City to launch bike-sharing program

The city is working to roll out a bike sharing program that would plant 75 bike stations populated with 1,000 bikes in Uptown, Downtown and the University of Minnesota campus.

City officials are working with the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation to launch the $3 million program in May 2009.

Bill Dossett, a consultant on the project, said that half of Hennepin County residents ride bicycles, but only a fraction of those riders use bikes for transportation. This bike sharing program would be targeted at people who might take a bike out during lunch, or bike to a meeting in the middle of the day. Workers could log on to a web page that would tell them how many bikes are currently available nearby.

Bikers would buy into the bike sharing system by paying an annual subscription fee of about $50–$75 for unlimited rides.

The bikes proposed for Minneapolis were designed by Stationnement de Montréal, which is the city of Montreal’s parking authority. The agency is launching a bike sharing program in Montreal next spring and it beat out six other companies to take the Minneapolis job.

The bike’s front-wheel movement creates an electrical charge that automatically powers lights at the rear of the bicycle. The chain is covered, and all of the gears and brakes are internal to the hubs. Bikes feature a unisex heavy-duty frame and handlebars, and a front-hanging basket. A broad seat is designed to be quickly adjustable.

One bike kiosk would have about 20 bikes, and bikes would be removed from docks by using small key cards. To ride with no extra charge, bikers are asked to return bikes to a rack within about a half-hour of taking them out. Average trips are expected to take riders one–three miles. The self-service bike docks would be powered by solar panels and they would be movable — advocates say the flexible design is a key improvement over the huge bike sharing program in Paris, which has bike stations entrenched in the street. Most of the docks would go into storage over the winter.

Staff at the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation (the organization that runs the annual Loppet event) have been working with the city since the summer to develop a nonprofit business model for the bike sharing program. Staff are working to secure grants that would pay for $3 million in startup costs.

Bike sharing is popular in European cities such as Paris, Barcelona and Stockholm, but it has yet to take hold in the United States. Washington, D.C. is currently launching a pilot program, and New York is planning a program as well. Paris put 20,600 bikes on the street last year. In Barcelona, each bike is rented an average of 10–15 times each day.

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