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Nice Ride, Minnesota

June 08, 2010 By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow
Minneapolis, already rated the nation's most bicycle-friendly city, this week will roll out the biggest bike-sharing program in the country, with 700 sturdy two-wheelers available for hire at 65 locations from the University of Minnesota campus to downtown to Uptown.

Nice Ride Minnesota hopes to emulate the success of dozens of similar efforts in western Europe and eastern Asia. Although the large local contingent of hardy year-round bicycle commuters isn't a target market, there's a strong potential to build awareness and enjoyment among car-bound Minnesotans of the convenience, economy and health benefits of pedal power.

"With the growing culture of active living around here, we're hitting it at exactly the right time," said Bill Dossett, Nice Ride's executive director.

Beginning Thursday, June 10, through November, you can try it out yourself for as little as a $5 subscription good for as many free trips of up to a half-hour as you can squeeze into one day. The yearly rate of $60 ($50 for students) includes up to $500 in local store and restaurant coupons. A one-month pass costs $30. You can sign up online at
State-of-the-art bicycle programs like this emphasize the utility of bikes as complements to autos and transit for exploring urban neighborhoods that are dense with commerce and culture but sometimes short on parking. With computerized, solar-powered locking stations at popular destinations generally no more than three blocks apart, short trips should be the norm.

Nice Ride's price structure will encourage that as well. After the free first half-hour, the second one on the same bike costs $1.50 and the next one $3. After 90 minutes, each extra half-hour runs $6. If you're planning a long ride, though, you can avoid trip fees by parking your bike at a station within 30 minutes and immediately checking out another one.

Keep a bike for more than 24 hours, however, and you could be hit for a replacement fee of nearly $1,000. "We'll call you first," Dossett said. Nice Ride will keep track of its rolling stock and accounts payable via membership or credit card records of users.

Other U.S. cities are already ordering more of Nice Ride's two-wheelers, built by the Montreal Public Bike System Co. with rugged step-through frames, always-on lights, full fenders and cargo carriers. Some are emulating Nice Ride's nonprofit public-private business model, launched with $2.1 million in federal and city grants plus $1.2 million from 18 private entities led by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and Target Corp. In-kind contributions of station space and business services also have rolled in.

The bikes can carry riders up to 265 pounds plus 18 pounds of cargo. You must be 16 or older to get on Nice Ride (parents or legal guardians have to buy subscriptions for those under 18). Novice bicyclists can get free safe-riding classes at four Nice Ride locations in June and July. (details on their website)

Speaking of safety, Nice Ride won't force you to wear a helmet. But subscribers can get a 20 percent discount on Trek brain buckets at Freewheel Bike's West Bank and Midtown Exchange stores. Freewheel assembled the bikes and will handle their maintenance.

Thursday's opening festivities will kick off with an inaugural ride by dignitaries down Nicollet Mall, recently reopened to bicycles. Meanwhile, Minneapolis is adding 40 miles of bikeways this year to the 123 miles already in place. Depending on the public response and continued fundraising, Nice Ride hopes to put out 300 more bikes and 10 additional stations this year in the Minneapolis Phase I project. Expansion to St. Paul and other busy areas is also envisioned.

This is a bold, well-organized step toward a fuller range of transportation options for the 21st century. Nice Ride hopes to attract 14,500 annual subscribers and 50,000 one-day users this year, potentially averting 3.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. With a strong bicycling culture already on the ground in Minnesota and many thriving bike-sharing models in cities around the globe, it would be a big surprise if Nice Ride was anything but a huge success here, too.

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