Salem launches free bike-sharing program
After months of planning, the city on Monday launched Salem Spins, a bike sharing initiative. Twenty bikes will be available for public use free of charge, 10 of them downtown and 10 at Salem State University.
The bikes will be located downtown on a median strip next to the Hawthorne Hotel, and at Salem State in front of the campus police station. Anyone 18 or over will be able to use the bikes at the downtown station, but for now the Salem State bikes are for use of university students and staff only.
“The bike sharing program will offer another way for people to travel within the city and connect the Salem State University campus with the downtown,’’ said Jason Silva, chief of staff to Mayor Kimberley L. Driscoll. He said it was also another way to “keep cars off the road,’’ reducing traffic congestion.
Paul Marquis, the city’s energy and sustainability manager, said the program, which follows the launch of a bike sharing initiative by Boston in July, has generated a good deal of local interest.
“A lot of folks are asking about it,’’ he said. “One woman asked when it would be deployed because she was considering purchasing her own bike but may wait and see if the bike sharing program meets her needs.’’
While it is a relatively new concept in Massachusetts, a number of major cities, including Washington, D.C., Denver, Minneapolis, London, and Montreal have bike sharing programs
Unlike the Boston program, the Salem program is free, at least for now.
Marquis said the city opted not to charge users in order to encourage participation. “And Salem is a fairly working-class community. We need to provide as many resources as we possibly can for the residents of Salem, and transportation is obviously a critical resource everyone needs to have access to.’’
That was one impetus for the program; another was the chance to reduce the city’s carbon footprint. Marquis noted that Salem has taken other steps to promote bicycling, including through its ongoing development of bike paths, bike lanes, and painted symbols, called sharrows, denoting a road is meant to be shared by motorists and cyclists.
Salem State is an enthusiastic partner.
“Salem Spins is just one more opportunity for meaningful collaboration between the city of Salem and Salem State University,’’ the university’s executive vice president, Stanley Cahill, said in a statement. “As a proponent of green initiatives and environmentally responsible behavior, Salem State looks forward to the opportunity to provide students, faculty, and staff with alternative forms of transportation around the campus and around the city so many of us call home.’’
Salem State tried its own bike sharing program in 2004. But the program, run by the Student Government Association, lasted only a year.
The city is funding the initial costs of Salem Spins through a $25,000 state grant, money it was eligible to receive because of its designation as a green community. The state offers that recognition to municipalities that have taken steps to save energy and expand use of renewable power.
The grant paid for the purchase of 26 bicycles; in addition to the 10 available at each hub, three will be kept in reserve at each location to replace those being repaired. The grant also enabled the city to meet first-year maintenance costs and other start-up expenses.
Marquis said the city hopes eventually to add new bikes and hubs, and to erect shelters at the stations to protect the bikes, provide visibility to the program, and allow for the posting of maps and bike safety information.
He said the city would look to pay for those and other future program costs through such sources as grants, donations, and sale of ads on the racks, on the future shelters, and possibly on the bikes themselves.
Riders will check out bikes at either the Hawthorne Hotel or the Salem State campus police station. They will need to present a credit card at the downtown hub, and a campus debit card at the Salem State hub, so that the city can charge them if the bike is lost or heavily damaged.
All bikes must remain within city limits and be returned to the hub from which it was taken by the designated closing time.
The hours for the downtown hub (subject to change based on daylight hours) are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; for Salem State, they are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Salem Cycle, on Washington Street, was selected through a bidding process to supply the bikes and provide routine maintenance.
The city paid $300 apiece for the bikes, which are hybrid three-speed models, and is paying the shop $2,500 for the maintenance work this year.
Dan Shuman, owner of Salem Cycle, thinks the program is a benefit to the city.
“It can cut down on traffic and congestion and free up parking spaces,’’ said Shuman, who is also chairman of the Salem Bike Path Committee. “It will also make it convenient to go shopping by bike and I think it’s also a good way for people to get to class or to work. And it’s a great form of exercise.’’