University, city finalize plans for bike-sharing program

By Michael Sugerman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 17, 2014

Three years ago, University President Mary Sue Coleman unveiled a $14 million investment in several sustainability efforts that would affect both the University and the city of Ann Arbor. One of these efforts included the implementation of a bike-sharing program.

In May, this goal will be realized with the beginning of ArborBike.

Since August 2013, the Ann Arbor City Council has been working in tandem with the University and the Clean Energy Coalition, a local non-profit dedicated to the promotion of energy-independent communities, to ensure the program’s success.

This collaboration included attaining federal, city and University funds to subsidize the project. From November 2013 through January, the CEC garnered community involvement for the new program by hosting an online naming competition. Among the top contenders were A2Go, MiBike and ArBike, but ultimately, the service was christened ArborBike on Feb. 5.

The CEC is now seeking final approval of its 14 kiosk locations from the city and the University. In total, these will house 125 bicycles, or “blue bikes,” CEC Project Manager Nick Helmholdt said.

These stations will serve both downtown Ann Arbor and the University, with kiosks scattered across the Main Street area, the State Street and South University areas, as well as throughout North Campus and Central Campus.

Stephen Dolen, executive director of parking and transportation services, said the program will yield a benefit for the entire Ann Arbor community, whether they are locals or students, faculty and staff and the University.

“If you’re on North Campus and wanting to get to Central Campus and not take the bus or have to walk and the weather’s nice enough, you’ll be able to jump on a bicycle and ride it from there to here,” Dolen said.

LSA freshman Elisabeth Brennen brought her bike from home and used it in the fall semester to bike back and forth between classes and said she would gladly make use of a campus-wide bike-share program.

“It ended up not being worth it to bring (my bike) all the way from home and then have it be sitting out to rust in the winter,” Brennen said. “Having a bike share program would’ve been nice because I only used it once or twice a week.”

Dolen added that faculty and staff could use ArborBike to get to meetings quickly and efficiently without driving and struggling to find parking. Helmholdt added that the bike-share could act as a traffic decongestant and reinvigorate business in Ann Arbor.

“One of the key things that prevents people from shopping in parts of Ann Arbor is that, frankly, it’s just difficult to access,” Helmholdt said. “I’d say this is a way for lots of people to access businesses that they don’t necessarily frequent.”

Helmholdt added that the kiosk locations will be finalized in the next eight weeks after officials ensure that the sites are compatible with one another. After this, equipment needs to be ordered, delivered and installed.

The CEC is also considering a community bike-building event in May to foster excitement and knowledge about the program. However, this is still in the planning stages.

The CEC is also working to finalize prices for ArborBike membership, which Helmholdt said will roughly mirror those of Madison, Wisconsin’s program: $5 for a 24-hour pass and $65 for an annual pass.

In a September interview with The Michigan Daily, Bill Loy, who has owned the local Campus Student Bike Shop for 50 years, voiced concerns about the potential of a bike-share program, which he said would “wreck my business.”

Dolen said ArborBike might actually increase business for local bike shops, adding that in all the printed material he has read on bike-sharing, none have mentioned detriment to bike stores.

“They complement each other,” he said. “It gets people into biking. These aren’t seen as long-term rentals. Ours are point-to-point. You ride it, you drop it off at the kiosk, and you’re done.”