HARLINGEN — Residents here are getting ready to grab a bike for a new kind of trip.
Across much of the world, bike sharing offers millions a healthy way to get around.
After about four years of planning, the city is launching its new bike-sharing program as part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council’s RGV B-Cycle project’s plan to connect the region.
“It’s a real big deal,” Javier Mendez, the city’s parks director, said.
Last week, city crews were busy building bicycle docking stations at Lon C. Hill Park, McKelvey Park, Hugh Ramsey Nature Park and the Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum.
This month, the program will stock each station with four B-Cycles, Trek-made bicycles sporting front and rear lights and multi-speed gears — standard equipment for bike-sharing programs across the country.
“It’s a good opportunity for people who don’t have a bike to exercise,” Mendez said. “The city is big on health and wellness — this is a component. We want to get people out and get active.”
The program features custom-made bicycles offering residents modes of exercise and public transportation, said Sarah Dierlam, the development council’s executive analyst.
“It’s a smooth ride,” she said. “The ride is very comfortable. The tires are a little wider; you don’t feel every bump.”
Soon, residents will be grabbing bikes to exercise, catch Valley Metro’s buses or take rides across the Rio Grande Valley as part of the area’s “largest regional initiative of its kind,” she stated.
Dierlam is pushing the program as offering the region a new mode of transportation.
“It’s a complement to our bus program,” she said. “This is a low-cost program as opposed to using a car. Instead of using a car and sitting down, you can be riding a bicycle and burning some calories.”
RGV B-Cycle will offer “connectivity” across the Valley, she said.
Like Harlingen, cities across the Valley have joined the program.
As part of the program, members can grab a bike in Harlingen, ride to Brownsville or McAllen, and drop off the bike at docking stations there.
Across Texas, many cities offer the program, creating a vast network of bike routes.
“RGV B-Cycle will offer seamless connectivity transportation options between the counties of Cameron and Hidalgo through various docking stations in cities across the region, encouraging individuals to pick up a bike, ride, and drop off a bike at various points throughout the RGV,” Dierlam stated.
“This project responds to the need to create a walkable, bikeable and more connected region while also addressing the needs for improved quality of life through active and physical activities.”
City docking stations
After scouting prospective sites, Mendez picked Lon C. Hill Park, McKelvey Park and Hugh Ramsey Nature Park to offer residents bike rides along the city’s 17 miles of trails.
“We were trying to locate the stations on trails,” he said. “A lot of our trails are off-street so it makes it safer for folks who aren’t avid cyclists to use — they don’t have to worry about traffic.”
The trails also offer residents rides along the winding banks of the Arroyo Colorado.
“Along the arroyo, there’s plenty of vegetation, birds and butterflies to view as they ride — it’s very calming,” Mendez said. “We want to connect all our parks through a trail system so people can ride bikes from one side to the other without crossing a major thoroughfare.”
From the museum next to Texas State Technical College, a new docking station offers students a healthy mode of transportation to help them get around, Mendez said.
To help fund the program, the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation awarded a $250,000 grant.
As part of an agreement, Harlingen city commissioners last year earmarked $27,000 to buy the docking stations, each coming with four B-Cycle bicycles.
The agreement calls for the development council to maintain the bikes and stations.
To ride the bikes, residents can pick between five plans, including $65-annual memberships and $2-an-hour rides.
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-sharing program stationed at McKelvey Park.
Despite is popularity, the program shut down after the bike manufacturer’s contract expired, Mendez said.
Soon, he said, the development council began developing its regional bike share program.
“I’m glad we brought it back so the citizens can take advantage of it,” Mendez said.