Community notebook :: Bike-sharing program launches

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June 21, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott and Brent Renneke
Gregory J. Scott and Brent Renneke

Bike-sharing program launches with high expectations

It was a light drizzle and a chorus of trilling bike bells for the June 10 launch of Nice Ride Minnesota, the city’s brand new bike-sharing program, which allows users to rent public bikes for short jaunts through town.

By the end of the day, the program’s 65 kiosks were activated, stocked with 700 bikes and ready for use. Nice Ride is currently the largest bike-sharing program in the nation. It will grow to 1,000 bikes in 75 kiosks by the end of summer.   

Just before noon, more than 100 cyclists gathered at the Central Library for a free test drive of the beefy, bright green bikes, which had arrived in late May from a manufacturer in Montreal.

Nice Ride uses Montreal’s BIXI system of bikes and kiosks, widely regarded to be the best bike-sharing technology in the world. After signing a waiver and donning a helmet, riders each grabbed a bike and got into position on Nicollet Mall.

After a few brief remarks from Nice Ride executive director Bill Dossett — mostly urging participants to observe traffic laws, especially stopping at red lights — riders clicked their grip shifts into third gear and commenced a slow, rolling parade down Nicollet Mall.

Thumbs quickly found the bike bells on the left handlebars. The parade soon had a soundtrack of sporadic, cheerful rings, eliciting bemused smiles from the farmers’ market stalls lining the boulevard.

As riders coasted toward Peavey Plaza, many oohed and ahhed over the bikes’ features, commenting on the well-padded seats and the friction free hubs. One said it was the smoothest ride he’d had in months.

But such comments revealed a nagging demographic problem, one that may become an issue for Nice Ride down the road — these were people who knew bikes, who owned bikes and who, for the most part, already relied on their two-wheelers for their daily commutes. Why would they pay for a public bike when they’re already using their own?

Matt, a Downtown worker who commutes on his bike “three or four times a week” from his home in St. Paul, said he loved the idea of bike-sharing.

“The more bikes we have on the street, the better and safer it is for me as a cyclist,” he said.

But when asked if he would sign up for a subscription, he balked. “I’ll probably wait to sign-up,” he said. “I want to see how it goes. It might not be super practical for me.”

But he added, “I don’t think I’m in the target market for this.”

Enthusiasm amongst the cycling community for Nice Ride is high. But the need is not. To be successful, Nice Ride will have to convince the cycling-reluctant, as well.  

Dossett noted this conundrum. “The challenge of bike share is the people that are the most evangelical about what you’re doing are not your target market,” he said. “My target market is not hardcore bike commuters.”

Of course, given that the June 10 parade was an insider biking event, based on personal invitations, the demographic was skewed. But the issue is still something that Nice Ride will be paying close attention to.

“Any time you launch something that’s never been done before, you do your market research, and you hope you’re right,” Dossett continued.  “It’s still a wait-and-see. We expect there to be a period where you got the true believers and then an education period for everyone else to figure it out.”

Dossett later reported that, four days after the launch, Nice Ride Minnesota had sold around 250–280 one-year subscriptions. He said that he would have “loved to see more.” The bulk of the use has so far been in the form of $5, 24-hour subscriptions.

Jennifer Munt, president of Transit for Livable Communities, pointed to herself as the model user. At a ribbon cutting ceremony at Peavey Plaza, she said, “Today, this lady who hasn’t got on a bike in 10 years just rode nine blocks.”

There was a lot of back-patting over Minneapolis’ recent besting of rival Portland in Bicycling Magazine’s ranking of best cities for cycling.

“In Minneapolis, Portland is just a street,” said Mayor R. T. Rybak, still donning his bike helmet. “They’ll never be number one again.”

Rybak said that, in recent years, questions about a possible bike-sharing system in Minneapolis had been “the e-mails sent to me the most.”

Now that it’s here, he said it’s up to residents to take advantage: “Let’s use this thing.”

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An Aquatennial warm-up planned for Loring Park

Families arriving early near Loring Park to get a prime spot for the 2010 Minneapolis Aquatennial’s Torchlight Parade will no longer have to stare at an empty Hennepin Avenue until the parade’s 8:30 p.m. kickoff.

This year families will have the option to make the short walk to Loring Park’s first ever Aquatennial Pre-Parade Party at Loring Park, which will run from 4–7:30 p.m. on July 21.

“We want some people to stay and hold their seats while the rest come down to the park,” Jana Metge, member of the Citizens for a Loring Park Community (CLPC), which is co-organizing the event, said.

John Novak, planner of the event and a member of the CLPC, said the event has a focus on fun for the family with carnival games, pony rides, face painting, balloon animals and inflatable bouncers occupying the Loring Park lawn.  

Fun for the kids will begin early in the Pre-Parade Party with children’s musicians Teddy Bear Band performing around 4:30 p.m., according to Novak, who said the band encourages children to bring their own teddy bears to the event.

Novak said planning for the event started only three months ago, and credit for the Pre-Parade Party coming together quickly is due to a number of local sponsors.  

“A lot have really stepped up and said they really want to be apart of this,” Novak said.

Aquatennial Pre-Parade Party at Loring Park is Loring Park’s first event associated with the Aquatennial and was organized by both the CLPC and Minneapolis Parks and Recreation.  

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Downtown YWCA a top-10 site nationwide for early childhood education

The Downtown YWCA, 1130 Nicollet Mall, has been singled out by the country’s largest professional organization of early childhood professionals as one of the best sites for young kids and parents.

On June 9, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) presented the Y with an Engaging Diverse Families honor. The Downtown facility was one of only 10 sites nationwide to receive such recognition.

The NAEYC is a member organization populated by 90,000 classroom teachers, education professors, day care providers and other professionals working in the field of early childhood development.

“Family engagement was key” in evaluating sites, said Maril Olson, an NAEYC director. “What we were really looking for was if the site gets parents involved in real, meaningful ways.”

Olson commented that the Downtown YWCA impressed especially by getting parents involved at the policy-making level, including them in letter-writing campaigns and other political lobbying initiatives.