Bike share is hardly a new or novel concept these days. From Paris to Montreal to Mexico City to Washington, DC, bike share programs are popping up all over the world in an attempt to provide healthy options to those seeking a different way to get around.
Here in Minnesota, we’ve been fortunate to have one of the more well-respected, unique and successful bike share program right under our noses: Nice Ride. For the last two years, Nice Ride (and the many organizations who have sponsored Nice Ride, including Bike Walk Twin Cities and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota) have provided a new means of transportation for hundreds of thousands of Twin Cities residents—from North Minneapolis to St. Paul. Nice Ride has changed the way people get to work. It has changed the way people think about bicycling. And, it’s even changed the way tourists think about getting around town.
And, they’re not even close to done yet.
So, we thought we’d sit down with Ellen Apel, marketing manager at Nice Ride and see what exciting things Nice Ride has in store for 2012 and how and why the bike share program has had such an impact on the Twin Cities.
You had an incredible year in 2011—more than 217,000 rides and more than 3,500 one-year subscriptions. What will be Nice Ride’s primary focus and goals heading into the 2012 bicycling season?
Nice Ride wants to get more people on more bikes taking more rides to great places in the Twin Cities! We have a busy event schedule that will encourage ridership, and we will also reach a broader audience with expansion into downtown St. Paul and focus on under-served communities.
We are excited that this summer we can include downtown St. Paul in the Nice Ride community. With help from a great network of funders including State of Minnesota, Central Corridor Funders Collaborative and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, we plan to add 25+ stations to downtown St. Paul.
Additional funding has also been received from the National Park Service to place stations in the Mississippi River Area. The placement of these stations will take place in 2012-2013, with stations in 2012 placed in downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis. In 2013, these stations will stretch from Webber Park in North Minneapolis, south to Fort Snelling and eastward past downtown St. Paul.
With sponsorship support from Target, we are also focusing more effort on outreach to under-served communities with our Nice Rides with Your Neighborhood program (here’s a list from last year’s program). In partnership with non-profit organizations, we hope to provide education and hands-on experience to under-served communities in the Nice Ride area. We also plan to give away 600 one-year memberships in these communities.
You’ve mentioned that Nice Ride will be expanding into downtown St. Paul in 2012. Can you talk a little about why you made the decision to station bikes downtown St. Paul? And, based on your experience in Minneapolis, who do you think might use the downtown Saint Paul bikes the most? People going to lunch? Capitol staffers headed downtown for meetings?
Similar to downtown Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul has a thriving business district, exceptional places to visit, and areas of high-density residential housing. Combine these components and you have a great place for bike share. Bike share is a great option for commuters who travel short distances, enjoy active lunch breaks and those who travel within downtown to business meetings and conferences. There will be several stations at Capitol locations, downtown proper, Lowertown and along the river to provide a convenient grid for getting around downtown St. Paul.
You’ve also said you’re planning to add stations along the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. Which exact locations are you targeting—and how did you land on those spots?
In conjunction with the National Park Service (NPS), Nice Ride determined station locations using criteria used in previous planning. Taking into account areas that have the most traffic and use along with determining popular destinations, Nice Ride targeted placement of stations in Northeast Minneapolis at Broadway, North Loop Minneapolis near the Cedar Lake Trail, and at the Stone Arch Bridge and Gold Medal Park in Minneapolis. NPS will also provide the bulk of funding for stations along the Mississippi in St. Paul.
Now that you’re a few years in, what are the most popular routes you’re seeing Nice Ride subscribers using on a regular basis? And, based on those routes, what destinations do you believe riders are traveling to on the Nice Ride bicycles?
The IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis continues to be the Nice Ride station with the highest usage. We interpret that most of these riders are commuting for work, coming from neighborhoods throughout Minneapolis. The most popular route in the system was on the University of Minnesota campus between Kolthoff Hall and the Social Sciences building, a route traveling across the Washington Ave Biking and Pedestrian Bridge. After placement of a station near Lake Calhoun, we saw a great upswing in riders at that station. Downtown Minneapolis riders also report traveling to St. Anthony Main frequently. While most of our one-year subscribers report they use the system for commuting, we also experienced about 40,000 24-hour subscribers that seemingly use the system to get to places like the Convention Center, Walker Art Museum, and the chain of lakes.
Historically, Nice Ride has seen a higher percentage of women riders than the overall cyclist mix in the Twin Cities (which tends to skew toward more men cyclists). Why do you think that is?
Women are smarter? Nice Ride Minnesota bikes are very rugged and sturdy and along with the “no maintenance, easy to use” perks, provide stability when riding city streets and great lights when riding after dark. As Nice Ride becomes a consistent fixture in the Twin Cities landscape, perhaps women feel more familiar and comfortable using the system without having to worry about carrying a lock and the ability to utilize Nice Ride as a one-way transportation option.
What patterns do you see in terms of usage during key times of the day (morning/evening commutes, lunch time, weekend afternoons)? And, what does that say about how people are using the Nice Rice bicycles?
The Nice Ride Street Crew works to re-balance bikes and maintain the system from 6 a.m. – 1 a.m. every day. Rush hour, morning and evening, are always busy times for this crew as commuters travel to and from work, but it’s tricky to try and predict other times when the system will blow up. Glorious summer days around the lakes are always busy, and bike sharing to special events (U2 at TCF Bank Stadium!) are very popular too. Somewhat dependent on weather, rainy, cold days often cause a drop off of usage.
Before Nice Ride began, naysayers thought that Nice Ride bicycles would be quickly stolen. The reality has been far, far different. What number of Nice Ride bicycles have been lost or stolen in the last two years? Why do people treat the bicycles so well, in your opinion?
We are grateful to the Twin Cities that they have shown such respect for the Nice Ride system. In 2010, two bikes were reported “lost”, however both bikes were recovered in 2011. 2011 saw no “lost” bikes. The security and conditions of use are great deterrents towards theft. And because of the unique design and look of the bike, resale opportunities are limited.
Last question: How do you think Nice Ride has impacted the overall bicycle culture here in Minneapolis and St. Paul? Do you think it’s had a lasting impact on people who might not have been cycling as much a few years ago?
Frequently we receive stories telling us of people using Nice Ride after a biking hiatus since childhood. We’ve received stories of people engaged with immigrant populations who use the system to teach communities to ride who have never been on a bike. We’ve received stories from people who have had one too many bikes stolen that now exclusively use the Nice Ride system. Many stories from out-of-town visitors praise Nice Ride and include wishes for the same kind of system in their hometown. Even stories from people who own multiple bikes sing Nice Ride praises for being available in a pinch and handy if their own bike happens to go in the shop.
All these stories tell us that Nice Ride makes biking more accessible to residents and visitors of the Twin Cities. We feel confident that Nice Ride has contributed to the Twin Cities’ nationally recognized bike-friendly status and are proud to be part of the effort to make biking and bike share more visible in the United States. We are also proud to be unique among other bike-shares and have a substantial presence in under-served communities. We are working to bring a healthy, active, fun transportation option to all communities and are happy to be represented throughout the Twin Cities.