Minneapolis, which recently topped Bicycling magazine's list of the 50 most bike-friendly cities in America, is launching the largest bike sharing program in the nation today. It's called Nice Ride Minnesota
. You might have noticed some of the nonprofit organization's 60 kiosks and 1,000 rental bikes sprouting up in high-traffic locations near your neighborhood coffee joint, your downtown office, your favorite restaurant, or your dorm room.
The idea? Walk to a Nice Ride station (they function 24 hours-a-day), check out a bike, and pedal to the Nice Ride station nearest your destination. When you roll your tire over the locking device, the bike is no longer your problem. Maybe you catch a ride home with a friend, or take the bus, or decide to check out another Nice Ride later. But the program, which plans on expanding to St. Paul in the future, expands the transportation options of Twin Cities in an innovative, eco-friendly direction.
Part of the excitement of the program is that it doesn't have the fragile feel of an underfunded nonprofit. Mayor R.T. Rybak's office and the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation collaborated with Blue Cross and Blue Shield to develop Nice Ride, and they were able to get co-sponsorship from many established Minneapolis businesses, as well as substantial money from the Federal Highway Administration. What does that mean for users? Hopefully, there will be a Nice Ride where you are, a Nice Ride station where you go.
"These programs work when there are enough bikes available at enough kiosks that people can rely on one being available," Bicycling magazine editor-in-chief Loren Mooney tells LiveGreenTwinCities. "If there are enough bikes, then both people who don’t own bikes and people who do will come to see the bike share system as simply another transportation option, like taking the bus or a taxi or driving, or riding your own bike."
The Nice Ride website includes an interactive map
that tells users how many bikes and bike docks are available at each station. The stations themselves are positioned for maximum utility, clustered mostly in downtown, and scattered throughout the University of Minnesota campus, Uptown, and Northeast.
The costs to the average user are minimal, although the billing rates are set to encourage riders to return their bikes after 30 minutes. The Nice Ride season is April through November, and a one-year membership, available online, costs $60. A month-long membership is $30, or by swiping your credit card at the pay station, you can buy a 24-hour membership for $5.
Then the incentive system comes into play. Bikes returned within 30 minutes don't generate any additional fees, and new bikes can be continuously checked out for the duration of the membership period without racking up any more fees, as long as they are also returned in 30 minutes. But keep a bike for up to 60 minutes, and you have to pay a "trip fee" of $1.50. Keep a bike for 90 minutes, and the cost is $4.50. Then the "trip fees" climb to about $12.00 an hour, for you have become a bike non-sharer.
Bike sharing programs have become a part of city life in places like Paris, Copenhaugen, Barcelona, and Montreal. In Minneapolis, we have fewer tourist attractions and more lifers who love the Midtown Greenway and have their own wheels. But Mooney has seen bike sharing used by everyone. "Even if you have a bike, you might choose the Nice Ride bike for simple convenience—like a mid-day meeting across town—or just for fun, like a 20 minute spin if you have some spare time."
And for those who normally rely on cars, pedaling is not only great exercise, but it cuts down on pollution. "Paris, after rolling out its program in 2007, reported a five percent drop in auto traffic and 250,000 subscribers to the program," reports Mooney. "The average American drives 29 miles per day. If that person would ride just 29 miles per week (or an average of 4 miles per day) he or she would burn about 19 pounds worth of calories in a year, and reduce auto emissions by 1,248 pounds. You can imagine the positive impact 1,000 bikes used daily might have—on health, on the environment, on traffic congestion."
Slimmer Minnesotans, calmer streets, more breathable air, and a tight-as-death grip on the Number One position as America's most bike-friendly city--those are some killer results from a really Nice Ride. Photo by Joshua Foss, owner of Thrive Design Studio.