CANTON  BikeSmart, Stark County’s new free bike sharing program, kicked off its second season with a party during First Friday in downtown Canton on June 3.

Launched in June of 2015, BikeSmart is the area’s first bike lending program featuring 36 bikes located at six different hubs around the county. It is a collaborative venture between the Stark County District Library, Stark Parks and Canton Parks and Recreation.

Last year, the program had 999 people signing up and taking 3,000 trips. The hubs are in the same locations this year including the Main Library in downtown Canton, Jackson Township Library, Perry Sippo Exploration Gateway, Canton Garden Center, Schneider Park/Middle Branch Trail and the Edward "Peel" Coleman Southeast Community Center. 

Deputy Director of the Stark County District Library Jean McFarren helped plan and implement the program last year and has been central in preparing for this year’s re-launch.

"We were thrilled with the response to the program in the first year and we are excited to offer the program again this year," McFarren said.

McFarren said middle school students attending the Tom Todd Camp in Canton developed the original idea. The students looked at the assets and challenges around the county during camp and realized there was a need for access to bikes to ride the trails that Stark Parks offer.

"We met with the kids in the camp program and asked if we could run with the idea and they said, 'yes,' " McFarren said. "Then we partnered with Stark Parks and Canton Parks and Recreation to develop the program. The program is still in the pilot stage and we continue to improve the program."

BikeShare is a national bike share company that is helping implement Stark’s BikeSmart program. The company provides and maintains the bikes and the software used to check out the bikes.

Those who want to rent a bike have to be 18 years old. Those with a library card for the Stark County District Library and its branches are able to rent a bike for up to six hours using their library card. Patrons also have to provide a credit card, which will only be charged if the person doesn’t return the bike.

People who don’t want to sign up for or have a library card can use a credit card to pay a $6 fee to rent the bike for up to four hours. McFarren said out-of-town visitors to the area may prefer to pay the fee versus signing up for a library card.

"We did have people who didn’t return bikes last year and that’s why we are asking for a credit card," McFarren said. "We realize that some people may not have a credit card so that is one aspect of the program we are continuing to working on."

The bikes are blue this year. They were red last year. They are sturdy, seven speed bikes with an easy to adjust seat. There’s also a basket on the front. McFarren said that people last year used the bikes for a variety of reasons such as recreation and to use for transportation to appointments.

"The library believes this program is a good fit," McFarren said. "If you can borrow a book, you can borrow a bike. The kids who came up with the original concept have been consultants with us. They also got to attend a banquet when the idea became a third place finalist for the Governor’s Award during the Ohio Parks and Recreation conference and awards dinner."

"I would love to see the program go beyond what it is today and become a program of its own. Right now, we continue to improve the program and smooth out the few bugs we’ve encountered," McFarren added.