Nice Ride Minnesota, the popular bike sharing program, is pedaling into new ­territory this summer, bringing its shiny green bicycles to Minneapolis parks and beefing up its presence along light-rail ­corridors.

The lingering piles of snow and ice have slowed deployment of Nice Ride's fleet of two-wheelers, but stations where riders can rent bicycles started appearing last week in downtown Minneapolis, Uptown and the University of Minnesota. By mid-May, all 1,500 ­bicycles will be in service, as will the 24 new stations being added to the urban network for the 2013 ­season, said Nice Ride executive director Bill Dossett.

Nice Ride is using more than $630,000 provided by the National Park Service to add stations at such popular recreation destinations as Lake Harriet, Lake Nokomis, ­Minnehaha Falls, Boom Island, Fort Snelling and Webber Park. Hennepin County is kicking in $90,000 to bring bikes to Hiawatha Avenue and Lake Street. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, the ­program's title sponsor since its inception three years ago, is contributing $360,000. A few stations will be added along University ­Avenue in St. Paul.

"Lots of people who bike downtown or in Uptown also want to bike to the parks," said Dossett. Tourists do, too, he said, noting that the lone station at a park (Lake Calhoun) is one of the network's most used.

Started as a radical concept in 2010, bike sharing quickly entered the American mainstream. ­Minneapolis along with Denver and Washington, D.C., were the first U.S. cities to pioneer programs in which riders pay a ­seasonal or daily fee to rent a bike for short trips. This year, Washington is expanding its booming Capital Bikeshare program, and such cities as Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Portland, Ore., Aspen, Colo., and Columbus, Ohio, are expanding or launching service.

Locally, Nice Ride has seen usage climb from 100,000 rides taken in 2010 to more than 275,000 last year. Leisure riders and tourists accounted for a large portion of Nice Ride's business, but even professionals dressed in suits and skirts hopped on.

"A basic goal of Nice Ride is that it introduced cycling as transportation as mainstream," said Dossett. "You didn't used to think of using a bike to go to a meeting. If you have a meeting a mile away, I can guarantee, you can get there faster on a bike than you can if you have to get your car out of a garage and put it in another [garage]. It's great for one thing and that is short trips."

Riders can pay $6 for a daily pass, which allows unlimited rides within a 24-hour period, or $65 for a season pass. Bicycles can be checked out for 30-minute rides, or longer for an extra fee. But 98 percent of riders only go 2 to 3 miles per trip, which usually takes less than the allotted 30 minutes per trip, Dossett said.

Nice Ride has 3,500 season pass holders. Last year it also sold 54,000 daily memberships to cover most of the $1 million annual operating costs. Corporate sponsors and local businesses covered the rest.

The new stations bring the network's total to 170. But even as Nice Ride grows, don't look for stations to pop up in the suburbs.

"We want the broadest participation we can get," Dossett said. But "we know the people who use the system most are those who spend time downtown."

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