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Will L.A.'s bike-share program take off?

The first bike-share system in Los Angeles launched in July, marking the end of a years-long push to join the ranks of dozens of other cities across the world that have similar programs available for commuters and tourists.

They came, they saw, they grabbed a bike and went for a quick spin. All to mark Thursday's official launch of Los Angeles' bike-share program.

The city and county are joining more than 850 other municipalities around the world to put feet to pedals. The pilot program will make up to 1,000 bicycles available for short-term rentals at 65 stations across downtown Los Angeles.

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City, county and transportation officials celebrated the launch of L.A.'s bike-share program at Grand Park, then sent more than 200 cyclists on their way to deposit the sleek black-and-green bicycles at docking stations. The program uses heavy-duty bikes – complete with Metro signage – that lock into special docks placed every few blocks around downtown.

"We're commonly referred to as the car capital of the world," said John Fasana, chair of the Metro board. "And we're making room for bikes today."

Mayor Eric Garcetti called on residents and tourists alike to take advantage of the bicycles to commute, sightsee and shop. "Here they are," Garcetti said of the bikes. "Use them."

Jim Shanman was one of the volunteers who signed up to ride one of the new bicycles from Grand Park to a docking station. Like many of the volunteers, Shanman was already an avid biker, having founded a nonprofit dedicated to promoting biking among school-age children and their parents.

Shanman views the bike-share program as a crucial piece to making Los Angeles a more transit friendly city, because it will make multiuse transportation in Los Angeles more functional and accessible.

A major goal of the bike share program is to help bridge the so-called first-mile, last-mile gap between public transit and people's homes or workplaces. Doing so, transit officials believe, will help promote more use of buses and trains.

The first bike-share system in Los Angeles launched in July, marking the end of a years-long push to join the ranks of dozens of other cities across the world that have similar programs available for commuters and tourists.

Another volunteer rider, Nathan Lucero, believes the program could start to change people's behavior, even if only incrementally. "Just getting people to diversify their transportation portfolio is key," Lucero said.

The real question is whether ordinary Angelenos who don't already bike will jump aboard.

One stumbling block may be paying for the ride. Right now, the bike-share program is open only to monthly or annual Metro bike-share pass holders. Riders may either purchase a new TAP card or add bike-share access to their existing TAP card. On Aug. 1, the system will become available to walk-up users who can swipe their credit cards and pay per 30-minute trip. The regular rate will be $3.50, but Metro is offering a 50% discount in August and September.

Art Ledezma, who works downtown, said he would be interested in using the bikes to get around at lunch time to avoid taking his car and dealing with parking. But at $7 per round trip, Ledezma was reconsidering.

"That's a surprise," he said. "I didn't think it was going to be that much." Ledezma thought he would end up using the program less than he would like because of the cost.

Others, such as Susana Martín, thought the price was right.

Martín takes the bus downtown from her home in Bell Gardens so she can visit Olvera Street to eat and shop. "For $3.50, I would use it," Martín said of the bike program. "The exercise is good for you, it's better for the environment, and you don't have to pay for parking."

The pilot program is an $11-million initiative jointly funded by Metro and the city of Los Angeles. It is the first program in the country to be overseen by a transit authority, although its day-to-day operations will be managed by the private company Bicycle Transit Systems Inc.

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Metro has distributed 40,000 annual pass coupons to Metro Rider Relief participants. Together with the national Better Bike Share Partnership, the agency also has a $100,000 program in place to conduct outreach in low-income communities.

Yet there may be an even bigger obstacle to biking in L.A. than the cost.

"Safety, hands down," said Lucero, the volunteer rider.

Los Angeles County has 2,016 miles of bikeways, but only 7.57 of those miles are separated from car traffic by a physical barrier, according to Metro. That means riders must look out for cars swerving, parking or just traveling in the same lane.

"I always have to be like a Jedi," said Robert Johnson, a bike courier who rides a fixed-gear bike, in part, because it forces him to be more cautious.

Still, biking advocates said the benefits of a bike-share program outweighed the risks. "It creates the appetite and need for more biking infrastructure," said Shanman, another volunteer.

Indeed, officials and residents Thursday were already discussing the expansion of the bike-share program beyond downtown. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said she hoped to see it "all the way to Claremont" in the not-too-distant future.

Metro will start its expansion a little closer than that, with plans to roll out bikes and docking stations in Pasadena in early 2017.

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