A group of about 40 city officials and reporters burst into applause Wednesday afternoon as Annise Parker turned the corner onto McKinney and locked her bike at the kiosk in front of City Hall.
"This was a nice, smooth ride," the mayor smiled to the crowd, showing off the inaugural fleet of public bicycles from the city's new bike share program, known as Houston B-cycle.
Funded with $100,000 of federal stimulus dollars from an EPA Climate Showcase grant, the pilot program is officially open for business with a trio of bike racks at City Hall, Market Square and the George R. Brown Convention Center.
"Imagine hopping on a bike and going from museum to museum without having to worry about parking, " Parker said.
"I'm excited to be out here today now that it's officially launch day for the Houston B-cycle," Parker said in her speech. "Currently we're just in the downtown area . . . We hope it will be embraced by Houstonians, as it has been in other cities, and that we'll be able to expand the system."
From 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. everyday, users can slide a credit card or B-cycle pass through the solar-powered kiosks for a 3-speed Trek cruiser to ride throughout the area. The first 90 minutes are free. Thereafter, it's $2 for each additional half hour with a maximum daily charge of $55. Those hoping to take full advantage of the service can purchase an annual membership for only $50.
A statement released from the city notes the initiative will start with 18 bicycles at three stations with plans to increase it to 200 bikes at more that 20 kiosks across Houston.
After remarks by state legislators Rodney Ellis and Carol Alvarado as well as by B-cycle president Bob Burns and Bike Houston president Darren Saborn, Parker spoke with CultureMap about the possible locations of upcoming share stations.
"The Washington Avenue corridor seems absolutely right for this," she said. "The museum area would be great too. Imagine hopping on a bike and going from museum to museum without having to worry about parking.
Parker was optimistic about the future of cycling throughout the city.
"These days, you can drive down Allen Parkway and Memorial and see all the trails going in," she said. "I expect to announce a trails initiative soon that will go to the ballot this November. We're working with the parks board on possible bio-greenways right now."
The mayor added that she hopes to include the location of the new paths and bike trails in the announcement.