B-Cycle brought their A game to Milwaukee’s Discovery World Museum yesterday. They set up a 5 bike, 7 dock demonstration station from 11am to 2pm in the open lobby of the museum. The date and location were timed to coincide with a board meeting for the museum. There are many local heavy hitters who are unafraid of new ideas on the museum board. Lee Jones from B-cycle and Jeff Polenske, the Milwaukee City Engineer gave a brief presentation to the board. Before and after the meeting, board members and museum visitors were free to look over the station, ride the bikes and ask detailed questions of the B-cycle staff.
In one of my final duties as Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, I helped get B-cycle to Milwaukee for the event. Sometimes all you have to do is bring the right people together at just the right moment and get out-of-the-way to effect change. Based on the comments I heard at the demo, I feel like bike sharing in Milwaukee has an almost unstoppable momentum.
It costs about $20,000 for a basic 5 bike, 7 dock solar-powered station. Operations and maintenance are typically done by a private not-for profit venture which makes it easier to get sponsorship, grants and other private funding. The membership and rental fees would all go to the operator, but capital costs would be assumed by the station owners.
If I look into my crystal ball, I see bike sharing coming to Milwaukee in the next year or so, but in a limited pilot form. I could see a system with six to ten stations and 30 to 50 bikes to start. That is a far cry from the city-wide systems like the 1,200 bike system in Minneapolis or even the 350 bike system in Madison, but it would plant the seed.
Bike sharing is the fastest growing mode of transportation in the country right now. It has proven successful in virtually every location where it has gone in. If Milwaukee gets a small pilot system, it will surely grow as well. I was quite impressed by the bike on my test ride around Lakeshore State Park. The bikes fit people from 5′ to 6’6″ tall. They have built-in lights, basket, lock, kickstand, fenders and even a bell.
Based on the interest shown at the demo, those station owners would be private developers of office buildings, condos, retail centers, business improvement districts, universities, etc. The Schlitz Park redevelopment included a bike plan that recommends bike sharing as well as car sharing (like Zip Car).
The City of Milwaukee agreed to help coordinate a future meeting of all these important leaders of private industry. B-cycle agreed to come to the next meeting with detailed cost estimates for initial capital investments as well as ongoing operations. The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin agreed to come to the next meeting and help review possible locations, connect interested parties and review the operations plan.
I know this sounds pretty pie-in-the-sky, but my positive feelings are based on the extremely positive reactions I heard at the demo from private developers and city officials. The devil is in the details and much more work needs to be done, but I am very hopeful. I overheard one major developer say ”I’d get a station tomorrow if someone else does so my tenants have somewhere to go.” I heard another say “This was in our long-range plans, but based on what I saw today, I see no reason why this couldn’t happen next year.”