Omaha’s bike share program is set to double its number of stations in 2016, creating a more robust network, thanks to federal money.

A $900,000 federal grant administered through the Nebraska Department of Roads will help Heartland B-Cycle expand from 31 stations with 150 bikes to nearly 70 stations across the city.

The expansion will give Omaha much more connectivity, says Ben Turner, B-cycle’s coordinator.

Stations are currently scattered in downtown, midtown and north downtown, as well as Aksarben Village.

“We feel we already have good connectivity, but with this expansion, a network is really beginning to emerge,” Turner said. “Bikes are a form of transportation that can be used at any time.”

Bike share programs are popular in major metro areas for both tourists and commuters who want to ditch the car or other public transit.

Washington D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare program is one of the largest in the nation and has more than 300 stations. New York City’s Citi Bike program has more than 300 stations, too. It’s set to expand to nearly 800 stations by 2017.

In Omaha, rides have increased from 2,000 in the program’s first year to 6,700 last year, according to data provided by the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency.

More stations will increase ridership, officials said.

The program had its best weekend ever last month. Nearly 250 riders used the bikes when the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was in town. Turner expects a record-breaking summer with more stations and plenty of summer events.

The grant that will fund the expansion is meant for projects that improve air quality.

Past grant recipients include alternative transportation projects like the central and downtown Omaha bus rapid transit project and “Little Steps. Big Impact.” — a public awareness campaign that included promoting car pooling and giving out free transit passes.

The federal grant will cover 80 percent of the cost, and B-Cycle is raising funds for the other 20 percent.

The funds will be available after Oct. 1, but the project may take a year and a half to complete. The expansion plan has been in the works for more than a year, Turner said.

Turner is unsure of the exact timing or the placement of the new stations but said to expect some stations to start in 2016. The company is working with the city and business owners to identify station locations and acquire rights of way.

Heartland B-Cycle started in 2011 with five stations around Aksarben Village and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. It grew to 11 stations last spring and added another 15 stations last fall. Five more will open this spring.

About a dozen funders helped kick start the project, Turner said.

The new stations will be within a block of bus stops and transfer stations so they can be another cog in a larger transit picture, Turner said.

To use a B-Cycle bike, riders purchase a $6 daily pass. Any trip lasting longer than an hour incurs a $4 per hour usage fee. Monthly memberships are available.

Mike Owen, planning and project development administrator for the Roads Department, said the department decided to back the project because it benefited the community in many ways.

“You’ve added mobility, increased air quality and contributed to a healthier lifestyle,” Owen said. “Plus, you need a network for it to be really a reasonable form of transportation.”

Contact the writer: jordan.pascale@owh.com, 402-444-1276, twitter.com/jwpascale

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