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Bikeshare, transportation options expanding in Birmingham

Birmingham’s pioneering Zyp bikeshare program, which ended its successful five-year run in December 2019, has left some local folks in the city going through micromobility withdrawal.

But in a matter of weeks, new players are expected to pick up where Zyp left off and take transportation-sharing in the city to a whole new level.

Earlier this month, the Birmingham City Council approved agreements with two private bike- and scooter-sharing providers. Veo, based in Chicago, is expected to start operating in Birmingham after the new year. The company will provide conventional bicycles as well as electric scooters. Gotcha, based in Charleston, South Carolina, is expected to begin operating in Birmingham in 2021. It will offer stand-up and seated “cruise” scooters and electric-assist bicycles.

“Veo is thrilled to be launching our state-of-the-art Astro e-scooters and Halo pedal bikes this coming spring as part of Birmingham’s shared micromobility permit program,” said Alex Keating, Veo’s director of Public Policy and Partnerships.

“Veo takes immense pride in designing, manufacturing and operating the safest and most innovative fleet of shared bikes and scooters in the country and we now look forward to providing all of Birmingham’s residents and visitors with a great new way of getting around the city in 2021,” Keating said.

Gotcha has agreed to establish a national distribution center in Birmingham, where equipment will be assembled, repaired and moved to locations around the country where Gotcha operates. The company is moving the new M2 development, at the former Old Car Heaven site, between Pepper Place and the popular Avondale area that is packed with eateries and watering holes. A representative for Gotcha was not available for comment.

Also moving in to M2 is the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust, which has been a force in the development of the Red Rock bicycle and pedestrian trail system in Jefferson County. Work is expected to be underway soon to extend one of the major trails in the system – the Jones Valley Trail – from Sloss Furnaces National Historic Site, right past the M2 site, to Avondale, with plans to extend the trail farther east to the Continental Gin complex, home to Cahaba Brewing Company and other businesses. The Jones Valley Trail ties into the popular Rotary Trail in downtown Birmingham.

Birmingham City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, who chairs the transportation committee, said the new transportation-sharing options are expected to accommodate more people and cover a far wider geographic footprint that what Zyp served.

Under the Zyp program, a public-private partnership supported in part by the Alabama Power Foundation, up to 400 bicycles were available at nearly 40 docking stations in the central part of Birmingham. Zyp was the first bike-share system in North America to offer electric pedal-assist bicycles, which helped put the city on the map when it came to innovative approaches to transportation. Today, cities across the country have followed Birmingham in adding “pedelec” cycles to their bike-share fleets.

O’Quinn said that with two providers coming to Birmingham, there will be a combined 1,000 vehicles available, with expansion possible.

Also expanding is the number of neighborhoods where bicycles and scooters will be available. Unlike Zyp, where bicycles were clustered at a limited number of permanent docking stations, Gotcha and Veo vehicles will be parked at many more sites around town, without the need for docking infrastructure. Instead, the city will be setting up multiple “corrals” – essentially marked locations along curbs and street corners – where people can pick up and drop off bikes and scooters. Riders will be encouraged through pricing incentives to return vehicles to the corrals. Gotcha and Veo staff will be responsible for maintaining their respective bikes and scooters, as well as repositioning them among the corral sites.

“One of the things that I’m really excited about is that the initial service area will be dramatically greater than Zyp,” O’Quinn said. Multiple, additional neighborhoods, beyond the central city, are expected to be served, including Woodlawn, sections of north Birmingham, the Smithfield community and other areas to the west.

“I am so ready to see bikes back in downtown, and now scooters, too,” said David Fleming, president and CEO of REV Birmingham, which operated the Zyp program. REV is an economic development and revitalization nonprofit focused on creating vibrant commercial districts.

“We knew private, micromobility companies were interested in the Birmingham market because they had seen how Birmingham embraced Zyp,” Fleming said. During its successful run, over 43,000 users took more than 218,000 rides on Zyp bicycles.

“More than 250,000 miles were ridden on those green bikes that will always hold a special place in our hearts,” Fleming said. “I wish Gotcha and Veo many more miles.”

Fleming said bikes and scooters add to the fabric of the city. “Right on the surface, the movement and color communicate that downtown is a vibrant, fun place to be. But it’s more important than just that. These options make it easier for people to explore and spend time downtown, which brings people back to the street level, over and over.”

O’Quinn said, “Trying to implement this type of system without having the context of Zyp to build on would have been more difficult. Zyp did lead the way to show our streets really can be multimodal – for visitors but also for people who live here – to get around.

“From our perspective, reliable transportation is key to people having access to opportunities,” O’Quinn said. “We want to make sure as many folks as possible have the ability to use the service.”

He said the bicycles and scooters will complement ongoing efforts to enhance and expand transportation services in Birmingham. In addition to the traditional MAX bus transit system, also operating now in Birmingham is Via, an on-demand, ride-share program. Meanwhile, construction is expected to begin in a few weeks on the Birmingham Xpress, a bus rapid-transit system designed to better connect downtown to neighborhoods in east and west Birmingham.

Plus, there is the expanding network of bike lanes, sidewalks, and walking and bicycle trails, in Birmingham and across the metro area. Planners view the pedestrian and bike trail network as another transportation link to connect all parts of the city. Combined, they are important resources, O’Quinn said, to make it easier for people in Birmingham to get around, safely, without needing a car.

“Plenty of places around the country are making more accommodations for pedestrians, for bike users, so they can access the things they need – healthcare, education, job opportunities,” O’Quinn said. “This is an important step forward for improving quality of life.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)