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Fort Worth works on bike-sharing program

With 57 miles of off-street, paved bicycle paths and more than 40 miles of cycle-friendly markings on city streets, Fort Worth is making progress in becoming known as a city for pedalers.

And it doesn't hurt that Mayor Betsy Price is an avid cyclist and more than willing to stump for the bike-friendly movement in Cowtown.

For those reasons, officials at the Fort Worth Transportation Authority say they're confident that a bike-sharing program will be a success -- if they can find the startup funds.

Under such a program, bicycles are available for anyone to rent by the day, week, month or year at public racks placed strategically around the city. Those who want to ride can swipe a credit card at a rack -- known as a station -- and return the bike to a rack at their destination.

"This will promote healthy living and take cars off the road," said Tony Johnson, the T's executive vice president of operations.

But much work remains before the T can launch its bike-sharing program, which has been part of the agency's planning efforts for about two years. As things stand, it may be April 2013 before the program begins, Johnson said -- and a lot of good things have to happen to meet that deadline.

Over the next few months, the agency plans to apply for a $1 million federal transit grant for about 200 bicycles and 20 to 22 bike stations, which would be placed where people are most likely to ride. Those locations include downtown, the Near Southside, the medical district and the Cultural District.

The T has already set aside $100,000 as a local match.

If the T gets the grant, officials will then ask employers to sponsor bike-sharing stations, possibly at about $20,000 per year for three years. The money would cover day-to-day operating costs, including a staff of four to five people to oversee the program.

Sponsors would get exposure for their brand at the stations, on the bikes and on the T's website (www.the-t.com).

Maintenance of the bikes and stations could be done in-house but would more likely be farmed out to a vendor, Johnson said.

The T plans to create a nonprofit corporation to manage the program, with seats on the board going to major partners.

Several local groups have committed to the project in principle. Among them is Downtown Fort Worth Inc. The downtown area is expected to be a major hub of bike-sharing activity, with cycling an attractive option not only for those who work there but also for tourists staying in downtown hotels who might want to ride to a museum in the Cultural District or a restaurant along West Seventh Street.

"If you look at other cities across the country, this is just growing exponentially," said Melissa Konur, Downtown Fort Worth Inc. planning director.

About 96,000 people work in the areas where bike-sharing would initially be rolled out, said Julia McCleeary, Fort Worth senior planner.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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