Healthier Lyon County has spent the last couple of years coordinating and preparing for an Emporia bike share program.
The organization received a grant from the Kansas Health Foundation for 24 brand new bikes in six locations “to increase physical activity and to help residents better access food and other services, particularly those who live in food-desert areas of Emporia,” Healthier Lyon County Grant Manager Daphne Mertens said.
Mertens said the inspiration for pursuing the grant was focused on providing bicycle access to all residents. The bike share program aids both the accessibility for anyone interested in riding, as well as the accessibility to commute to grocery stores, health service facilities and other places otherwise inaccessible, or more challenging to access, to those who do not have means of transportation.
“We know that Emporia is the home of the Dirty Kanza, so there’s a lot of excitement around biking, particularly around the time that everyone rolls into town to participate in the Dirty Kanza,” Mertens said. “However, it can be a situation where we have the haves and the have-nots. Some people can afford to purchase a bike, and some people can’t afford it. We wanted to make sure to make that available for all of our residents.”
While the bike share bicycles are not equipped for racing, they are capable of riding all around town.
With the closing of Reeble’s South, residents in the southeast part of Emporia lack a convenient service for fresh, healthy foods.
“We wanted to help residents be able to access food by using a bicycle with a basket,” Mertens said.
Bicycle stations will be located at Logan Avenue Elementary School, Emporia High School, Emporia Recreation Center, Do-B’s, by the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office and CrossWinds Counseling & Wellness.
The three local bicycle shops — Eclectic Bikes, Gravel City Adventure and Supply Co. and High Gear Cyclery, Inc. — “have donated their time and expertise to assemble bikes, so that we have them assembled properly and safely and know that they’re going to be working great,” Mertens said.
Other organizations with certified bicycle mechanics, such as the joint City/County Multi-Use Path Planning Board, have also helped in the preparations and assembling of bicycles. Together, they have also agreed to routinely provide maintenance services for each of the bicycles.
“We have had a number of Emporia community organizations and groups who have been involved in prepping these bikes to roll out the bike share system,” Mertens said. “We’ve had really great cooperation from the City of Emporia. We knew that as Healthier Lyon County, we could write the grants for the bike, but it would be nearly impossible for us to manage the bikes, so fortunately, the City of Emporia has been a great partner and has been willing to provide this great resource to residents.”
The bicycles are single-speed, adorned with a reflector, basket and safety spring preventing riders from making too sharp of a turn. The bicycle stations are solar-powered, and it is free to rent the bicycle.
To access the bicycle, the rider must download the Movatic app, enter a credit or debit card (in case of damage or theft), enter the desired station, select the desired bicycle number and the digital station will unlock the bicycle via bluetooth. Each bicycle has a GPS tracker.
“We’re definitely going to make sure that we have provisions in place for residents who don’t have an app or a credit card to secure the bike,” Mertens said. “We want this to be accessible for everyone. A big part of our mission in bringing this bike share in is to provide bikes for those who need them the most.
“While we don’t necessarily have all the details for how that will work, everybody will have access to the bikes.”
Healthier Lyon County hopes the small-scale nature of the initial project will allow the organization the opportunity to observe trends for station popularity and resident feedback.
“I hope that our residents who may not have had access to bicycles before are now able to use those and participate in this great community activity that we have going on,” Mertens said. “I hope that it increases physical activity for some of our residents, and I hope that it allows residents to access food, health care services and other things that they may not now be able to access, if they lack transportation.”
Mertens also said the City of Emporia is working with Healthier Lyon County on safe routes, such as approving sidewalks and crosswalks to encourage physical activity and help residents access healthy food.
The stations will be complete by Aug. 31 and will launch in early September.