The sight of cyclists on Beirut’s roads is rare, but the launch of Lebanon’s first bike-sharing system Friday hopes to bring more bicycles to the capital. The project, dubbed “Lebanon Bike Sharing System – Bike 4 All,” is the product of a collaboration between the company that is financing the initiative, Bike 4 All, Beirut by Bike and the Municipality of Beirut. The launch will see the opening of the first bike station on Weygand Street, one of the city’s downtown thoroughfares.
The station is a prototype, with five bicycles to start. “The official launching will be Friday, with the first five bicycles, and within two to three months we will have 25 stations set up,” adviser to Beirut Governor Issam Kaskas told The Daily Star Wednesday.
The municipality is providing the space for the stations, but won’t be funding the project or be responsible for stolen or damaged bicycles. “The project was originally aimed at helping university students to get to and from classes without having to drive their cars and deal with the hassle of parking,” Kaskas added.
Universities in Beirut will each get one station of 12 bicycles, with the potential to add another if scheme proves popular. “Some schools have an upper and lower gate, so depending on how the project goes, we can add a second station,” Kaskas said.
To jump-start the initiative there will be no charge to use the bikes in the first year. The organizations involved agreed they would set a price after the project had been piloted.
Kaskas made it clear, though, that there was no intention of making the service prohibitively expensive. “It will be geared toward students and very student-friendly in terms of pricing,” he said.
When payment for the service does kick-in users will be able to pay via a specialized prepaid card, student ID cards or bank cards. “Cash will not be an option because it will create the potential for theft,” he said.
In the often chaotic traffic of Beirut, safety for cyclists is a concern. Each bicycle will have GPS and there will be designated lanes for riders. Kaskas said a route from Central Beirut along the seaside road to Bliss and Hamra will be in place within the next one to two months that will be able to accommodate a proposed 250 bikes. “[A] lane will be made for bikers but we are studying whether it will be on the left or right-hand side [of the road],” he said.
For those living outside Beirut, the project will eventually expand so commuters can get into the city using the system. “A shuttle will take commuters from the parking lots to the bicycle stations,” Kaskas said. A parking lot will be established at the north and south entrances to Beirut, he added.
“This is a healthy, environmentally friendly, economical and touristic project ... if it succeeds, it can be used across the entire nation,” Kaskas said. The project is currently also being studied for implementation in Jbeil, Sidon and Tripoli.
The pilot project will be the litmus test for further expansion and residents are already pointing out possible improvements. “People asked us to have signs in Arabic as well because they were only in English,” Kaskas said. All eyes will be on the first station with Kaskas expressing hope that this project will help public property be used for public good.
By Joseph Haboush
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