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Dave Olson, Published November 11 2013

Fargo bike share backers peddle plan to businesses, city

FARGO – A group pushing for a bike share program for downtown Fargo and North Dakota State University will meet with a small group of business and organization leaders Wednesday in an effort to secure the estimated $595,000 needed to put the plan into gear.

If the funding is there, 10 bike share stations could be up and running in time for the start of the school year next fall, said Cam Knutson, a backer of the plan.

Knutson, now a fellow at Kilbourne Group in Fargo, was president of the NDSU student body about two years ago when the idea for a bike sharing program gained traction among student leaders and city officials, including City Commissioner Mike Williams, who championed the idea.

Since then, a plan has taken shape that anticipates four bike stations on the NDSU campus, one station at Barry Hall, 811 2nd Ave. N., and five additional stations in downtown Fargo.

Student oriented

Under the proposal, NDSU students would be automatically enrolled in the program. It would allow them to use their student ID card to unlock a bike from a station and ride it to other docking stations around the city, or back to the station they got it from once their ride was done.

Knutson said no new fees are proposed. Instead, it would be up to the Student Senate to decide whether to reallocate a portion of existing student activity fees toward the bike share effort.

Organizers estimate activity fees devoted to a bike share program would amount to about $5 a year for each NDSU student.

Student leaders have indicated they would go along with the plan if other sponsors in the community do the same.

Under the current proposal, members of the general public would be able to go online to purchase annual membership cards or daily passes.

Knutson said the average price for membership cards for bike share programs in other parts of the country is about $65 a year, while the average price for a daily pass is around $6. He noted the daily pass would likely be closer to $5 for the local program.

On Wednesday, business leaders will hear a pitch and be invited to become station sponsors or primary sponsors of the program.

Station sponsorships would start at $15,000, which would give the donor advertising rights on the station for five years.

Four primary sponsors are being sought who would provide $100,000 each. Those sponsors would be given advertising rights on all stations, as well as on bikes used in the program, which would initially number 100.

The plan calls for NDSU to sponsor campus-related stations.

The city of Fargo will be invited to sponsor one of the downtown stations.

Other potential downtown station sponsors are Sanford Health, Great Northern Bicycle Co. and the Fercho YMCA.

Self-contained

Bikes will have GPS chips for tracking. The docking stations will be self-contained, with power supplied by solar panels.

GPS bike tracking and communication between stations and those monitoring them would be accomplished through existing cellphone networks.

Knutson said Fargo’s bike sharing program would be similar to but more advanced than recently launched setups in cities such as San Francisco; Boulder and Denver in Colorado; Madison, Wis.; and Minneapolis.

“We’ve yet to see any system that does it this way,” Knutson said, adding that one poll of NDSU students indicated more than 90 percent approved of the bike sharing idea.

Williams said interest is also high among the general public. He pointed to the more than 200,000 “clicks” the B-Cycle website received from Fargo-area residents who indicated support for bike sharing.

B-Cycle, the vendor local bike advocates are eyeing as the company that would set up Fargo’s bike share system, paid attention to the response on its website and set up demonstration stations during recent Streets Alive! events in Fargo.

In addition to being a potential station sponsor, Great Northern Bicycle Co. stands to play a major role in overseeing any system that gets established.

Tom Smith, the bike shop’s founder, said under the current plan the bike sharing program would be operated by Great Rides, a nonprofit created by Great Northern Bicycle Co., with direction from a board whose members would include primary sponsors.

Wheel popular

Smith said he sees tremendous potential for bike sharing, given the demand that already exists.

“Our bike rental business downtown is phenomenal,” he said.

In cities that have bike sharing programs, neighborhoods develop pride of ownership that keeps bike stations busy and safe, he said.

“Vandalism has been nonexistent,” he said.

Knutson said the dividends of bike sharing include improved health and less need for cars and parking spaces.

Aaron Feickert, a graduate student at NDSU and an organizer of the bike sharing plan, said car ownership often takes a backseat to other priorities for college students.

“I haven’t had one for years,” he said.

Knutson said if bike sharing is a go in Fargo, planners have an outline for incorporating additional Fargo stations, as well as spots in Moorhead that include the Dairy Queen on Main Avenue and the campuses of Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia College.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555