MS. REBECCA SHEIR
And now we turn to a seemingly urban concept that could very well go suburban, very suburban. By most accounts, Capital Bikeshare has been wildly popular in D.C. and Arlington. And now leaders in Columbia, Md. and surrounding Howard County are weighing whether a bikeshare program could work in their community. And that's the topic of our regular transportation segment, "From A To B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Jonathan Wilson headed up to Howard County to find out more.
MR. JONATHAN WILSON
If you're looking for a place with a lively or even quaint downtown, Columbia, Md. may leave a little to be desired. Here's how the Columbia Association's Director of Community Planning, Jane Dember, describes the center of town.
MS. JANE DEMBER
Well, the downtown today features a very large mall in the middle of it. It isn't a traditional downtown with a main street.
But the sprawling retail complex and the expansive parking lot surrounding it haven't stopped Columbia from regularly being listed as one of the very best places to live in the country. The 100,000 or so residents here have access to some of the best public schools in the nation. Foreclosure and jobless rates are impressively low and, yes, there's a major plan to make downtown Columbia into something other than a consumer's paradise.
Downtown is going to redevelop and that will bring new vitality. More housing units downtown and a more walk-able downtown. So that's in the future for us.
Bikesharing could be a part of that future as well. Columbia and Howard County have teamed up to apply for grant money to fund a feasibility study on such a program. And already there are reasons to believe that if bikesharing is feasible in a suburban environment at all, Columbia would be the place. Turn into any of the residential streets in Columbia and it's not long before you see some of the paved trails that snake through the neighborhoods. Dember says the trails were created as a selling point when this planned community was conceived by developer Jim Rouse more than 40 years ago.
We have 94 miles of pathways that are separate from our roadway. Major cities, you know, don't have that many. Washington does not have that many pathways.
I'm walking on of Columbia's paved pathways next to Wild Lake. Wild Lake is one of three main manmade lakes in the area. It is picturesque and the surface of the path is pretty perfect for biking but there are small challenges a bikeshare program might face here. The hill that I'm on right now and it's not the only one, would be pretty difficult for some people to summit on a bicycle and in terms of signage, there really is no signage telling you where all these different paths lead.
Even some locals say it's easy to lose your way. 17 year-old Anthony Reesy (sp?) runs cross-country for Wild Lake High School.
MR. ANTHONY REESY
For the people who are here, you know, who know the area, it's a lot easier. It's kind of, it's in your head, a mental map of where everything is. But I know as a freshmen doing cross-country I got lost all the time.
And the paths are only part of the story. Howard County Council Chair, Mary Kay Sigaty, says the county, which is in charge of road improvements will have to invest in better on-road bike lanes to make bikesharing work as a real mode of transit.
MS. MARY KAY SIGATY
Columbia was designed as a place for people to walk and to bike and if you go on our bike trails you can go all sorts of wonderful places but you can't necessarily get from to there.
Luckily for Columbia, Jennifer Toole, one of the nation's foremost experts on cycling infrastructure, just happens to be a Columbia resident. Toole is the CEO of Toole Design Group, a company that helps cities across the country design better bike lanes.
MS. JENNIFER TOOLE
I live in Hickory Ridge and moved here about 15 years ago.
Toole says some of the goals of a suburban bikesharing program have to be different from those of an urban system, promoting a healthy lifestyle, reducing parking problems. Those are realistic goals but having a major impact on air pollution isn't, at least in a town of fewer than 100,000 people. She also points out that a bikesharing program doesn't have to be big to be successful.
When you look at some of the smaller systems around the country, some of them have as few as two stations and, you know, and only 20 bikes.
She won't guarantee that bikesharing will work in Columbia but she says it's way too early for anyone to say it can only succeed in densely populated areas.
The thing to remember is that bikeshare's a very new thing even in the places in the country where it's successful. It's really a movement that's only a few years old.
So is bikesharing just a youthful indiscretion or a movement that can grow up and move out to the suburbs? Maybe Columbia will soon provide the answer. I'm Jonathan Wilson.
To check out photos of Columbia's paved pathways and for a link to an interactive map of all those trails Jonathan was mentioning, head to our website, metroconnection.org.
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