City gearing up for bike sharing program

BCycle bikes like this one are heading for the Rio Grande Valley.

HARLINGEN — Get ready to grab a bike.

Around much of the world, bike-sharing has turned into a way of life.

Now, a bike-share program is coming back to town.

“It moves us to the next level,” Javier Mendez, the city’s parks director, said yesterday. “You can use it for exercise or transportation. It’s for the person who doesn’t have a bike or if you go to the park and get the urge to exercise — or you can use it as an alternative form of transportation.”

Earlier this week, city commissioners joined the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council’s growing Regional BikeShare Program.

“I think it fits in with the things we try to promote in the community,” Mayor Chris Boswell said during Wednesday’s meeting, noting the program helps city officials pitch healthier lifestyles to residents in the region plagued with high rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

So far, Harlingen, Brownsville and McAllen have joined the program.

But the Development Council is counting on other cities teaming up to offer bikes to riders across much of the Valley.

“What they want is a region-wide system so when you pick up a bike here you can leave it in McAllen, Brownsville or Harlingen,” Joel Garza, the city’s special projects director, told commissioners.

“It goes hand-in-hand with the Mayor’s Wellness Council and Healthy Harlingen,” Garza said, referring to the city’s programs promoting healthier lifestyles.

In Harlingen, residents can ride the bikes across 17 miles of winding trails, many running along the banks of the Arroyo Colorado, City Manager Dan Serna said.

“It’s a complement to our trail system and other amenities,” he said.

As part of an agreement, commissioners earmarked $27,000 to buy three 10-rack docking stations, each coming with four BCycle bicycles.

The agreement calls for the Development Council to maintain the bikes and stations.

To launch the program, officials will set up bike docking stations at McKelvey and Lon C. Hill parks and at the Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum, Mendez said.

To ride the bikes, residents can pick between five plans, including $65-annual memberships and $2-an-hour rides.

New mode of mass transit

For the region, the program offers residents a new mode of public transportation.

“We want to give multiple options for travel in the Valley,” Tom Logan, director of the Development Council’s Valley Metro bus program, said. “We want people to explore the Rio Grande Valley and see a lot of the great places we have here.”

The bike-share program, he said, offers an eco-friendly mode of transportation.

“We see it as a green way to travel,” Logan said.

Vast biking network

Soon, the Development Council plans to add more cities to the Valley’s network of bike routes, Ron Garza, the agency’s executive director, said.

Logan calls it “interconnectivity.”

“We definitely want a seamless bike-sharing program in the Valley,” Logan said.

Across Texas, he said, many cities offer the program, creating a vast network of bike routes.

“If you’re a member, anywhere in the state you can use your membership to activate one of those bikes,” Logan said.

The program will feature BCycles, Trek-made bicycles, sporting front and rear lights and multi-speed gears, which have become standard equipment in many bike-share programs.

“It’s heavy-duty and easy to ride,” Mendez said.

By March, the bikes are expected to dock at their stations, Ron Garza said.

City’s first bike-share program

In Harlingen, the program will mark the city’s second bike-sharing plan.

In 2016, the city teamed up with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to launch a bike-share program stationed at McKelvey Park.

“It was very popular,” Mendez said. “The bikes were constantly being used.”

But the program shut down after the bike manufacturer’s contract expired, he said.

Soon, he said, the Development Council began developing its Regional BikeShare Program.