WILMINGTON — The Covid-19 pandemic pumped the brakes on the growing bike-share trend just as conversations about bringing the service to Wilmington were ramping back up. Now, talks about introducing a local program are resuming yet again.
Bike-sharing companies position bicycles in public areas for passersby to rent for a small fee, usually payable through an app. It’s a popular way to get around for tourists, college students, or anyone else who doesn’t want the hassle of owning and lugging around a bike.
For a third time in five years, the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization may roll out a call for bids. The main WMPO board will be asked to approve the move possibly as soon as this month.
WMPO and the city have been attempting to bring the method of transit to the area since fall 2017. In 2018, a vendor was selected from an initial request for proposals.
Wilmington entered an agreement with Zagster for 100 bicycles at 25 stations. To cover the cost of the program, the company planned to secure a title sponsor. But Zagster failed to do so, and the contract was terminated in January 2020.
A subsequent request for proposals was released, and just as a review of the responses began, the pandemic halted the search. At the time, vendors were not implementing new programs, said WMPO’s Nick Cannon. Zagster went out of business. UNCW’s bike-sharing program, which launched in 2016, ceased when classes went virtual, leaving the campus deserted of students and faculty.
Moving forward, WMPO and the city will weigh their options on the desired size of the fleet, the number of locations, and docked versus dockless programs. Officials will need to determine whether to place the entire cost of the program on users or find a greater funding source, perhaps pursue another title sponsorship.
There’s also the opportunity to partner with UNCW on the program as the university reintroduces bike-sharing to its campus.
“It was very attractive to students to not have to bring their own bike to campus, that they had the ability to just use it whenever they needed it and not be responsible for their own bicycle,” Cannon, the transportation demand management coordinator, told the WMPO Technical Coordinating Committee at a meeting Wednesday. “They would really like to get a new program going.”
The City of Wilmington is the only member under WMPO’s jurisdiction to express interest in bike-sharing, Cannon said. However, any jurisdiction could join if it was feasible.
WMPO also provides transportation planning services to New Hanover County, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Wrightsville Beach, Brunswick County, Belville, Leland, Navassa and Pender County.
If a request for proposals is issued, staff and a committee will review the bids and price quotes and then make a recommendation to the board and city. The RFP would look similar to the one pushed out in 2020, which envisioned the program starting out in the more densely populated areas, where tourists frequent, and near bicycle facilities.
Wilmington boasts the Gary Shell Cross-City Trail — 15 miles from Wrightsville Beach through UNCW to Wade Park — and the River to Sea Bikeway, which runs 11 miles from downtown to Wrightsville Beach.
The city is also fast-tracking a project to pave a 4.3-mile trail along Greenville Loop Trail and finalizing right-of-way acquisition for a future 1.4-mile trail along Masonboro Loop. It’s coordinating with NCDOT and Duke Energy on a .7-mile Kerr Avenue trail and is working on extensions of the Park Avenue Trail and the Hooker Road Multi-Use Path as well.
As part of an N.C. Department of Transportation project to widen Gordon Road, a 2.5-mile multi-use path is proposed from Eaton Elementary School to North College Road. Construction to turn the two-lane road into four is slated to begin in 2024.
WMPO is asking the state department to make additions to the plan. It is preparing to pass a resolution to formally request marked pedestrian crossings at all signalized intersections to ensure there is a safe way to reach the amenity from both sides of the street.
The drafted resolution argues the current designs will not create a “safe environment for bicyclists and pedestrians.”
WMPO’s board will likely adopt the resolution at its next meeting on Jan. 26.
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