Ready to Roll

by Sonya Cisneros Curry

Kristen Camareno, executive director of Fort Worth Bike Sharing, is bringing cycling to the streets of Fort Worth in an entirely new way.

In second grade, Kristen Camareno was the kid who got dropped off at school in a bike trailer. As a child, she spent weekends in that trailer riding with her dad –– rain or shine. Cycling has always been a part of her life. It’s a tradition she carries on with her husband and two sons. It’s one she’s bringing to Fort Worth in an entirely new way.

What started as the idea for a city bicycle fleet in 2009 has evolved into Fort Worth Bike Sharing, a nonprofit agency that owns and will soon operate a bike-sharing system in Fort Worth. It’s a concept embraced widely in Europe that has rapidly taken root in the United States. On April 22, Fort Worth will sneak ahead of Austin and Dallas to become the third city in Texas with a bike-sharing system. 

The B Cycle system provides a network of bike stations within a few blocks of one another throughout central Fort Worth. Consider it the Redbox® for bikes.

A computer kiosk located at each station guides riders through the process of purchasing a membership for a day, week, month or year using a credit card.

Memberships, available to anyone over the age of 18, range from $8 for one day to $80 for one year of unlimited use. Rental charges are free for the first 30 minutes, encouraging short trips. Riders are charged $1.50 for the next half hour and $3 for each half-hour after. The escalating fee structure enforces the idea of bike sharing rather than long-term rental.

A mobile app allows a user to see what stations have bikes available before, for example, leaving his or her office downtown to bike to Magnolia Avenue for lunch. Annual members can bypass the computer kiosks altogether and wave their micro-chipped membership cards in front of a bike to release it from the station dock.

Bike-share systems are thriving in San Antonio, Houston, Minneapolis, Denver and Boston, among other major cities. Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D. C., is the most successful in terms of ridership. At the 2012 National Bike Summit, Kristen spoke with Paul DeMaio, founder of Capital Bikeshare, who is considered “the father of bike sharing” in the U.S. He said that if he could choose one aspect of his system to do over, he would have covered less area more densely. Kristen took that advice to heart.

Stations are planned in urban villages including downtown, the Cultural District, West 7th, the Near Southside, the Hospital District and Texas Christian University. Expect to see 300 shiny red bikes on the streets of Fort Worth this spring. “They almost look like electric bikes,” said Nick Olivier, business development manager at Fort Worth Bike Sharing. 

Incidents of stolen bike-share bicycles are extremely rare thanks to dual locking mechanisms at each dock, on-board GPS tracking devices, and user accountability measures, said Kristen. If a bike is stolen, the user’s credit card will be charged $1,118 to replace it. In Washington D. C., the theft rate for the city’s 1,500-bike fleet is less than 1 percent.

Fort Worth is the first system to contract with local bike shops to maintain the bikes, said Kristen. Maintenance will be especially important since bikes will be available 24 hours a day to start.

Each bike will be on a rotation, said Kristen. Bikes will be visually inspected once a month or when a user indicates a maintenance issue. Tune-ups, adjustments or brake repair will be completed as needed.

All for One

Thirty bike share stations will be installed in urban villages like West 7th (pictured here), the Cultural District, the Hospital District, Downtown, Near Southside and TCU.

“We’re not in it to compete with local bike shops,” said Kristen. To her, anything that is for biking is not competition. “It’s all good. It increases the city’s connection to cycling and community support.”

This system extends the reach of public transportation by offering “a last mile connection,” said Mayor Betsy Price.

Fort Worth is the first instance in the U.S. where the transportation authority has picked up the project. For three years, Kristen researched bike-sharing initiatives in addition to her job responsibilities at The T. It wasn’t a surprise when she left The T in January to become executive director of Fort Worth Bike Sharing. “It’s something I’ve become really passionate about. It would have been really tough to watch someone else do it,” she said.

According to Kristen, Julia McCleeary has been “in the trenches” with her throughout the development of Fort Worth Bike Sharing. Among other responsibilities, Julia oversees Bike Fort Worth, the city’s comprehensive bike plan that was adopted in 2010.

The Federal Transit Authority awarded $941,000 to The T, which provided an additional $100,000 in local grant-matching funds toward the cost of 30 bike-sharing stations and 300 bikes. “When we got the grant, it was the best thing that’s happened to Fort Worth in a really long time,” said Julia.

Another coup for Fort Worth Bike Sharing happened January 29, 2013, when City Council unanimously agreed to waive $12,100 worth of permit fees. “This sends a strong message that we back them,” said Mayor Price.

Shifting Gears

In 2010, there were 4.8 miles of bike lanes in Fort Worth. Today, that number has grown by 400% thanks to the City's comprehenisve bike plan.

“The first time we applied for funding, we didn’t get it,” said Kristen. Since then, Bike Fort Worth has made significant strides in achieving the goals to triple the number of bicycle commuters, decrease the level of bicyclist-related crashes and attaining official designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community by 2015.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Julia.

She made her way to Fort Worth after graduating from Eastern Michigan University with a master’s degree in urban and regional planning. She has worked with the City for the past six years offering her expertise on initiatives like Bike Fort Worth and Walk Fort Worth. “It’s totally changed my life,” she said. “Once you get that bug, that’s it.”

For her, cycling provided a support group and circle of friends. “It’s really taken over my life,” she said. “I can go anywhere on my bike.”

That wasn’t always the case, especially in 2010 when there were less than five miles of on-street bike lanes. Since then, the number has increased by 400 percent. Showers have been installed at City Hall for bicycle commuters. The Mayor conducts Town Hall meetings on her bike. Anyone can join the Bike Fort Worth Club.

“It’s crucial to me that our city has better mobility,” said Mayor Price. “You’ve got to offer that.” The Environment Protection Agency recently reclassified Dallas-Fort Worth from a Moderate to a Serious Non-attainment Area. The Metroplex is ranked as the fifth most congested metropolitan area in the country.

Mayor Price has been cycling since she was five or six years old. She recalled the first bike she owned, a black and white Schwinn. “It had been my sister’s,” she said.

It wasn’t until junior high that she purchased her first “serious” bike from Leonard’s Department Store. She saved up for it by doing chores around the house. It was purple and white. “I’ve had more money in bikes throughout the years than we put into our first house as newlyweds,” she said.  

According to Julia, Mayor Price has been instrumental in opening people up to the possibility of cycling. “She really gets her energy from people and talking to them and listening to them. You can see that when she’s on her rides.”

“Her passion is outstanding,” said Julia. “You can’t help but be excited about what you’re doing when you’re with her.”

It is expected that Fort Worth will be home to 1.8 million residents and employees by 2030. Part of The T’s strategic plan and a goal of Bike Fort Worth is to triple the number of bicycle commuters from 0.2 percent to 0.6 percent by 2020.

San Antonio reported 129,069 pounds of carbon emissions offset by bike-share users in the program’s first year. In Denver, bike sharing replaced 43 percent of short car trips among 34,000 members. Similar statistics will be gathered in Fort Worth. An annual Bike-Sharing member can review how many miles he or she has ridden, calories burned and how much money saved on gasoline.

This is an especially useful tool for companies that offer employee wellness programs, according to Kristen. She said bike sharing is “a perfect tie in.” While employers won’t be able to see individual users’ profiles, they will be able to reference collective data and purchase corporate memberships.

No Car. No Problem. 

Julia estimated that about 645 Fort Worth residents commute to work using a bike. Mark Troxler is one of them. In fact, Mark has not owned a car in three years. “Almost 356 days a year, I’m out on my bike,” he said.

Mark can usually be spotted cruising down Magnolia Avenue, a street he has “a soft spot for.” He likes riding through the Stockyards where the Trinity Trails snake around and sometimes under historic buildings. He’s also “bombing down zoo hill” at least twice a day.

In addition to his role as a board member of Fort Worth Bike Sharing, Mark volunteers for the cycling advocacy group Bike Friendly Fort Worth. He founded the Night Riders, a social bicycling club that organizes group rides Sunday and Wednesday nights. “We haven’t missed one Sunday since 2009,” he stated proudly. 

“I’m lucky. Cycling way back in the day was one of my first passions, something I really loved,” said Mark. “Then I found ballet.” He was a professional dancer with Texas Ballet Theater for 11 years. When he retired in 2012, he celebrated the end of his career in an unconventional way. “I went a little Forrest Gump and rode 3,000 miles,” he said.

He rode from Astoria, Ore., to Washington, D. C., in about three months. Julia followed his adventure by reading his blog, aptly titled Lewis and Clark and Mark. “It was the most amazing experience of my life,” he said.

When Mark arrived in Washington, D. C., he observed the city’s bike-share system Capital Bikeshare. “It was cool to see old ladies, men in suits, people of all ages and ethnicities getting off the subway and hopping on a bike.” He noted that nine times out of 10 a little smile popped onto their face. For Mark, bike sharing is “a total game changer.”

A Grand Start

Fort Worth Bike Sharing executive director Kristen Camareno cruises down Magnolia Avenue on one of the 300 shiny red bikes that will hit the streets this spring.

“Fort Worth is in a good spot for this program,” said Kristen. Fort Worth Bike Sharing positions the City closer to attaining official designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Cyclists.

“We want a designation by 2015,” said Julia. She hoped the city had done enough to receive that mark of economic distinction last year. When she first applied, the Mayor’s Rolling Town Halls had not been started. Fort Worth Bike Sharing was still in the preliminary planning stage.  

“It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing,” said Kristen. She emphasized the importance of bike infrastructure, which helps cyclists feel safe on the roads and (hopefully) raises bicycle awareness for motorists. “But it also takes cyclists on the lanes for the City to realize that we have people that would use them.”

One of the goals of Bike Friendly Fort Worth is to get more people riding their bikes the proper way. “A lot of people see some idiot riding down the street the wrong way, weaving in and out of cars,” said Mark. He explained that not only is this dangerous, it makes other riders look bad. That type of behavior is what this advocacy group is trying to prevent.  

For Kristen, her perfect day using the bike-share system would be when she doesn’t have to get in her car once –– even in the summer. She suggested that a typical walk from southeast Downtown to Burnett Park is 15 minutes. The bike-share system offers a five-minute alternative.

Cities with record-high temperatures, including Tucson, Albuquerque, Phoenix, El Paso and Houston, report higher percentages of the population commuting to work by bike than in Fort Worth. In August, Julia plans to ride 100 miles in the 32nd annual Hotter’N Hell Hundred.  

Her first bike was bright yellow with a banana seat. She often zoomed up and down her street pretending to be in the Tour de France. “Somehow we forget that our most wonderful memories of our childhood were of that first vehicle,” said Julia.

Mark smiled when thought of his first bike––a black Huffy.

A lot happens in the journey from training wheels to adulthood. Some might say it’s almost like the magic goes away. “If most people reconnected, I think they would just come back and be so excited,” said Julia.

Kristen believes bike sharing will be an easy way to get comfortable on a bike again for adults of all ages. 

“Don’t worry,” Mark offered. “It’s just like riding a bike.”