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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Biking bonanza

March 11, 2009

Bob Bruininks and R. T. Rybak stand behind a bicycle.

President Bob Bruininks looks on as Minneapolis mayor R. T. Rybak hoists a prototype bicycle from the new Minneapolis Bike Share Program.

Photo: Rodrigo Zamith

U prepares for new bike center, bicycle-sharing program

By Rick Moore

The University of Minnesota is poised to take two substantial steps forward in making bicycling a more convenient and lucrative option for its students, staff, and visitors.

The wheels were set in motion March 10 with the announcement of two major projects at the U—a new bike center to be located in the Oak Street Parking Ramp on the East Bank of the Twin Cities campus, and a bike-sharing program that will put 1,000 new bikes at public kiosks on campus and in Minneapolis. The projects are among more than $4 million worth of improvements that were announced by Bike Walk Twin Cities, a federally funded initiative to increase biking and walking in Minneapolis and neighboring communities.

The bike center, which will receive $524,000 in Bike Walk Twin Cities funds, will serve an estimated 6,000 cyclists on campus as well as commuters and other visitors. It will be housed at the ramp's former transit station waiting area at Oak and Delaware Streets S.E., and services are likely to include bike repair; retail sales of items such as tires, tubes, fenders, and racks; secure, 24-hour bike storage; restrooms, changing rooms, and lockers; an electronic trip-planning kiosk; and program space for clinics and outreach activities. The U hopes to have the center operational by the start of the coming fall semester.

President Bob Bruininks, himself an avid cyclist, joked about noticing a bike center on the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis a while back and suggesting that the University develop something similar. "And I got the standard, stock answer, 'We're already working on it,'" he said.

"This center becomes more than a secure place to park your bike and change clothes," he noted. "It's a community space that rewards existing bike commuters and welcomes new bicyclists to our campus with services to make their rides more efficient and convenient."

A new technology may also help the U capitalize on federal funding that has been approved for employers to provide tax-free stipends to employees who commute by bike. The University would be able to track the commuting trips of cyclists through the use of Radio Frequency ID (RFID) technology. Commuters would attach RFID tags to their bikes, and RFID "readers" placed in strategic locations would track the cyclists' trips through these zones.

Grab a bike and go

With the new bike-share option, the University and the city of Minneapolis will join together on a program that offers community members an easy way to get around town for short trips. The Minneapolis Bike Share Program, which received a $1.75 million grant, will give riders the option of checking out one of 1,000 bikes—scattered at 75 different secure kiosks at the U, in downtown, and in Uptown—at any time and returning it to a self-service kiosk of their choice. Day passes will be available or users can purchase a season pass for about $50.

The bike-share idea has become incredibly successful abroad, most notably in Paris and Barcelona. Last year Paris put more than 20,000 bikes on its streets, and Parisians are using them for more than 120,000 short trips each day, which translates to 43 million trips per year.

As Minneapolis mayor R. T. Rybak pointed out at the announcement, bicycling is becoming an increasingly important component of the transportation system in Minneapolis and in the Twin Cities metro area. And it's not by accident. "We've been working on this in a systematic way for many, many years," he says.

Likewise, Bruininks championed some of the many things the University has been doing as part of its "deep commitment to build a much more sustainable environment," including joining the Chicago Climate Exchange (to reduce carbon emissions) and promoting the use of bus passes by students and staff—the U Pass and Metro Pass, respectively. The new biking programs stand to make the U a shade greener.

They may also help the standing of Minneapolis, which ranks as the number two city for biking in the country, behind only Portland, Oregon. Rybak is confident that there may be a shake-up in the rankings. "Portland, watch out," he jabbed. "We're on our way."