At TEDxFargo 2012: The City 2.0, as part of a special two-minute Action Pitch Session, Aaron Feickert pitched the idea of bringing Fargo together through a bike share program– but he was not always keen on the idea.
“I was a skeptic at first,” Feickert said.
The idea of a bike share was originally presented by Fargo City Commissioner Mike Williams to Cam Knutson, who was Student Body President at NDSU at the time, to see if there was interest from the university. Knutson then pitched it to Feickert, who was working as a mechanic at Great Northern Bicycle Company.
Feickert doubted a bike share’s feasability due to Fargo’s varied population densities. However, when Knutson and Williams explained that their goal was to connect Fargo’s densest areas– downtown and NDSU– through an unprecedented public-private university partnership, Feickert jumped on board. That was 2011.
The following year was dedicated to research. Three major vendors across the country could provide bike share infrastructure, but only one, Bcycle, was interested in creating the technology to use student key cards to check out bikes– a concept which Feickert’s team hoped to pilot. The team also had to determine who would own and operate the system once it had been designed by Bcycle. They landed on Great Rides, a nonprofit affiliated with Great Northern.
Once Great Rides’ infrastructure was set in place, the team had to take the idea to the city– a task which fell to Feickert, the team’s one-time skeptic.
Taking action after TEDx
In just four years, Feickert’s two-minute Action Pitch has grown into one of the most successful bike shares in the nation.
“It’s insane,” he said. “It’s taken off.”
In March 2015, Great Rides Fargo put 11 stations and 101 bikes on the ground. One bike has since been stolen, but according to Feickert, that’s just “the cost of doing business.”
These 11 stations form what Feickert refers to as “the constellation,” and reach as far north as NDSU’s University Village and as far south as the Fercho YMCA.
For bike shares around the country, Feickert said, establishing a university partnership has always been “the nut to crack.” Navigating the fee structure of a university can be complicated, and attempts at such in other cities have resulted in low ridership– though it is a small barrier, having to sign up and pay money prevents many students from taking advantage of the service.
Great Rides, however, was able to arrange funds through NDSU’s student government, which pays Great Rides a fixed yearly rate to provide full enrollment to all students. Feickert compares the system to a university wellness center–the fee is included in your tuition statement, and you access the bikes with a swipe of your student I.D.
“The turn around is awesome,” he said. “The students are using it, and we really attribute it to the fact that we really just tried to pull out as many barriers as possible for people to ride.”
And Feickert, a self-proclaimed nerd, has the numbers to prove it.
On Great Rides Fargo’s peak day last year, they averaged twenty rides per bike– a national record. The previous record was set at SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, with ten rides per bike per day.
“We love running the numbers on this stuff,” he said. “In terms of number of rides we have for a system of our size, its crazy.”
Biking toward social change
Feickert, who is currently working on his PhD, no longer works as a mechanic at Great Northern; but that doesn’t mean he’s left the bikes behind. He continues to provide assistance as a technology consultant at Great Rides Fargo, and sees the bike share’s popularity as part of a greater movement in the F-M area.
“I see more people on bikes, on boards, on blades, walking, busing– and that says to me that we are growing a healthy environment and community,” he said. “We like being a part of that.”
Feickert hopes to see Great Rides Fargo grow even further in coming years, and is researching the possibility of bringing bikes across the river. He is working with Concordia and MSUM to determine where interest lies.
“We want to grow, but it’s really important to grow sustainably and in a way that works,” he said.
As with most projects of Great Rides Fargo’s size, Feickert said that there have been plenty of naysayers. Like Feickert, many assume that there is just not a place for a bike share in Fargo– one look at the numbers, however, reveals otherwise.
“It’s neat to prove people wrong sometimes,” he said.
Featured image courtesy of Emerging Prairie. Watch Aaron’s TEDxFargo Action Pitch here: