Bike-sharing program coming to Iowa City

B-Cycle in Des Moines
A B-Cycle rental station located in downtown Des Moines offers some clues as to how the Iowa City program might take shape. — photo by Phil Roeder via Flickr Creative Commons

The University of Iowa and City of Iowa City are teaming up to develop a bike-sharing program that could come into effect as early as next spring.

Under the proposed program, residents will be able to pick up and drop off bikes at any of the distribution stations 24 hours a day, which will be operated electronically through a kiosk, similar to Des Moines’ B-Cycle or Chicago’s Divvy programs.

Liz Christiansen, director of the UI Office of Sustainability, says the program’s three main goals are to enhance mobility around campus and downtown Iowa City, reduce the carbon impact of transportation and promote a healthier lifestyle. She says the program will provide a unique opportunity to “redefine commuting and transportation within the urban atmosphere.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation recently approved a $135,300 grant to push the program forward, though the money won’t be distributed until October. As a result, the bike-share program may not be ready until spring of next year, according to Iowa City Sustainability Coordinator Brenda Nations.

The program also has support and funding from several local organizations, including $20,000 from the UI Parking and Transportation Department, $13,700 from the City of Iowa City, $4,000 from the UI Staff Council and $4,000 from the UI Student Government Green Initiative Fund. The majority of the funds will go towards purchasing necessary equipment.

According to the program’s grant proposal, this includes 30 bicycles, all of which will be equipped with GPS tracking (thiefs beware!), as well as front baskets, full fenders, front and rear dynamo-powered lights, Nexus 3-speed gearing and adjustable seats.

For now, there are three proposed stations, with one located near the UI’s Currier Residence Hall, another near the Old Capitol Town Center, and one station at the intersection of Washington and Dubuque Streets (near the Ped Mall entrance).

Although the prices to rent a bike have not yet been finalized, officials say there will be daily, weekly and annual membership options. In accordance with its goal to support short-term rentals, the first hour of bicycle rentals will be free.

Officials plan to impose extra fees if the bike is not returned after 24 hours. It is possible that UI students will also be able to pay for their rentals via their Hawkeye Dollars or charge rentals to their U-Bills, though this idea is still under discussion.

If the program is a success, officials say the program will grow to reflect demand.

“I think that the bike-share program will be a nice addition to what we already are promoting in Iowa City, which is a walkable, bikeable community,” said Nations. “The University and the City both have bike-friendly designations, and there is a large interest in biking in this area.”

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