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Council approves PedalPub by 4-2 vote

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A PedalPub tour makes its way through northeast Minneapolis, visiting various bars. The PedalPub is a 16-person bar on wheels. Customers pedal the vehicle, often to go from bar to bar.
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Two 4-2 votes by the city council on Monday provided the approvals needed by a PedalPub franchise to operate in downtown Rochester this summer.

The approvals were for a pedal car transportation franchise ordinance and the actual franchise for the Minneapolis-based business PedalPub LLC.

But, as the voting results imply, not everybody is feeling positive about the business. PedalPub operates 16-person, pedal-powered vehicles, which groups rent for two-hour outings.

The name of the business implies drinking alcohol, and people are allowed to bring beer, wine, hard cider and food to consume on the bikes, but the business provides no beverages or food of any kind.

During the council's public hearing Monday about granting PedalPub the ability to operate in Rochester, several people spoke against it because of concerns about safety and the image it would promote downtown.

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University of Rochester Chancellor Stephen Lehmkuhle told the council that the PedalPub will model irresponsible drinking behavior for UMR students who live and go to school downtown.

"A big challenge for educators is to mitigate high-risk drinking behaviors," Lehmkuhle said, adding the best way for students to learn responsible drinking is for them to witness it. He said he thinks the summertime Thursdays on First & Third events provide examples of responsible drinking.

However, "is a vehicle with people drinking, maneuvering through traffic, showing a responsible way of using alcohol?" the chancellor asked the council.

Also concerned was council member Sandra Means, who suggested the council amend the ordinance to prohibit the use of alcoholic beverages on the PedalPub. But her motion failed 1-5.

Other people speaking against the business Monday were opposed to the kind of the image they believe it will promote downtown, especially near Mayo Clinic buildings.

Rochester resident Barry Skolnick told the council that, because alcohol is a critical public-health issue, he is concerned about the kind of impression the PedalPub will make to Mayo patients who are in town for serious medical reasons.

Exactly where downtown the vehicle will travel was another issue discussed during the public hearing, and the one that most troubled council member Mark Bilderback.

He said he's not concerned about people consuming alcohol while on the bikes, which are controlled by a PedalPub "pilot" and travel at an average speed of 5 mph. However, he is concerned about traffic safety and keeping the bikes away from the Mayo campus, he said.

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"As much as I like to see people having fun, there's some things with this that are not hammered out as much as I'd like to see," Bilderback said. He suggested the council specify routes or at least include in the ordinance which streets the PedalPub would have to avoid.

But the council was more inclined to deal with the route issue later. The ordinance will come back for a second hearing, likely at the council's April 15 meeting.

Incidentally, Bilderback and Means voted no for both the ordinance and PedalPub's franchise approval.

Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede said he has seen PedalPubs in downtown Minneapolis, and that traffic seems to move around them without any problem and "everyone seems to be having a good time."

However, Skolnick said both Minneapolis and St. Paul have had to deal with complaints about the PedalPubs, primarily involving noise and routes.

Krista Bertelson, the company's Rochester representative, tried to reassure the council and the public by touting the company's record. In its seven-year history, including more than 100,000 rentals in 28 cities throughout the nation, there have been no accidents, no injuries and no PedalPub insurance claims, she said.

She said PedalPubs are rented out for wedding parties, church outings and other non-alcohol-centered events. Sometimes, they are rented for bar or restaurant hopping, but the two-hour rental period coupled with a very slow-moving vehicle doesn't allow a lot of time for people to get very intoxicated, she said.

She said the company has completed signed agreements with the downtown bars and restaurants the PedalPub will visit during rentals.

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"It's a fun thing," Bertelson said. "You'll see us in parades, and people having fun. It's a fantastic business model, and it's proven."

The Minnesota PedalPub business operates in the Twin Cities, Chicago and St. Petersburg, Fla. It rents out the bikes in the Twin Cities for $385 for two hours on Fridays and Saturdays, and $325 for two hours Sunday through Thursday.

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