A facility that would provide local bicyclists with hundreds of parking spaces and a wide variety of services for their two-wheel ride is closer to becoming a reality.
An advisory committee overseeing the development of the Midtown Greenway Bike Station recently chose the Midtown Greenway Coalition and Freewheel Bike to operate the proposed station, which will be located near the former Sears building at Lake Street and Chicago Avenue. Next month, the city will issue a request for proposals for the construction of the center, which likely will open in the spring of 2007.
The proposed facility, which will cost roughly $500,000, will feature 200 short- and long-term bicycle parking spaces and will have restrooms and concessions for bicyclists. Freewheel Bike will operate a retail facility inside the center offering rentals, repairs, accessories, and classes on bike safety and repair. Midtown Greenway Coalition Executive Director Tim Springer said organizers still are working out details, but there likely would be a nominal fee for parking at the station. If the facility is successful, project organizers eventually hope to invest an additional $100,000 to install showers and locker rooms.
Bike stations are a common amenity in Europe, frequently located near train stations to provide two-wheel commuters with a place to park and shower before heading to work. They often operate like a coat check, with bicyclists checking their bikes and leaving them in the secured facility for the day, according to the Transportation and Land Use Coalition. The stations are just beginning to make an appearance in the United States, but organizers are convinced that Minneapolis bicyclists will use and support the facility.
“We're confident this is the right place and the right time and the right community,” said Don Pflaum with the Minneapolis Public Works Department, adding that the city has one of the highest ratios of bicycle commuters in the country among major cities. He said an estimated 10,000 bicyclists ride through the city each day, with 5,000 around the University of Minnesota and 2,500 concentrated Downtown.
The bike center will be located on the Midtown Greenway, the corridor of green space running parallel to and north of Lake Street that features a nonstop bicycle highway and walking path. On a spring or summer day with good weather, roughly 1,000 bicyclists use the greenway trail, Pflaum said. The bike center will be located in the greenway-level basement of a building owned by Allina Health Systems on the north side of the greenway. An elevator and skyways will connect the bike center to Midtown Exchange and Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
The bulk of the funding for the project will come from a $276,000 federal grant. The project will receive additional funding from a number of sources: the city of Minneapolis is putting $20,000 toward the project's design and $125,000 toward its construction, Hennepin County is putting $50,000 toward the project's design, Allina is donating $75,000 and Ryan Companies is donating $25,000.
Construction of the bicycle mecca would put Minneapolis in the company of just a handful of cities nationwide that have large-scale stations. The most notable is Chicago's Millennium Park Bike Station, which opened in 2004 to much fanfare. That 300-space, heated indoor bicycle parking facility features lockers, showers, a snack bar with outdoor summer seating, bike repair, bike rental and other amenities. The station was so popular in its first year that there was a waiting list for the 200 spaces reserved for bikers who pay $15 a month or $99 a year.
Other cities have more moderate stations that aren't in quite such demand. In California, about 100 people each day use the Berkeley Bike Station, about 40 the Palo Alto station and 20-25 the Long Beach station, according to the Transportation and Land Use Coalition. Organizers of the Midtown Greenway Bike Station remain realistic about what they want to achieve with a bike station in Minneapolis.
“Bicycle stations are kind of a risky proposition,” Pflaum said, adding that some cities have found they don't make enough money or generate enough usage. “But we think we've got the market.”
The bike station's operators have plans to make it more than just a place to park. The facility will serve as a gathering place for charity bicycle rides and other community events, said Freewheel Bike Owner Kevin Ishaug. He said operators also are looking at bringing in cultural bicycle artifacts like old bike magazines and movies to create a display for visitors.
“I think the ultimate vision is that it will get used by a lot of folks,” Pflaum said.
If the Midtown Greenway Bike Station is successful, Pflaum said the city might even explore the idea of a bike center Downtown, which would benefit commuters heading to work in the heart of the city.
But for now, organizers are focusing on making the Midtown Greenway Bike Station a success. The Midtown Greenway Coalition is looking into moving its offices into the bike station, and Springer is hoping area cycling enthusiasts will embrace the center.
“We hope where there's a will,” he said, “there's a way.”