Heartland Bike Share is introducing 14 new stations along the Omaha Rapid Bus Transit (ORBT) route, creating vital first and last-mile connectivity.
“I’ve been working on expanding our footprint for three years,” says Benjamin Foltz, Heartland Bike Share’s executive director. “My footprint for the Omaha Metro program is about 125 square miles, which is really spread out — I’m starting to connect the dots.”
In June, Heartland Bike Share announced a new partnership with Omaha Metro and the City of Omaha that will add 14 bike share stations along the Omaha Rapid Bus Transit (ORBT) route. The ORBT, which runs east-west on an eight-mile route from downtown Omaha to Westroads Mall, was designed for streamlined travel and easy accessibility. Launched in 2020, each of ORBT’s 27 stations and vehicles is equipped with WiFi, and on certain stretches the buses run in dedicated lanes, helping reduce traffic delays.
With the inclusion of 14 new Heartland BCycle stations along the route, residents will now have access to a robust first and last-mile solution, helping to improve connections between ORBT stations and the surrounding neighborhoods. Thus far, four of the new bike share stations have been installed with the others planned for installation by Summer 2023.
While Heartland Bike Share has been working with Metro since the ORBT line launched, a series of delays — first due to funding, then COVID, then supply chain issues, and finally, due to current staffing shortages — means that installation has been slow. “Couple that with the fact that we’re busier than we’ve ever been in our 11-year history,” says Foltz, noting that it’s hard to add new stations when the focus has been on keeping things balanced.
Since Omaha’s system uses BCycle hardware and software, all of the city’s new bike share stations use the company’s newer 3.0 docks, which, thanks to their flexibility and streamlined design, are easier to plan and install. They’re also more affordable than a standard docking station, although they don’t include a kiosk or credit card reader, meaning everything is app based. For Foltz, the 3.0 docks have been instrumental in helping close major network gaps and making critical connections.
Omaha isn’t exactly known as a bike mecca and the city’s bike infrastructure is lacking. In 2022, Omaha received a City Rating score of 36 out of 100, which while above average for U.S. cities, still leaves a lot of room for improvement. According to Foltz, less than 1% of Omahans ride their bikes year-round — that number won’t grow if they don’t feel safe. Unfortunately, it’s hard to justify new infrastructure without ridership, resulting in a classic “chicken or the egg” situation. For Foltz, the solution has been not to wait for new infrastructure and to instead push ahead with education and expanding bike share’s footprint.
“A big part of my role is to educate people and expose them to the benefits of bike share,” says Foltz. “It’s not a new concept for a lot of people but it still can be in certain parts [of the city].”
One of the new bike share stations is located at an ORBT station at 72nd and Dodge, which is one of the busiest places in Omaha. Despite the fact that there’s no bike infrastructure at the site, Foltz wasn’t going to delay putting a bike share station in.
“I wasn’t going to wait for the infrastructure to be installed,” says Foltz. “I just can’t keep waiting for that to happen and I don’t know when or if it will in the immediate future.”
Still, that station has done well and there’s hope that more people riding bike share will help fuel better bike infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes. Omaha currently has its first semi-protected bike lane in the form of the Market-to-Midtown Bikeway. Although it’s a pilot project, Foltz installed five Heartland BCycle stations along it and over the last 12 months has been collecting data on ridership.
“We saw a 69% increase in bike share trips on the bikeway,” says Foltz. “We’re hoping the bikeway goes from a temporary project to a permanent piece of infrastructure.”
As more and more stations continue to be added along the ORBT line, the hope is that people will not only use them, but the increased visibility around bike share will help generate more awareness. The ORBT line runs adjacent to many different businesses in a variety of neighborhoods, representing all different income levels. Heartland BCycle likewise wants to be a service that works for everyone, no matter their address or how much money they make.
For those that can’t afford a $20 monthly pass or a $156 annual pass, Heartland BCycle offers a $78 student/senior/military annual membership and maintains a library pass program with every library branch in Omaha where folks can check out bikes. Heartland BCycle also works with 20 nonprofit partners to provide free memberships to those that can’t otherwise afford to use bike share. Some of the partners include the Refugee Empowerment Center, the Latino Center of the Midlands, and Astute Coffee (formerly the Bike Union).
In the coming months, Foltz hopes to finish installing the remaining ORBT stations before continuing to expand into Omaha’s north and south. Long-term, there’s also talk of an ORBT line that will run north-south, and if and when that happens, Foltz plans on again coordinating the installation of new bike share stations.
For now, Heartland BCycle continues to enjoy its highest ridership to date. Working alongside Omaha Metro not only offers a more seamless experience for those riders, but also for anyone riding the bus. It’s a reminder that when we position bike share as an integral part of transit, everyone wins.
The Better Bike Share Partnership is funded by The JPB Foundation as a collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the PeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Got a question or a story idea? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.