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Wauwatosa pursues bike sharing stations

Local system could include 15 sites and more than 100 bikes

Milwaukee BikeShare bikes sit in racks at the Discovery World Museum.

Milwaukee BikeShare bikes sit in racks at the Discovery World Museum.

Dec. 17, 2013

Midwest BikeShare hopes to install 11 stations providing a total of 110 bikes in Wauwatosa in the next couple years, enough for a fully functional bike sharing system, said Development Director Paulette Enders.

The 11 stations would be in addition to three stations serving the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center that the Department of Transportation is considering installing, using traffic mitigation funding as part of the Zoo Interchange Project; and a fourth DOT station at State Fair Park, Enders said in last week's meeting of the Budget and Finance Committee.

The Wauwatosa stations would be part of a larger metropolitan Milwaukee system that could include 200 stations and thousands of bicycles, said Kevin Hardman, launch director for Midwest BikeShare. So far, one station has been installed at Discovery World on the lakefront, which Hardman called a demonstration station.

In addition to the medical center, likely locations in Wauwatosa might include the Village, Hart Park, Hoyt Park, and up and down North Avenue, Hardman said. He said he hoped to open the system in Milwaukee next year, and have Wauwatosa ready to go in 2015.

Transportation is the thing

For Hardman, bike sharing is "not a bike thing" — it's a transportation thing. "It's to get you from point A to point B, those short trips."

Stations "need to be at very good origination points, where people live and work," he said, "and you need to be at very good destinations. And bike sharing is no different than any other transportation — you want to connect where people want to be."

A regular user would buy an annual pass, which would cost about $65. The annual pass gives the user an unlimited number of bikes and unlimited trips for up to a half-hour. After a half-hour, a slight usage charge would kick in, and the charging would continue until the bike is returned to a station.

"The reason for that is we want to incentivize users to return the bikes so that someone else can use it," he said.

The system isn't designed for hours-long bike rides. "You wouldn't want to just lock it to a tree and just leave it there while you're at a concert, because you will be charged for that."

For that reason, density is important. The system works best for a user if they can ride the bike from one station to another, and check it in again.

What about the cost?

To fund the local stations, the city has submitted a preliminary application to the Department of Transportation for a federal grant worth $500,000, with a city match of 20 percent, or $100,000 of the total. If Wauwatosa's application is successful, funding would not be awarded until spring.

Hardman and Enders both said it was possible that corporate donors — especially those who want a station near their site — would make donations that might cover the city's $100,000 outlay. Hardman said he was already at work on it.

Regardless, Alderman Brian Ewerdt said at the Budget and Finance Committee meeting that those dollar amounts seemed a lot to pay for the number of bikes and racks.

Hardman explained that the bikes are heavy duty models, and high technology underpins the system. He compared it to a Redbox DVD rental system, where you can check a title out at one station and return it to another, all of it "interconnected with wireless technology."

Special care

The bikes are "hardy, hardy pieces of equipment. They need special tools to take apart, and they're designed to take a lot of abuse," Hardman said.

All maintenance of the system and the bikes would be handled by BikeShare, and funded through user fees, he said. Winter storage would likewise be handled by BikeShare.

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