Three Weeks In, Minneapolis' Bike Share Program Is a Real Nice Ride

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Image Credit: tsuacctnt via Flickr

To the growing list of major cities with bike share programs we now add Minneapolis. Recently named America's most bike-friendly city, Minneapolis joined the ranks of Paris, Montreal, Rio de Janeiro, Washington, D.C. and others earlier this month with the opening of Nice Ride Minnesota.

With 1,000 bikes in 60 kiosks around the city, Nice Ride is living up to its name. The sleek green bikes have a distinct look, and are tempting enough that as as resident of St. Paul, I had to cross the Mississippi and try one out. So I found the nearest kiosk, swiped my credit card, and selected a 24 hour subscription. I spent the next hour biking along the river and through Minneapolis, ending up on a beach at one of Minnesota's ten thousand lakes.

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Nice Ride's 60 kiosks are concentrated in the city's downtown. Image Credit: Nice Ride

Unfortunately, Nice Ride is designed for short trips around the city- not the leisurely afternoon I spent touring the city. The 24 subscription is only $5 ($30 gets you a month, $60 a year), and the first half-hour you have a bike is free, but after that the price goes up. After an hour, you're charged $3, and after 90 minutes, it's $6 more every half-hour. And because I rode five and a half miles away from the nearest Nice Ride kiosk and then spent an hour at the beach, I ended up paying nearly $20.

But my day, pleasant though it was, is not what Nice Ride executive director Bill Dossett has in mind. The 60 kiosks aren't spread around the entire city, but instead are concentrated in its busiest areas: downtown and Dinkytown, the University of Minnesota neighborhood. Dossett's vision is of Minnesotans using the bikes for a series of short trips throughout the day- from a morning class to a downtown cafe, for example.

The location of the bikes, though, has ruffled some feathers among those who feel left out. North Minneapolis is noticeably devoid of Nice Ride kiosks. Blue Cross is a leading sponsor of Nice Ride, and admirably supports the health benefits of biking over driving. But Twin Cities based Insight News is not satisfied:

f that is the case, Northside health advocates are asking, why not anchor the program in communities that have the greatest need, that have the highest rates of obesity and other health conditions created by inactivity and lack of access? Since Minneapolis is a founding partner in the Twin Cities Bike Share Project, contributing $350,000 in start-up funding, shouldn't 5th Ward, 8th Ward and 6th Ward, the wards with highest concentrations people of color, and the greatest health disparities, and the greatest transportation access challenges, benefit from expenditure of their tax dollars as well?

In defense of Nice Ride, the program is brand new, and has plans to spread through more of Minneapolis and even to St. Paul. The City of Lakes spans nearly 60 square miles, and it would take a long time and a lot more funding to install enough kiosks to serve the whole area. But the program has been popular so far, and if it continues to succeed, it's not crazy to imagine Nice Ride matching Paris' Velib system- which, as the largest in the world, features 20,000 bicycles and 1,639 stations, spaced 300 meters apart.

Minneapolis has more than earned its title as America's most bike-friendly city, and when it's comes to sustainable urban design, it sets an amazing example. Off to a a promising start, it seems that Nice Ride will only cement that reputation.

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