Cody Baczewski, transportation planner with Harlingen/San Benito MPO
The 10 bicycles in the rack at the entrance to Harlingen’s McKelvey Park don’t stay put for long.
The park’s popular arroyo trail beckons and exercise-conscious enthusiasts are soon pedaling their way downhill to the winding waterway. It is all part of Harlingen’s bike share program that, since its inception in August 2016, has seen heavy use.
Using mobile phones, bike share users can download an app, create an account and opt for daily, monthly or yearly plans that are charged to credit cards. From there, enjoying the park’s network of trails is just a matter of the bicycles’ availability. Users return the loaned bikes after taking a spin.
“People got on board right away,” said Javier Mendez, the city’s park and recreations director, of the bike share program. “I think our residents in general are getting more active, be it cycling, walking or jogging.”
Harlingen’s bike share program is part of a regional project that includes similar efforts in Edinburg and Brownsville. The Harlingen program also includes four additional bikes at the Regional Academic Health Center in the midst of the city’s hospitals and medical offices. All of the Rio Grande Valley bike share programs fall under the funding stream of a grant secured by the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
The cost of launching the program in Harlingen has been minimal for the city – thanks to the grant – while giving residents another exercise option on the arroyo trail. Mendez sees it as phase one of a citywide network of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure that will connect parks, schools and Harlingen’s library with an alternative mode of transportation.
Statistics provided by the program’s national vendor show McKelvey Park leading all Valley bike share sites in usage – even outpacing the UTRGV campus in Edinburg. That is an indication to Mendez that early city planning to develop improved infrastructure for cycling and general exercise is on the right path.
“We’re not a sprawling city like Brownsville or McAllen,” said Cody Baczewski, a transportation planner with the Harlingen/San Benito Metropolitan Planning Organization. “Harlingen is a more compact city, so we need to jump on planning now before there’s more growth.”
The Harlingen/San Benito MPO worked in conjunction with the city to launch the local bike share program. Baczewski, like Mendez, sees Harlingen as developing into a city where residents can more readily walk, bike, and access public places without using automobiles.
Pointing to the success of the city’s 25th Street hike and bike trail – which runs from the Hugh Ramsey Nature Park on Ed Carey Dr., to Texas State Technical College – Mendez sees more such developments in the city’s future.
“All of this is part of the city’s health initiative,” Mendez said. “We want to keep the momentum going.”
By Ricardo Cavazos