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Grand Forks bike-share program could be rolling by fall

A Grand Forks bike-share program could have riders rolling through the city before the end of the year--but first, they need the money, and that means finding sponsors.

Stephanie Erickson, a planner for the city of Grand Forks, pedals a bike similar to what a citywide bike share might use through downtown Grand Forks. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)
Stephanie Erickson, a planner for the city of Grand Forks, pedals a bike similar to what a citywide bike share might use through downtown Grand Forks. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)

A Grand Forks bike-share program could have riders rolling through the city before the end of the year-but first, they need the money, and that means finding sponsors.

"I don't know if it's realistic at this point, but we're hoping we could have something up by fall of this year, when students come in," City Council member Bret Weber said. "I think at this point, we're looking at a better than 50-50 shot at that. There's a lot of moving parts, and it's not something we can just make happen. We have to go out and build a coalition."

Momentum for a bike share has been building since at least last April, when a small group of local leaders-city officials, UND student leadership and a past president of the Downtown Development Association-drove to Fargo to check out the city's system. Founded in 2015, Fargo's bike share launched with 11 stations and offered more than 143,000 rides in its first season, overwhelmingly to NDSU students.

Ever since, a growing circle of community leaders from both sides of the Red River have been involved in talks to bring a similar program to Grand Forks. Proponents imagine a future where students can spend a few dollars to rent a bike for a quick trip between downtown and UND or take a ride along the greenway. Though final designs haven't been settled upon yet, project leaders imagine bike-share stations downtown and at UND, with other stops possible at Altru Hospital or linking bike routes to 42nd Street.

With a potential launch of the program just over the horizon, those guiding the project are trying to address the particulars. The bikes will need maintenance, opening a need for a partner like Scheels, which has been involved in talks. Ownership for the group is expected to fall to a committee with the Coalition for a Healthy Greater Grand Forks.

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It's possible the program could rely at least in part on UND student fees, especially given its expected high usage by students. But UND Student Body President Brandon Beyer said it's more likely students would begin contributing only after private funding is secured.

"That's probably something that's going to be pitched to my successor, and they'll have to find the value in that," he said, pointing out that student fee support could disappear if it fell out of favor with future student governments. "You want to make sure that your sponsorship isn't the leg that the entire program is standing on."

But despite ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber moving into Grand Forks within the last several months, Beyer said there's still a niche in local transit needs for a bike share. Students aren't likely to buy an Uber ride from one corner of campus to the other, he said.

Audrey Lorenz, a strategic planning manager for Altru, said there are health benefits to the plan, too-especially relevant in Grand Forks and Polk counties, where she said the rates of adult obesity are at 30 and 34 percent, respectively.

"Certainly, when you think of efforts to reduce obesity in a community, the more we can have options available, or design things to get people out and moving, the better."

The project has gravitated towards purchasing from bike-share companies Zagster and BCycle, said Pete Haga, the city's government and community relations officer, though they don't come cheap. Haga estimated costs in the six-figure range to purchase the products, with additional six-figure costs every year after, all depending on the final purchase.

That's where the need for sponsors comes in. Weber said public dollars are likely to be spent on it, but hoped that any public spending from local groups would be a small portion and shared among multiple groups.

"I wouldn't characterize (sponsorship) as an obstacle as much as the next step. We've done a lot of groundwork on this, and we've done a ton of research with a ton of different bike share companies," said Jonathan Holth, the former DDA president who went on the early trip to Fargo. "We feel like we've got the model in place-now it's just securing the funding."

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