Bublr embraces Milwaukee winters in the name of equity, accessibility

by April Corbin, PeopleForBikes equity writer

Some might call it a cold hard truth: If you want people to embrace your bike share as public transit, they must perceive it to be as available and reliable as established options.

That can be a tough sell for bike share systems that shut down for the winter.

Just ask the folks at Bublr in Milwaukee, where the average high temperature in January is 28 degrees Fahrenheit. After shutting down operations for its inaugural winter last year, operators couldn’t shake the feeling they weren’t living up to their mission of equity and accessibility.

“It bothered us,” says Bublr Executive Director Kevin Hardman. “Even though Milwaukee is a cold-weather city, it bothered us that the system wasn’t an option, that people who were relying on us one day couldn’t rely on us the next.”

That’s why the system has decided to reverse course and stay open year round. An official announcement was made earlier this month and has been positively received.

Hardman says Bublr will follow short and long-term weather forecasts and respond accordingly to whatever severe or emergency weather situations arise. He remains optimistic, noting that while last winter brought snow and ice to Milwaukee, the majority of days were still clear and bikeable. Operational staff will be looking to other cities, like Chicago, that keep their bike share systems open year-round despite cold weather.

“We want to build an effective, highly used public transportation system,” he says. “Starting from that vision, we’ve got to remain open. It’s not a choice. This will be a transportation choice for people as many days as possible.”

Bublr has already begun sharing cold-weather riding tips through its website, social media and email newsletters, and staff hopes to encourage new riders with challenges or other hands-on approaches.

“Our job is to continue helping people take that choice,” says Hardman. “People will say, It’s 20 degrees out, I can’t ride a bike. But an eight-block bike ride is better than walking eight blocks.”

The Better Bike Share Partnership is a JPB Foundation-funded collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and thePeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Story tip? Write april@peopleforbikes.org