MIAMI — Could the Miami area someday become a bicycle-commuting mecca? A Silicon Valley startup is among those betting on it.

While Citi Bikes have become prevalent in Miami’s downtown areas and Miami Beach, LimeBike hopes the blue bikes will soon be seeing green.

In June, the company launched in Key Biscayne. This week, it brought its brightly colored cycles to Miami Shores and North Bay Village and is looking to expand.

Unlike Citi Bikes, which must be picked up and returned to docking stations, LimeBike’s app shows the locations of nearby bikes that are not in use, along with an estimate of walking distance. With the app, the customer can unlock the bike and take it — to your Metrorail stop or to run errands at lunch.

LimeBike costs $1 per half hour (50 cents for students and campus affiliates). For someone who would be using bikes daily, a monthly membership costs $30 for 100 rides.

LimeBike has about 400 bikes in the area so far but plans to continue adding bikes. It also is in discussions with other Miami area cities and universities, said Andrew Savage, director of strategic development for LimeBike.

On Wednesday, the bright lime green bikes could be seen up and down Northeast Second Avenue in Miami Shores’ business district, for instance, parked in front of a park, the recreation area and the village city hall, near bus stops and scattered in twos and threes along the sidewalk.

LimeBike currently offers about 10,000 bicycles in 15 cities across the United States. It is opening in three or four markets every week.

Savage said the new programs in Miami Shores and North Bay Village were the direct result of residents seeing them in use in Key Biscayne and wanting them for their own communities. Key Biscayne was the company’s first U.S. market.

Since then, both residents and tourists have been picking them up. “It’s exactly the model we want to see,” Savage said. “A traditional model for bike-sharing has been very fixed to stations and you have to return the bikes to stations. This allows for a new level of consumer flexibility so bikes can really meet their transportation needs. And we have the opportunity to serve a wider community for riders.”

The increase in bike-sharing options comes as cycling lanes are expanding, at least slightly. Earlier this year, Miami Beach began installing bike lanes protected from traffic by plastic poles. Miami-Dade has launched a year-long test along First Street in downtown Miami, limiting car traffic to one lane and providing a separate one for bicycles. Critical Mass bike rides can draw hundreds of riders every month.

Still, biking in South Florida is not for the faint of heart. Dedicated bike lanes are relatively rare, and pedestrian and bicycle accident rates are among the highest in the county.

To use a bike, a rider swipes the bike’s QR code through the app. Once a rider is finished, he or she parks it on public property out of the way of pedestrians and locks it with a simple lever. (The app shows the route taken, distance, carbon saved and calories burned). Most of the bikes on Northeast Second Avenue, for instance, were parked between the sidewalk and the street.

LimeBike staff moves the bikes around continually based on demand, and as it logs more rides, the company will know which routes are most desired.

Each bike is tracked by GPS; an alarm sounds if someone other than a LimeBike user tampers with it. The bikes have also been constructed to be theft resistant, Savage said, and foam filled tires mean they will never go flat.

Bikes are not supposed to be left on private property or in the middle of sidewalks, but to be sure, there have been growing pains. In Key Biscayne, the Ritz Carlton has complained about bikes left there by guests, so now the LimeBike team removes them promptly. Merchants in Miami Beach have complained about LimeBikes that have migrated from Key Biscayne and left parked in the middle of the sidewalk. LimeBikes fetches those, too.

The bike-sharing model, popular in Asia and Europe, can thrive in some U.S. markets with widespread availability, the companies and investors believe. LimeBike has money to grow; the startup has raised $62 million in venture capital funding, including $50 million announced earlier this month. Those dollars are enabling the company to invest in technology, bikes and the operations.

For instance, since launching in June in Key Biscayne, the company, has brought 3,000 bikes to Seattle. Other successful LimeBike markets include Dallas, South San Francisco and South Bend, Indiana, home of Notre Dame, Savage said.

“Our goal is to have enough availability so you can come to depend on having a bike within a few blocks of you at all times,” said Savage. The company hopes to have bikes accessible inside and outside Miami’s urban center and in Miami’s less wealthy communities. “We see ultimately wanting a program that is Miami-Dade regionwide, because that is how we will be able to really serve the community and link up with existing public transportation. We are also in conversations with universities.”

Dockless systems are new in South Florida, but not bike-sharing. DecoBike launched in Miami Beach in 2011 as a private vendor working with the city, modeled on successful programs in Paris, Barcelona and Montreal. In 2014, DecoBike expanded to Miami, won a corporate sponsorship from Citibank — the underwriter of New York City’s well-known bike-sharing program — and rebranded its South Florida programs as Citi Bike Miami. Citi Bike did not respond to requests for comment.


Information from: The Miami Herald, http://www.herald.com

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NANCY DAHLBERG
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