The local group working to create a bike sharing system in Milwaukee has received two grants totaling $120,000, money that will build momentum but not guarantee a launch this year, organizers announced Monday.
With roughly $500,000 in-hand or pledged, Midwest BikeShare Inc. remains about $1 million short of the amount needed to build out the system envisioned: 25 kiosks throughout the city, and 250 bikes available for short-term rentals.
“There are some gaps to close,” said Barry Mainwood, a co-founder of Midwest BikeShare Inc. and local businessman. “We’re very hopeful this helps close some of the gaps.”
He projected that the group would need the $1.5 million in start-up funds secured by March to ensure a launch in the summer of 2013.
Mainwood said the recent contributions included $45,000 from the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities and $75,000 from the Brico Fund, a charity created by philanthropist Lynde B. Uihlein. He pointed the Brico Fund contribution as one that could trigger further support of a bike share initiative from other local foundations and businesses.
“We’re hopeful with this, people will say ‘this is real, let’s get involved,” he said.
To date, the effort has raised roughly $500,000 from Spirit of Milwaukee and corporate partners.
Mayor Tom Barrett has been a supporter of the project, but has stated publicly that the infrastructure and operation must be built without public tax dollars.
“For the city of Milwaukee to grow and be a destination for families, events and employers, we need programs like BikeShare that allow more people to enjoy our amazing city on bikes,” Barrett said. “The city of Milwaukee is thrilled to work with the visionary folks at Midwest BikeShare to bring the concept here, and we’re even more excited to see the community’s financial support behind the programs.”
Bike share systems have blossomed across the country in the past five years, providing bikes at hundreds of self-serve locations.
Users obtain bikes by using their credit cards to obtain daily or annual memberships and pay fees based on the length of the rental. Bikes can be rented from one kiosk, then returned at another, providing a convenient transportation option in urban areas.
More than a dozen cities, including Madison, have installed Trek’s B-Cycle system. Washington D.C. and Minneapolis developed their own bike share infrastructure and both Chicago and New York have hired Alta Bicycle Share to build out their massive systems over the next year.
New York City plans to provide 10,000 bikes at 600 rental stations, and secured a $41 million sponsorship from Citigroup that will pay for a large portion of the capital and operating costs.
In Minneapolis, the non-profit Nice Ride Minnesota built its system with federal grant dollars and a contribution from Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Cash from similar sources will be necessary for the successful launch of bike sharing in Milwaukee.
In an earlier interview, Dan Casanova, senior economic development specialist in the City Department of Development, said money for the capital and operating costs would be sought from a variety of sources: federal grants, tax incremental finance districts, business improvement districts and businesses.
Ideally, 20 to 25 businesses would sign on as sponsors, similar to Citigroup in New York City, and provide cash for the build out, Casanova said.
Earlier this week, Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas would provide $750,000 in sponsorship dollars to expand a B-Cycle system in Houston.
Mainwood and his partners in Midwest BikeShare Inc. are working to secure that kind of sponsorship commitment from businesses in Milwaukee.