Some of the new RVA Bikeshare bikes. Image by City of Richmond.

Virginia has a new bikeshare system in its capital city of Richmond. Simply called RVA Bike Share, the program is an ambitious start for the city.

Like Capital Bikeshare, RVA Bike Share lets people rent bicycles for short term periods and ride between docking stations that make bikes available to the next person. You can ride by signing up as a member for a day or up to a year. The first 45 minutes of any ride on RVA Bike Share is free, which is a bit more generous than the 30 free minutes on CaBi.

The system opened this week with about 220 bikes and 22 stations in the city. But plans are to double those numbers by next year. Membership pricing is similar to CaBi as well. Daily memberships are $6 and a single ride is $1.75.

The system is run by Bewegen Technologies, a Canadian company that also runs the bikeshare systems in Baltimore and Howard County. One big difference from Capital Bikeshare is that Bewegen provides pedal assist electric bikes that use a small motor to boost your pedaling. But Richmond's pedal assist bikes are not coming until the second phase of expansion at the earliest.

Right now most of the stations are going to be concentrated downtown and in the city's west end. That makes sense because it's where some of the city's densest and most bike friendly neighborhoods are but this first phase ignores many of the city's poorer neighborhoods in the east end or southside of the James River. As the program grows it will be important to make sure that the system can cover many areas of the city.

Map of the first 20 bikeshare stations in Richmond. Image by RVA Bikeshare.

RVA Bike Share is one of a handful of new bikeshare systems in Virginia, including CaBi. Roanoke has a small bikeshare system, and George Mason University in Fairfax had a small bikeshare system in 2012 but dropped the program sometime after that. But Richmond plans to expand to 400 bikes and 40 stations by next year, which is ambitious. DC and Arlington started with the same number of bikes when CaBi began operating in 2010, but Richmond only has about a quarter of the population of those two jurisdictions combined.

Bikeshare isn't the only cycling improvement to come to Richmond, which hosted the UCI Road World Championships in 2015, the annual world championship for road bike racing. Many local cycling advocates used that opportunity to push for local improvements for everyday riders. 2015 was also the year the Virginia Capital Trail was completed, giving people a 55 mile trail between Richmond, Williamsburg, and Jamestown, and is now very popular.

More recently the city put out a plan to build its first pair of cycle tracks (similar to the L and M street bike lanes in DC) downtown between the Virginia State Capitol Building and Monroe Park, as well as paint 25 miles of new bike lanes this year.

So, congratulations Richmond! Welcome to the bikeshare family.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Burke.