With the roaring success of Nice Ride’s ridership programs in the Twin Cities, suburban and outstate communities are now clamoring for bike-sharing programs of their own.
In Minneapolis and St. Paul, Nice Ride has quadrupled its first year ridership in just four years, reaching 408,485 trips in 2014. Thanks to an early spring, it is already off to a strong start this year, notching more than 40,000 rides in April, almost twice its previous record for the month.
Now Nice Ride Minnesota is trying to figure out how to reach would-be riders with a series of pilot projects in areas with fewer people and historically lower bike ridership.
There’s the orange bike program on the North Side and St. Paul’s East Side that lets riders earn credit toward their own bike. An effort to share bikes in Bemidji is entering its second year. And now doctors can refer people living in Bloomington and Coon Rapids to a program in which they commit to ride to increase their fitness.
Nice Ride’s biggest backer has been Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota, which administers tobacco lawsuit settlement money for exercise, healthy diet and tobacco prevention programs. It likes the Nice Ride Neighborhood program, which aims to boost ridership in neighborhoods where low incomes, safety worries and lack of a cycling culture discourage biking.
“We’re really trying to change that norm,” said Janelle Waldock, director of the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Peggy Moore recalls her first bike ride in years after she enrolled in the orange bike program. Riding five blocks seemed like a feat.
But by the time the Nice Ride Neighborhood seasonal program ended in October, the 55-year-old could ride for an hour easily and knew her city better. She’s now often riding the short commute to her job.
Moore is one of about 145 residents who participated in a pilot program last year on the North Side, plus St. Paul’s East Side and Frogtown. Another crop of 200 riders is just beginning the program, which lends bikes for the season, not just a ride at a time. Like Moore, they’ll earn $200 in credit toward a new bike if they meet program requirements.
Other programs are sprouting up and evolving.
A new Wheel Being program that also uses orange cycles to promote health is being launched this spring with selected patients referred by doctors at Allina clinics in Bloomington and Coon Rapids. Nice Ride is tweaking a modest bike-sharing program that is entering its second year in Bemidji, a community with political leadership that has spent money to enhance bike facilities.
Nice Ride has shown that bike ridership can fluctuate dramatically, even in the Twin Cities.
St. Paul lags considerably behind Minneapolis on trips per bike available. Even Minneapolis is uneven, with downtown, the University of Minnesota area and the Uptown area far outpacing other neighborhoods for intensity of use of the sturdy lime-green bikes.
Karen Bowman, another 2014 North Side orange biker, recalls hearing people call out, “Where you all get those bikes?” as her group rode by. “That color really, really attracts,” she said.
Group rides several times over the summer were part of the program, along with at least two rides weekly alone or with friends. Bowman organized rides among other residents of Heritage Park, her housing development. Attendees also had to attend an orientation and complete an evaluation.
Those who met all program requirements got a $200 credit toward a new bike at Venture North, the bike shop that also handled repairs.
One highlight of completing the program for Moore was picking out such features as the kind of seat, tires and handlebars she prefers.
“I’m telling everyone about the benefits of it,” said the community health worker. “I’m learning how the trails connect and how much fun it is.”
Instilling a sense of confidence through exploration of their community is a goal of the program, according to Anthony Taylor, who escorted all of last year’s group rides as a co-founder of Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota.
The club is a partner in the orange bike program, and is named after a black cyclist who raced professionally more than a century ago.
The program’s goal for fledgling cyclists was to help “them see themselves as a community of cyclists as opposed to ‘those people’ who bike,” Taylor said.
The program is also important to building a user base for Nice Ride’s bike-share bikes. Almost three-dozen bike-share stations in the Twin Cities are located specifically to encourage use among low-income and minority users.
In another upcoming effort aimed at expanding cycling participation, the Minneapolis Foundation and Nice Ride will host a one-day fundraising effort June 27. As part of the event, the foundation will donate $1 for every Nice Ride trip that day, with an eye toward breaking Nice Ride’s single-day record of 4,486 trips. The money will go to Free Bikes 4 Kidz, a nonprofit providing bikes to needy kids.