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Pittsburgh Bike Share Partnership awaits corporate sponsor

| Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, 11:59 p.m.
Tourists sit on bikes that are available as part of a bike share program on Monday, May 27, 2013, in New York. The Citi Bike bike-share program has 330 docking stations in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

Six months since Pittsburgh leaders announced plans to start a bike-share program, organizers have collected $600,000 from foundations and are showing a proposed map of 50 station locations to neighbors.

They have not secured a corporate sponsor, which the Pittsburgh Bike Share Partnership must have before it puts 500 rentals on the street by August.

Organizers say they're not worried.

“The talks have been going really well,” Bike Pittsburgh Executive Director Scott Bricker said. He said discussions have included several corporations, none of which he would identify. “We haven't inked a deal.”

The system provides bikes for short-term rentals, allowing people to travel between stations. Riders pay by credit card to undock a bike from one station then dock it at another station.

“We have those spots where you don't need a car, but it's too far to walk,” said Wanda Wilson, executive director of the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. “It's really geared toward those shorter-term uses, not to provide a recreational amenity.”

Organizers want to bring the bike-share program to Pittsburgh while interest in biking is high. The annual Pedal Pittsburgh event last month had its highest attendance in its 20-year history, and advocates say more people are using bikes for commuting, recreation or both.

“The more opportunity you present to people to ride their bikes, the more they will use them,” said Phyllis Stedford, 56, of Brighton in Beaver County, who participated in Pedal Pittsburgh and other events.

Starting the system requires a major sponsor or several corporations to contribute $2.5 million over five years, said Bricker, whose Lawrenceville-based group partnered with the city and Walnut Capital to run the program.

In other cities with bike-share programs, sponsors get their names and logos on bikes — such as the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota fender covers on the Nice Ride bikes in Minneapolis — or get to name the system, as Citibank did with the Citi Bike program in New York.

“It seems to resonate with a lot of corporations,” Bricker said.

Organizers want the system running a month before the city hosts the Pro Walk Pro Bike conference in September 2014.

The program got a $1.6 million federal grant and $600,000 from the Hillman Foundation, Heinz Endowments and Richard King Mellon Foundation. With a year to buy bikes and build solar-powered stations, organizers designed a system map and station specs they're showing to community groups.

“The funding streams require that the stations are installed on public property,” said Stephen Patchan, the city's bike-pedestrian coordinator. “They need solar exposure. The stations have to sync up with each other.

“It's very technically driven. We couldn't go to the public first and say, ‘Where do you want stations?' ”

The proposed map shows stations clustered in the North Side, Downtown, South Side, Oakland, Shadyside, Bloomfield and Lawrenceville.

Managers will remove stations in winter.

“This is a seasonal system. We'll have to watch the weather. Boston does the same thing,” Patchan said. “I would expect by mid-November, these things will be off the street.”

The stations will be 5 to 6 feet wide and 40 to 90 feet long, depending on the location.

Patchan and others took the plans to Oakland last month. Wilson, whose group hosted the meeting, said organizers and property owners appear to agree on station locations.

“There certainly is a lot of demand for alternatives to driving everywhere,” Wilson said. She hopes a move from traffic-clogging cars to more commuter bikes will drive support for dedicated bike lanes.

“We need to have the right facilities and infrastructure to make it safe and accessible,” she said.

Staff writer Craig Smith contributed to this report. David Conti is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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