Nice Ride Minnesota: Ambitious plans set for 2014 season

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 28, 2013 - 10:18 AM

Nice Ride Minnesota got off to an extremely slow start this spring due to the late-arriving warm weather, but 2013 turned out to be a banner year for the bike-sharing program thanks to the warm and dry summer and fall.

Daily membership (those who took out 24-hour subscriptions) grew by more than 13,500, and collectively users took more than 305,000 rides on those shiny green bikes, an 11 percent increase from last year. The service greatly expanded its presence by adding 228 bikes and opening 24 new stations in several Minneapolis parks and along the Mississippi River and on the Lake Street and Hiawatha corridors. It relocated its call center from Canada to Minneapolis to better connect with its users. In late August, it launched its new “Hidden Wonders in Minneapolis Parks,” a website featuring a wealth of lesser-known information and scenic spots in Minneapolis parks.

And on Aug. 3, the bike-share program recorded a single-day record when riders took 3,451 trips.

But Nice Ride, which shuts down for the season on Sunday, won’t be resting on its laurels, says spokesman Anthony Ongaro. It has some ambitious plans in the works. “We’re looking forward to 2014.”

For starters, Nice Ride plans to strengthen its urban core by adding more bikes and stations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Even with 170 places to check out and return bikes, there are gaps in the system, Ongaro said.

Riders use their membership card ($65 for the season) or buy a daily pass ($6) that allows them to check out a bike. Riders are allowed up to 30 minutes to complete their trip. In some places, stations are too far apart, which makes it hard for users to complete their trips in the allotted time. The plan is to add stations at “strategic locations to make the system easier to use,” and to urge people to use Nice Ride to commute downtown, Ongaro said. “We’ll be filling inward instead of outward.”

But not solely.

In its vision statement, Nice Ride says one of its goals is to increase access to bikes and create vibrant town centers in outstate Minnesota. Plans are rolling along to do that next summer in Bemidji, said spokesman Anthony Desnick. Nice Ride picked the northern Minnesota community of 13,400 because of its coffee shops, hotels, and access to regional trails.

“It met the litmus test of being a place where tourists could go for two or three days and not have to use a car to get around,” Desnick said. The hope is that locals then would see how feasible biking is and hop on.

Not all the pieces are in place yet, but Nice Ride is hoping to buy 200 bicycles fitted with lights and baskets and launch the pilot program in the spring. It also is looking at offering low-cost seasonal memberships to Bemidji residents so they can go “car light or car free,” and still have transportation for getting to work or going shopping, Desnick said.

Nice Ride also has its sights on bringing the popular bike-sharing program to the state’s third-largest city, Rochester. It is currently conducting a study to determine the feasibility.

No other cities are being considered at the moment, but Nice Ride does have other sites on its radar. Representatives have visited or will visit places such as Little Falls, Austin, Fergus Falls and St. Louis County in northern Minnesota. It also is talking about expanding into Bloomington and Richfield. □

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.

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