Student leaders work on bringing bike share to Eau Claire

Student Office of Sustainability director hopes to have the transportation system in place by spring

More stories from Rachyl Houterman


Photo by Sam Farley

The student-led effort to bring a bike share program to Eau Claire has taken about four years, said Austin Northagen, the Student Office of Sustainability director. After city council unanimously passed an ordinance that would permit a dockless bike share in the city, the program is set to launch sometime in April or May.

A bike share program is coming to the UW-Eau Claire campus and the surrounding community and student leaders are leading the effort to implement it within the next year.

“We as students became really excited about the idea,” said Kristina Haideman, the Student Office of Sustainability (SOS) director. “We as student government leaders thought that our campus and our community could really benefit from having a bike share program, so we were thinking of who to contact, and funding and all of that.”

A bike share is a transportation system that provides users “the ability to pick up a bicycle at any self-serve bike-station and return it to any other bike station located within the system’s service area,” according to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.

Discussion about implementing a bike share in Eau Claire began about two years ago, Haideman said. After incorporating it into the legislative priority last fall, Student Senate and other commissioners began to pursue the program more aggressively.

“It’s an answer to a lot of problems that we’ve had,” Haideman said. “We see significant parking congestion and traffic congestion in general and really promoting wellness — we’re a bike-friendly city, and I believe a bike-friendly university. So it’s just really owning that, and making it available to both students and community members has a lot of potential for downtown growth.”

The goal is to have about 10 stations around the city, Haideman said. An additional aim is to have about 100 bikes in the system, but that could change depending on cost.

Costs for implementing the bike share would fluctuate depending on the size of the stations, number of bikes in the system and the chosen company, Haideman said.

Haideman said they’ve been looking at bike shares in Madison, Milwaukee and Fargo, North Dakota. The company B-Cycle operates the bike shares in Madison and Fargo, while Milwaukee utilizes non-profit Bublr Bikes.

So far, funding has been one of the biggest hurdles in implementing the program. Local sponsorships typically aid in the funding effort, and Haideman said potential partners in the Eau Claire area could be Jamf and Royal Credit Union (RCU).

Nick Webber, the student body vice president, said there is a desire to establish a private-public partnership. Money from the SOS commission’s Green Fund has been earmarked for the program, and Webber said there is discussion of creating a non-profit, tax-exempt organization for funding.

Public funding is more restrictive in terms of how that money can be spent, therefore the process of obtaining those funds is more “slow-moving,” Webber said.

“I think that projects like this just take time,” Webber said. “It’s usually a multi-year process.”

Student leaders have also been working with the city on this project, including City Councilwoman Catherine Emanuelle, the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) and Pat Ivory, the Eau Claire senior planner.

In terms of legal burdens, Ivory said it depends on who the operating entity is and how it is set up. For example, Ivory said stations set up in the downtown area would have to be located on a public right-of-way, in which  an agreement with the city would have to be made.

While the city is assisting in the bike share effort, there currently wouldn’t be city funds available for the bike share, because City Council just passed the 2018 Operating Budget, Ivory said. Funds would be available as early as 2019, but ultimately, it is a City Council decision where those funds are directed.

Establishing a proprietor has been another roadblock to implementing a bike share. Before moving forward there needs to be a group or entity that would be in charge of the bikes.

“Really the hurdle is connecting the dots and having this entity who would be responsible, which I know we’re perfectly capable of finding, it’s just a matter of doing that,” Haideman said.

Membership fees also have yet to be established. Haideman said an array of options exist, one being an embedded fee in the current student segregated fees. There’s also potential for subsidization of those fees.

Mike Rindo, the assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, praised the students for taking the initiative on the project.

“I think it’s terrific that the students are undertaking this,” Rindo said. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for the campus and the community to work together on a program that could be really beneficial for both.”

Rather than being directly involved in the establishment process, Rindo said he takes on an advisory role, helping students “connect the dots” with people in the community who may be interested in being partners.

Rindo said a bike share could provide multiple benefits to the campus and community, including potentially reducing the number of bike thefts and providing students a more accessible mode of transportation.

“We have a lot of things in place already that point toward opportunity with the usage of bikes,” Rindo said, “and think about students (who) didn’t necessarily bring a bike to campus but use the bike share program — what that might do for students as well.”

At this point in the planning process, not all facets of pulling the bike share together have been established, but Haideman said she hopes to have the program implemented sometime in spring 2018.

“Until we, number one, establish an entity of who would really own this and who would be responsible,” Haideman said, “then we would feel comfortable enough I think to send out the RFPs (request for proposal) and the bids and hear feedback from different companies of what they could offer for Eau Claire.”