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River Falls group looks at feasibility of bike share program here

A small but growing group is exploring the possibility of following the lead of other college towns and developing a bike-share program in River Falls.

"The idea is in its infancy. We are only just beginning to talk about feasibility," said Ian Johnson, a research fellow with the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development at UW-River Falls.

He said such a program would be environmentally friendly and convenient for students and other city residents, would save vehicle fuel and repair costs for users, and could mean increased patronage for businesses near bike docking stations.

Johnson, who's been involved with greenhouse gas reporting and sustainability tracking at UW-RF for several years, said a large source of carbon emissions is transportation around campus.

"I've seen bike-share models around the country popping up and thought it would be a very cool idea for River Falls," he said.

The idea arose when Johnson met with Karyn Wells of Student Life Office to go over sustainability data.

"Both of us were pretty passionate about it, so we decided to pursue it in more depth," said Johnson.

A preliminary meeting was held Aug. 17. The idea was introduced to key members of the community during a second meeting Aug. 30.

"Not one person (at the Aug. 30 meeting) thought it was a bad idea, and we started to gain consensus that a point-to-point, membership, docking-station-based program was the most feasible and likely to protect capital investments," said Johnson.

He said there are many models around the country and in the region. Minneapolis' NiceRide, though on a larger scale, is one example nearby. Also Ripon College has a program that gives free bikes, locks and helmets to any incoming freshman who pledges not to bring a car to campus. Grinnell College in Iowa has bikes painted a single color around campus that students can use on campus.

"There are several reasons I believe it may work in River Falls," said Johnson. "There is a pretty progressive attitude around town. The presence of the university is no small part of that."

He said students would rank high amount users, both on campus and in the community.

Often, said Johnson, international students come to campus with no way to get around and can't always afford a bike. He also expects that city residents would use the program.

"Pretty much everyone in our discussion has agreed that the bikes need to have a basket of some sort, so they could be utilitarian... take them to the grocery store or hardware store," said Johnson. "In essence, the program could make impromptu transportation quicker and easier and give people another, more sustainable choice when they walk outside and decide they need to be across campus or town."

A lot of questions were raised at the two August meetings. Some individuals have taken the lead in finding particular answers.

Johnson said the group email list currently includes 13 recipients and is growing.

"Some are avid cyclists, some have been active in advancing sustainability issues in the region previously, (and) some work in various city departments," said Johnson. "All seem to have the common denominator of doing good things for River Falls."

The possibility of conducting a survey has been discussed, and group members are examining other communities' programs.

Johnson recently applied for a grant to update the city's bicycle plan, identify bicycle corridors and find best placement for docking stations. Other possible funding sources include alternative transportation grants, bicycle manufacturers, private businesses and university sources. Membership or user fees are another possibility.

People who want to become involved or just keep informed of the project are invited to email Johnson at

to be added to a group list.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.