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St. Pete City Council still unsure about bike share

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete City Council appeared to still be on a fence during a workshop discussing a proposed bike share program that would cost the city $1.5 million. The board agreed Thursday, though not by formal vote, to refer the conversation to a Public Services and Infrastructure committee meeting Feb. 25.

City Council will vote officially to schedule the committee item at its Feb 4 meeting.

The $1.5 million city request would be broken up three ways to equally tap parking fees, transportation impact fees and a portion of the funding awarded as part of the BP oil settlement.

City staff had hoped for a more positive discussion surrounding the issue. Mayor Rick Kriseman had originally proposed using $1 million from the BP settlement for the program, which got pushback from some council members who thought it wise to use a majority if not all of the $6.5 million on wastewater infrastructure improvements desperately needed in the city. Cutting the request in half seemed a more palatable funding request, but there were still questions.

Councilman Karl Nurse, who has pushed hard for using BP money for wastewater projects, questioned why the city couldn’t tap tax incremental funds established for downtown infrastructure. That’s a question that will likely be answered at PS&I after the city’s legal staff has had an opportunity to vet whether purchasing infrastructure for a bike share program qualifies as a TIF expenditure.

Jim Kennedy said he was disappointed the staff report didn’t include a business model.

“I have a hard time spending $1.5 million if I can’t understand the long-range business plan,” he said.

Kennedy explained there were several unanswered questions like how many riders are needed to make the program financially solvent.

“I don’t envision profits here,” Kennedy said.

Staff laid out rebuttals to many of the questions. Sponsorship opportunities and advertising revenue could offset any deficiency.

Council members Steve Kornell and Lisa Wheeler-Brown each presented broader questions about the wisdom of putting that much money into one project isolated to areas in and near downtown.

Wheeler-Brown, who represents one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, asked that the city look into pushing the boundaries of the initial phase of the project further south into Midtown and South St. Pete.

Parking and transportation manager Evan Mory suggested that was already in the works in an interview Wednesday with SaintPetersblog.

Kornell raised the issue of creating better and safer bike infrastructure in general. However, that idea was later indirectly rebuked by council vice-chair and unabashed bike-share supporter Darden Rice who asked that a proposed bike-share project not be placed at the mercy of other failing transit throughout the region.

Early in the meeting bike enthusiasts had pointed out that bike-share programs could be a valuable tool in illustrating the need for more robust cycling infrastructure. And the city is committed to continuing Complete Streets initiatives that would not only work to make roadways more aesthetic, they would also provide better transportation opportunities for pedestrians and cyclists.

The city is pushing for a bike share program largely to increase transportation options in and near downtown and to reduce congestion and parking need.

The proposed program would initially include 30 stations with 300 bicycles. The bikes would be equipped with all of the necessary technology including GPS, a credit card payment mechanism and solar power to make everything run. And the city would own the bikes.

According to Mory, that gives St. Pete better access to data in order to track where the program is most successful.

The company Cycle Hop would manage the bike share program. That’s the same company that manages Tampa’s bike share known as Coast.

The bikes would cost $8 for an hour of use for a walk-up customer. However, annual memberships provide options for yearly subscriptions making the cost much lower for those who expect to use the service more frequent. A $79 annual fee gets users an hour per day of bike usage. Members can also pay $15 per month to try the program out. $20 per month buys 90 minutes of usage per day.

In Tampa, Coast offers a student annual rate of just $59.

The city hopes to have the issue brought before City Council in March in order to prepare for a soft launch in late summer and full launch in October.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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