates for Annapolis & Anne Arundel County.
      The trio parked their bikes at Market Square to introduce the city’s new bike-sharing program. It will, Buckley said he hoped, tempt people to “come to this beautiful, historic city, get out of their cars and enjoy downtown from another perspective.”
     The bikes, explained Korin, are a “benefit to all. If you don’t ride but your neighbor does, that’s one less car you’ll encounter on the road.”
      The bike share company is Pace, a dockless bike subsidiary of Zagster — which has bikes in more than 250 cities. 
      The three-year bike-sharing experiment places 50 bikes at nine different spots around Annapolis including county offices, the courthouse, Lowes Hotel and St. John’s College. 
      By “improving community connectivity,” said Zagster’s Keli Hoyt-Rupert, who brought the new bikes to Annapolis, Pace hopes to “make biking the most favored form of transportation.”
      To use the bikes, you’ll need to download the free Pace app on your phone. After you create an account, you’ll be able to find a bike on the map. Unlock it and go. When you’re ready to get back on two feet, lock it at any ­public rack, or at one of the nine stocked Pace racks around the city. Once the bike is locked, your linked bankcard will be charged for the timed ride.
      A 30-minute ride will cost you $1, but the bikes come to Annapolis with zero cost to the city or taxpayers.
      Coca-Cola Consolidated, one of 68 U.S. franchises, is sponsoring the bike share program for three years. In return, “the rear wheel covers of the bikes will advertise our heath-conscious product, Dasani water,” says Eric Johnston for Coke Consolidated. 
      “This is a great example of private-public partnership,” said Mayor Buckley of the cost-free deal.
 
Plan B
      These 50 bikes are part of a bigger plan.
      “Cars rule our cities,” Buckley told me. “I just want to see what’s possible if we took some cars out of the equation.”
      The ultimate goal is creating a bike network to mobilize the community by connecting all aspects of Annapolis.
      The bike-sharing part of it, Buckley said, “can make a city better if it is done right. Bike-friendly cities are healthier, more pedestrian friendly and have a European café atmosphere.”
      On Friday, August 21, the city opened an experimental bike lane. The experiment will last 30 days, but — succeed or fail — it’s just the beginning of a much larger inter-jurisdictional plan in cooperation with Anne Arundel County.
       With Anne Arundel County Executive Schuh, Buckley plans a bike network that will take riders from the historic district to neighborhoods all the way to Anne Arundel Medical Center. He’s further partnered with the state — the state owns West Street — to get bikers safely down West Street and beyond.
      The bike network isn’t just for bikers. The paths will connect with Poplar Trail, and Buckley hopes people will use the infrastructure for walking or running.
      The bike lane was first visible on Wednesday August 29, when parking spaces disappeared overnight from the south side of Main Street. In their place was a new bike lane separated from vehicular traffic by orange cones and painted lines. 
       The bike lane goes downhill toward City Dock. Pedaling against traffic was disconcerting I found, as I took one of the shiny new Pace bikes for a short ride. My panic grew when the lane curved inward near Gorman Street, leaving no room for even the slightest turn of my handlebars. 
      The lane ends before crossing Market Space and Green Street with no clear strategy for re-entering traffic. I ended my ride here rather than brave the circle to Compromise Street and beyond.
       I found using the bike lane problematic, but unlocking and relocking the bike with Pace’s Bluetooth battery-powered lock was a breeze. That lock is one of Pace-Zagster’s strategies to solve problems that have beset dockless bike and scooter experiments in other cities. The concept took off three years ago in China and is spreading to cities throughout the United States. Washington, D.C., began its much-criticized bike share experiment in late 2017.
       Pace’s retractible locking cord is long enough to allow the bike to be secured to any bike rack. Bikes — and, increasingly motorized scooters — placed by other companies like LimeBike, Ofo and Spin can be left anywhere. Those bikes are often tossed casually aside, and theft and vandalism is rampant.
       “With bikes that can be left anywhere, people seem to be more disrespectful and bikes more vandalism-prone,” explained Pace’s area maintenance director Kevin Diamond.
       Three wet weeks into the three-year experiment, bike sharing is getting a pass as the new experimental Main Street bike lane draws the wrath of local critics. 
       Many Annapolitans and Main Street business owners are displeased. Loss of business, lack of handicapped parking spots and pedestrian safety are some grievances Buckley heard at the City Council meeting on September 10. 
       Cynthia McBride, owner of McBride Gallery on Main Street, wrote a letter in the Capital Gazette imploring the mayor to stop the trial now.
      Others are less cautious with their distaste for the lane. Some go as far as to say Buckley is single-handedly killing small business.
       Even though the immediate uproar favors bringing back the left packing lane, some think Buckley has the right intentions.
      “It’s a step in the right direction, maybe just the wrong execution,” says Rankin, the electric vehicle guru. He says Main Street should do away with cars altogether. 
      “We never rode up Main Street because it’s really like the boardwalk of Annapolis,” he adds. “Get the cars out and let people really experience what Annapolis has to offer.”