Crowdfunding the Bike Share Revolution in Kansas City
Two years ago on a hot June night in North Kansas City, volunteers and bike advocates gathered on the shop floor of a giant warehouse with stacks of boxes at the back. As the volunteers mingled preparing for the task ahead, Eric Bunch, Sarah Shipley, and Eric Rogers, co-founders of BikeWalkKC, gathered the crowd to inform them of the unique task at hand. Their vision was bold: to transform one of the worst cities for biking into the one of the greatest with a world-class bike share as the catalyst. The goal of the bike share was to construct 90 bicycles that would be part of the new bike share system that would be launching later that year. All of the volunteers were eager to help and after two successful nights all 90 bikes were ready to hit the streets of Kansas City for their debut. It was a story I covered on This Big City about the amazing power that a local community can have on transforming a city.
A lot has happened in Kansas City since those first 90 bikes were built. A city once devoid of bike lanes is now seeing the construction of the new streetcar line with the second phase being planned and urban pop-up events such as Cyclovia and BetterBlock having shown city leaders the potential of what a revitalized Kansas City can become with sustainable transportation. City plans that call for bike lanes are either being considered for implementation or have already been painted in. There is incredible optimism in the air, in part, thanks to the leadership of BikeWalkKC and the change that the B-cycle Bike Share program has had on the city. With over 9,500 trips in the past two years, B-cycle users have traveled over 30,000 miles offsetting 30,000 pounds of carbon. The bike share has been instrumental in providing local groups with bicycles for tours and sponsoring bike events like the local Tour de Bier that continues to build Kansas City’s bicycle culture. The success of the bike share system now has BikeWalkKC expanding the bike share network to the neighborhoods surrounding downtown Kansas City.
The expansion comes from BikeWalkKC’s early business plan, developed with their sponsor Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, two years ago to ensure that the bike share would be able to sustain itself. “B-cycle has chosen to expand now to make the most of a resurgent Kansas City.” says Sarah Shipley, “Bike share has played a big part in recent revitalization in Minneapolis, Chicago, and elsewhere, where it has filled in a gap in local transportation networks: Bike share is for those situations when we need something more convenient than driving and finding parking but faster than walking or taking the bus. B-cycle wants to ensure this benefit comes to neighborhoods, not just the big entertainment districts.” BikeWalkKC has already received federal funding for seven new bike share stations for the southern neighborhoods of Kansas City, one station sponsored by the local philanthropic Kauffman Foundation, and another station is being sponsored by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. These funded bike share stations will help provide much needed bike share stations to the growing neighborhoods south of downtown Kansas City, but BikeWalkKC decided not to stop here. BikeWalkKC had the audacious goal to launch the largest civic crowd-funding to date to bring even more stations to the surrounding neighborhoods of Kansas City.
This heat map shows the bicycle trips taken in Kansas City over the last two years.
For this ground-breaking campaign, BikeWalkKC turned to long-time friend and local tech start-up Neighbor.ly.Neighbor.ly was developed as a crowd-funding site specifically designed to help support civic projects and community initiatives. “Unlike most bike share systems around the world, Kansas City B-cycle is locally owned and operated. We would like to keep it that way. That’s why we’ve turned to the community to raise funds for our expansion.” Sarah Shipley noted on why B-cycle choose to launch a campaign on Neighbor.ly. The campaign will fund additional bike share stations for other neighborhoods such as Westside, the historic Brookside neighborhood to the south, and the historic Jazz District of 18th and Vine. If the campaign is successful, this will be the largest civic crowdfunded project to date and radically transform Kansas City’s public transportation infrastructure.
Each neighborhood has its own page under the master campaign. This is in part to a strategy BikeWalkKC has implemented since the beginning of the bike share operation. When the first 90 bicycles hit the streets, they were equipped with a GPS to track the bike’s movement and location through the city. While helping prevents thefts, its main intent was to track where the most demand for new stations would be in the future. Tracking a year’s worth of data revealed key nodes where people would often travel to that did not have bike share stations and those locations were integrated as a part of the campaign.
The individual pages for each location also allow for the various neighborhoods to develop their own campaigns within their communities to bring civic infrastructure to their location. “In this way, everyone has a little piece of the pie…When all of this is over, when we have our bike-share system, we’ll have worked for this as a community” says Sarah Shipley. It is this community aspect that BikeWalkKC takes great pride in and is reflected in the support the community has for its bike share.
You can check out the progress of the campaign on BikeWalkKC’s page on Neighbor.ly. With about a month left in the campaign, BikeWalkKC still has a way to go but the future looks bright.
by Kyle Rogler