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$8,000 per bicycle? Where do these people shop?

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Add it up. We're not getting nearly enough bikes for the bucks.

There's much to like about Pittsburgh's impending bike-share program, slated to debut next summer. The initiative is environmentally friendly, could help reduce traffic congestion and, let's face it: Some of you folks who are overly reliant on pierogies and pilsner as dietary staples could use the exercise.

The program will make available 500 bikes at 50 docking stations strategically placed throughout the city. The plan for people to rent them in 30-minute increments might need tweaking. Unless you're in good shape, you probably couldn't bike from the South Side up to Mt. Washington that quickly without taking the Monongahela Incline, which defeats the purpose of renting a bike.

The program's primary problem isn't the proposed brevity of its trips but its $4 million cost that public and private sources will pick up.

Granted, that amount includes constructing and maintaining the docking stations. Still, do the math. Putting just 500 bikes on the street is going to cost $4 million. That's $8,000 per bike.

Does that seem pricey to you? It should if you've ever walked by the Target bike section, even if you're just passing through on your way to housewares and not fully paying attention.

Target's website on Tuesday advertised a Huffy 26-inch bike whose steel frame appeared durable enough for consistent use in a sharing program. Its wide seat is said to provide ample cushion. It comes with a cup holder and handlebar bag, and its adjustable storage rack seemingly would make it ideal for quick errands.

The bike costs $169.99. Even factoring in sales tax, $4 million could buy about 20,000 of those babies — or about 19,500 more than the city program will offer.

Docking stations weren't considered in the above theoretical expenditure because there's no need to build them. The city already has countless potential docking stations. They're called sidewalks.

A better bike-share program might work by doing nothing more than scattering 20,000 new bikes on various street corners. People could claim them as needed, ride them to their destination and leave them there to await the next person who needs to bike somewhere. With bikes crisscrossing the city every day, it shouldn't be difficult to locate one.

A similar system was attempted in the Nether­lands in the mid-1960s and admittedly ran into some problems. Within a month, most of the bikes had been either stolen or thrown into canals. But the program organizer recalled in a 2008 interview with a British newspaper that only about 10 bikes were used in the failed experiment.

If Pittsburgh's streets were flooded with bikes, theft probably wouldn't be an issue. There simply would be no need. (That also explains why the rich so seldom rob each other at gunpoint in the country club coat room. What would be the point?)

Having 20,000 bikes available certainly provides more bang for the buck than 500. Disagree if you want, but please be courteous if you do. You shouldn't get all huffy.

The bike-share program, on the other hand, should get all Huffy.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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