What: An initiative led by local bike shops designed to increase usage of the city’s bicycle infrastructure by offering downtown residents incentives to commute by bicycle
When: Riders can take the pledge now at iBikeCha.com. Those who sign up pledge to bike commute during June and July.
Incentives: Discounted electric bikes at Electric Bike Specialists and a discounted bicycle commuter accessory package at Cycle Sport Concepts. Those who take Outdoor Chattanooga’s “Street Cycling 101” class receive a $25 gift card to Suck Creek Cycle. The iBikeCha participant who logs the most trips will win a fully loaded commuter bike from Cycle Sport Concepts.
Katie Hargrave is one of the first people in Chattanooga to take the iBikeCha pledge.
The North Shore resident wanted to commute on a bicycle to her job at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
She knew she needed a boost, though, and decided to buy an electric bike from Electric Bike Specialists on Main Street to help her traverse her neighborhood's hills.
"It just made sense for me," said Hargrave, who got a discounted bike by pledging to bicycle commute during June and July. "It is an investment, but maybe if I actually ride the bicycle all the time, that'll cut down on the amount of gas that I'm using and wear and tear on my car."
The iBikeCha initiative, spearheaded by Electric Bike Specialists co-owner Chandlee Caldwell, is offering incentives for bicycle commuting in an effort to increase usage of the city's expanding bicycle infrastructure.
Caldwell's motive for launching iBikeCha is not just focused on riders, but also the city, its evolving core and the drivers who may find themselves next to bicyclists more frequently as the downtown population increases.
"Downtown is growing so fast right now," he said. "The idea of us needing more bike commuters and more bike infrastructure downtown is really kind of rising out of necessity. We just want to make sure everyone is comfortable with it."
The nonprofit downtown redevelopment group River City Co. projects more than 2,000 apartments will be added to the downtown housing market in the next two years, in addition to the 1,300 existing units.
"A lot of these developments are building bike facilities in them because they're hearing from their future tenants that they want that," River City Co. President Kim White said. "They want to take advantage of being downtown, and they don't want to move a car every time they go from one end of town to the other."
Commuters who live within five miles of the Tennessee Aquarium are eligible to take the pledge at ibikecha.com. Participants commit to bike to work during June and July and are eligible for discounts at three local bike shops.
They will be asked to log their trips through GreenTripsCHA.org, the website for Green Trips, which is an arm of the Regional Planning Agency. Green Trips already offers incentives to those who use alternate methods of transportation.
"The more people do it, the better our traffic is going to be and the better our air is going to be," Green Trips coordinator Jonathan Gibbons said. "So the iBikeCha initiative is a fantastic opportunity for us, especially because we have a website where people can log their trips. We can provide that accountability. It's a win-win for us."
The rider who logs the most trips at the end of the two months wins a fully loaded commuter bike from Cycle Sport Concepts, a Main Street bike shop that is offering a discounted commuter accessory package to all participants.
"It's one of those things where so many people say they want to do it, and now we've given them the perfect opportunity to get out there and do it," Caldwell said. "I think we're going to create a new culture."
Caldwell returned from last month's National Bike Summit in Washington with a renewed appreciation for the biking infrastructure in Chattanooga, where he and his brother Garnet have operated Electric Bike Specialists since 2009.
The city has been working from a 20-year bicycle facilities master plan developed in 2002 that called for increasing the area's bicycling potential.
Since then, Chattanooga has risen on the lists of bicycle-friendly cities published by national media as the number of bicycle commuters in cities like Portland, Ore., and Seattle has risen.
The number of U.S. workers who traveled to work by bicycle increased from 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 in 2012, according to census data.
But even with a 2012 report from Portland State University's Center for Transportation Studies on creating walkable and bikeable communities citing Chattanooga as being "at the forefront" of piloting new infrastructure, the number of local bike commuters has remained low.
Just 0.4 percent of Chattanooga commuters ride a bike to work, according to a 2014 report by the League of American Bicyclists.
And some of the efforts to build a bicycle-friendly downtown have met with resistance. Business owners complained over traffic changes that accompanied the addition of bike lanes on Broad Street and North Market Street.
Two local legislators, Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, co-sponsored a bill that would have limited cities' ability to spend state gas tax revenue on bicycle and pedestrian projects. It was taken off notice Thursday and is dead for the year.
"Yes, there's more traffic than there are bicyclists," said Suck Creek Cycle owner Mike Skiles, who is offering a $25 gift card to iBikeCha participants who complete an Outdoor Chattanooga class on how to bike. "But I think, in the long run, it'll transform into more bicycle use and less cars.
"More and more people are going to be living in this urban area, and they'll need the facilities to ride their bike. I think what they're doing is great. But I know it's frustrating for some people."
Caldwell said Chattanooga's bicycle infrastructure is about five years ahead of many similarly sized cities that are considering building bike infrastructure.
"They've given us this great gift, and we just want to get as many people out on it as we can," Caldwell said. "I see this as creating a different culture of rider, and that's just city cyclists."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/DavidWCobb