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Middleton exploring bicycle-sharing program

September 12, 2018

Middleton officials are considering a bicycle-sharing system to serve visitors and residents.

Although Middleton has been in discussions with BCycle about a bike-sharing program for nearly a decade, interest peaked this past spring, said Mark Opitz, the city’s assistant planning director, and city staff are now identifying what the goals of the program would be, what areas would be served and how the system could be funded.

“We are encouraged by what we have seen in other communities around the country,” Opitz said. “We just see a tremendous potential for facilitating transportation of visitors to the community as well as serving some community needs for short trips between businesses east and west of the Beltline.”

Bike-sharing programs let riders rent bikes, usually from dedicated docking stations, for short trips.

BCycle, which is a subsidiary of Waterloo-based bicycle manufacturer Trek, operates the Madison BCycle program that opened in 2011. It now has 46 stations throughout Madison, largely concentrated on the UW-Madison campus and in Downtown.

Opitz said a system in Middleton would initially serve three areas: hotels west of the Beltline, the downtown east of the Beltline and athletic fields at Firefighters Memorial Park.

“We obviously would want to do this incrementally before committing to a full implementation across the city,” Opitz said. “We want to focus on where we think demand is greatest.”

City Administrator Mike Davis said Middleton has 962 hotel rooms, and a soon-to-open Holiday Inn Express will push that number past 1,000. A trolley runs between the hotels and the downtown on evenings Monday through Saturday, but a bike-sharing system would allow visitors another way to travel the city outside of those hours, Opitz said.

The city is also looking at whether it could use BCycle’s new “smart bikes,” called Dash bikes, that include a display for turn-by-turn navigation and a locking mechanism that can negate the need for docking stations.

Morgan Ramaker, director of operations for BCycle, said Dash bikes launched earlier this year and are now in four cities. The company has provided systems in 53 cities nationwide, she said.

Some of the goals set by the city focus on the Dash bike technology, such as configuring bicycles to guide visitors on tours through Middleton.

An initial roll-out of the program could involve seven stations and about 75 Dash bicycles, Opitz said. In addition to upfront capital and installation costs, the system would require annual funding for maintenance, as the Dash bikes are more technologically advanced, he said. User fees alone generally are not enough to sustain bike-sharing systems, Ramaker said.

Ramaker said the bikes would likely be available for use between March 15 and Dec. 15.

At the Middleton Plan Commission meeting Tuesday night, commissioners asked questions about how such a system could be funded, how liability for the systems are handled and if the Dash bicycles could hold up in colder weather.

Ramaker said the funding mixture depends on the system, but it can include sponsorship, advertising, grants and public subsidies.

Using taxpayer money was a nonstarter for Mayor Gurdip Brar.

“I think we got much more important things to do with that money than the BCycle,” he said.

With the city about to craft its 2019 budget, Opitz said money could be set aside for bike-sharing.

More committees are expected to weigh in on bike-sharing before the City Council decides whether to pursue it.

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