If you live in a smaller city, you might not expect to enjoy amenities like bikesharing. Residents certainly weren’t expecting it in Harrisburg, PA, but the city of fewer than 50,000 has grown closer and enjoyed a host of new opportunities—and new ways for locals as well as visitors to explore and connect with it—as a result of its Zagster bikeshare program.
It all started with Ryan Riley, president and state director of Communities in Schools of Pennsylvania, an organization that addresses the needs of at-risk students across the state and has an office in Harrisburg. After starting his career in Harrisburg, Riley moved to Washington, D.C., where he used the Capitol Bike Share system. He enjoyed it so much that when he returned to Harrisburg to work with Communities in Schools (CIS), he made bikeshare a cornerstone of his efforts to raise community awareness of the mission—and called on Zagster to help. “I thought, what better way than putting our logo out in the community on bikes?” Riley said. “We spent about six months evaluating it, contacting donors, building a coalition around it, and once we had enough support, we launched the program.”
Harrisburg’s bikeshare program has met with overwhelming public enthusiasm as local riders and visitors alike use the bikes to connect with the city and explore its many features. By the time of the program’s first anniversary in September 2018, its 3,707 members had taken almost 10,600 rides.
Riley attributes this success to the ideal cycling landscape of Harrisburg, with its long, bike-friendly riverfront, as well as its commuters, who use more varied modes of transportation compared to other cities in central Pennsylvania, where most commuters drive.
“People have responded well to this because we've made it part of the social fabric of the community,” Riley said. “It's just not been tucked away at bus stations or Amtrak stations. It's really been in the front and center of the community since the launch.” Such front-and-center positioning leads to community adoption, the key to bikeshare success.
And it’s not just commuters making great use of the bikeshare program. The program’s most active station is outside the Broad Street Market, the oldest continuously-operated market house in the United States. Many riders—locals as well as tourists drawn to the market’s history and locavore ethos—use the basket on the front of the Zagster bikes to carry their favorite handmade goods, deli foods and produce from the market.
“There’s also a recreational component,” Riley added. “A lot of people who come to Harrisburg enjoy going to the state capitol, going along the riverfront, going to City Island. There’s no better way to see the town than biking. I think that's a good match for the tourism market.”
Another key to Harrisburg’s success: the above-and-beyond promotional and public information strategy initiated by Riley’s team. It not only provides key details about bikesharing in Harrisburg, but it also leverages the stories of individual riders on a dedicated website (hbgbikeshare.org) and on social media, which are updated by a dedicated part time media manager.
“We recognize our high fliers, folks who are our top riders for each month, for the quarter, for the year, and we follow them,” Riley said. “We get their stories. We find out what they like about the community, and what they experience on the bikes.”
The website and social media accounts also publicize bikeshare events. The first of these was an inaugural bike ride using all 55 of the city’s Zagster bikes and included the mayor, the state representative, county commissioners, police, nonprofit leaders, district attorneys and judges. Another event took advantage of Harrisburg’s restaurant scene with Sunday morning bike rides to local brunch spots across the city. Riley and his team expected 10 to 15 attendees, but the event sold out in 36 hours; additional riders brought their own bikes for a total of around 75 participants.
Next up, Harrisburg plans to expand its bikeshare program to cover about 150 square miles over two counties, including college communities, more downtown areas, regional parks and the Capital Area Greenbelt, a roughly 20-mile path used for cycling and walking.