A new bike-share program in Winston-Salem attracts enthusiastic ridership.

Matthew Burczyk, Winston-Salem’s bicycle and pedestrian transportation coordinator, said the city moved up plans to inaugurate its bike-share program because they wanted to have at least a couple stations in place for this year’s Winston-Salem Cycling Classic.

With hundreds of people gathered to watch the Pro Women’s and Men’s Road Races on Memorial Day from Bailey Park, the eight white Zagster bikes secured at a station at the southwest corner of the park garnered plenty of attention but few takers. While a smattering of parents with children brought their own bikes, most of the attention focused on the pro riders. Every 20 minutes or so the riders completed laps, zooming past cheering crowds lining Patterson Avenue at speeds that well exceeded the posted 25 mph limit. When the riders disappeared from sight, the crowd followed the action through a live feed that tracked their progress on a route that swung around Salem College and rounded back up Marshall Street before detouring into the Burke Street area and returning on Fourth Street.

Zagster’s new bike share in Winston-Salem currently includes a fleet of 50 bikes distributed to nine different stations, primarily in downtown, but with two more peripheral sites at the Gateway YWCA on South Main Street and Salem Lake to the east. Burczyk said during Phase 2 of the project he anticipates more stations will be added to serve a larger geographic footprint. The app takes payment through a credit card, offering a choice between $3 per hour or a $30 annual membership. Riders are free to drop off bikes at any of the nine stations, but are responsible for securing them after the end of each ride.

While I was pushing one of the bikes through the crowd at Bailey Park, Brian Soper excitedly pointed the machine out to his wife.

“We used it in Chattanooga last weekend,” he said. “We were from out of town. It was easy to jump on.”

Noting that he lives in the suburbs of Winston-Salem, Soper said using the bike-share to commute to work wouldn’t make much sense for him, but he could imagine that visitors to the city would find the service a convenient way to get around downtown without worrying about the hassle of parking.

The bikes are a fairly comfortable ride, with women-friendly frames, ample front basket space, and a simple 5-speed twist gear-shift installed on the right handlebar. Winston-Salem’s hills can be an arduous climb, especially if you’re accustomed to a 10-speed, and I found myself walking some of them, although I probably could have toughed it out.

Taking care to avoid the racers, I made my way to the Fourth and Trade Street station. I found Ben and Lindsey Schwab checking out bikes to follow the race. They had taken out bikes previously when the service was launched on May 26, and were looking forward to becoming regular users.

“I’m definitely very excited that it’s here in Winston-Salem,” Ben said. “I’ve used this in other cities. I think it’s a great step in building bike culture.”

The couple lives in the West Salem neighborhood, and they could easily imagine commuting to work. Ben works at the Arts For Art’s Sake building on North Liberty Street and Lindsey works in the Innovation Quarter. The Gateway YWCA station — a focal point in the midst of Salem College, UNC School of the Arts, Washington Park and West Salem — is close to their house. The new Long Branch Trail, a pedestrian and bike path repurposed from a raised rail bed south of Krankies, provides a conduit from the Gateway YWCA station via Rams Drive and East Salem Avenue.

Ben said the bike-share program would accommodate about three quarters of his commute, while Lindsey said she’s looking forward to using the service when Business 40 closes for renovation later this year.

“It’s important to our city to locate stations in neighborhoods around downtown to build that connectedness,” she said.

When completed, Long Branch Trail will extend to the north end of the Innovation Quarter. For the present moment, it picks up at a trailhead off East Third Street. The ample width, lighting and landscaping makes the trail and pleasant and un-stressful ride, with a postcard view of the skyline to the west, including the Reynolds Building, Winston Tower and Forsyth County Government Center. As a car-free connector to the neighborhoods south of the city, the trail makes the Gateway YWCA a logical choice as one of the first outlying stations. The trail deposits riders onto Rams Drive at its southern terminus, providing connectivity to Winston-Salem State University to the east and Salem College to the west.

In addition to serving as a hub for two institutions of higher learning and two neighborhoods, the YWCA also holds a location on the Salem Creek Greenway, which runs almost four miles east to the bike-share station at Salem Lake.

While the service was affordable and convenient, my experience provides one note of caution. The phone app tracks the time charged for use, and unfortunately while I was fumbling to try to figure out how to end my ride at the Fourth and Trade station, my phone died. I wound up driving back to Greensboro while the clock was running by before I was able to charge my phone at home and close out my ride. Luckily, a customer service representative readily agreed to waive the last hour. Bike share programs in cities like Denver automatically close out the ride once the bike is returned to a station, avoiding such issues.

On a more heartening note, when I left my bike at the Fourth and Trade station at 4:30 p.m., six out of eight were checked out. It’s evident Winston-Salem residents have embraced the bike share.   

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