A row of white bicycles sits on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Fort Street, suggesting the dawning of a new era in Detroit transportation: Bike sharing, just like in New York, Washington, Oklahoma City and Paris, among other places.
And a famous name in local transportation appears to be involved in the financing of the company that provides the bikes: Bill Ford Jr.
A Massachusetts start-up called Zagster owns the bikes. Zagster is installing bicycles-for-rent on university and corporate campuses, resorts and apartments across the country. In many cases, using the bikes is free; the tab is picked up by the school or hotel, which makes the bikes available to its students or guests.
In Detroit, Zagster appears to have installed the bikes for the several thousand Quicken Loans employees who work in various downtown buildings. To register for a bike, you must have a Quicken email address.
Dennis Hartson, who works for Quicken Loans Mortgage Services, got a chance to go for a ride Monday afternoon. He made his way down the River Walk before returning to the Zagster station near Campus Martius.
"On Fridays, my team and I go for coneys for lunch, and we saw these things were going up," he said. "I saw it was free, so I figured I'd try it out."
Hartson was one of several Quicken employees to take advantage of the new service, judging by the number of bikes taken out late Monday afternoon.
According to the New York Times, some of the funding for Zagster comes from Fontinalis Partners, a venture firm based in the Penobscot Building that was founded by Ford and some associates.
Zagster brags about what biking does for the environment and has even created a formula to measure how much its two-wheeled contraptions are saving the world in emissions. Ford has made a name for himself as a environmentalist.
Zagster says it is "the only organization in the world that has created a carbon methodology, approved by The Carbon Powers That Be, that can accurately measure the carbon reductions associated with all types of bike use. The World Bank liked it so much, they’re partnering with us to roll it out globally. For us, it’s all about carbon — and we don’t mean diamonds. Plant trees. Use bikes. It’s that simple."
While Detroit has lagged behind other large cities when it comes to bike sharing, Wayne State University, working with several businesses and organizations, has been in the early stages of planning a program to share bikes.
Detroit resident Rashida Pride first heard of the new program this morning and said she hopes to see a larger bike-sharing program for residents and workers in the future.
"It gets people away from their workplaces and into other parts of the city," she said. "That's something we need to have happen."
A Quicken spokeswoman said information would be released Wednesday.