Atlanta kicks off bike sharing with a ride through downtown

Atlanta kicked off its bike share program at Woodruff Park Thursday with sunny pageantry and a ride through downtown under police escort.

The event began with speeches by Mayor Kasim Reed, Planning and Community Development Commissioner Tim Keane, and Chief Bicycle Officer Becky Katz. The three then joined 97 others on a two-mile ride that looked at times like a lunchtime parade.

The pilot program, called Relay, is operated by CycleHop and will offer 100 bikes at 10 locations across downtown Atlanta. By the end of the year, the program will include 500 bikes at 50 stations, serving an area roughly bordered by Lee Street, Atlanta University Center, Georgia Tech, Piedmont Park and the Carter Center.

Thursday's opening day was long in the making, but Mayor Reed said that he expected the city to catch up quickly to similar programs across the country. "Quite frankly, I expect to leave those other cities behind," he said. "We've done our homework, we've studied the other programs and we know what works and what doesn't."

The 100 cyclists in the inaugural ride briefly shut down parts of downtown, as police closed intersections and directed the riders through a figure-eight loop lined with cheering onlookers.

The bikes are sturdy enough to handle most bumps in the pavement. They come equipped with a basket and three gears, which is a must when getting around on Atlanta's rolling piedmont. Several riders were seen getting used to the gears on the gentle slopes and watched like hawks for rough patches in the pavement or for police escorts zooming ahead on the left. Everyday users will likely have a different experience navigating the downtown streets — particularly without the police escort — but the event's fun was undeniable.

Relay users create an account and enter their PIN number to release a bike from one of the 10 hubs. One-time riders can rent a bike for $8 an hour (prorated), while regular users have two monthly payment plans to choose from. A third plan is aimed at students, which will come in handy for GSU customers.