The Nice Ride Minnesota bike share program will get more than $200,000 in federal funds to expand deeper into north Minneapolis.
The service allows people to rent bikes by the hour or by the day, but the newest stations in north Minneapolis aren't getting a lot of use. And though many welcome the new service, some are wondering if it will catch on in that part of the city.
The money that will pay for Nice Ride Minnesota's northward expansion comes from federal stimulus dollars. The funds are targeted for programs that try to reduce obesity in low-income neighborhoods. Nice Ride Minnesota applied for the grant via the city's health department.
Nice Ride Minnesota Director Bill Dossett said the money should be enough to add five to six new bike stations in north Minneapolis.
"They're going to be giving us some funds both to buy additional stations, but also to do some research and some interventions so we get people in those neighborhoods using the bikes," Dossett said.
Dossett said so far the existing three bike rental sites in north Minneapolis aren't getting as much use as the others. He wouldn't provide numbers, but said they have some of the lowest use of all of the Nice Ride Minnesota stations. The stations are located near International Market Square, Summit Academy OIC on Olson Memorial Highway and along Plymouth Avenue near the new University of Minnesota urban research center.
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More than 60 bike rental stations are placed throughout the city. Dossett said stations that sit on the outer edge of the network -- like the north side locations -- don't generate as many rides as the more central stations do. The north side stations are also newer and haven't received a lot of attention.
But as Nice Ride Minnesota adds more stations on the north side, some say they will face challenges in attracting customers.
Dr. Paul Erickson is the medical director at NorthPoint Health and Wellness center, a health clinic that sits kitty corner from one of the north side Nice Ride Minnesota stations.
Erickson said the bikes can provide a much-needed exercise option. Health studies show that north side residents suffer disproportionately from diseases associated with obesity, like diabetes and heart disease. But Erickson said some of his patients won't ride the bikes because they don't have a credit card -- which is necessary to get a bike.
"One of my patients said 'Well, why don't they just make it part of your bus card?'" Erickson said. "A lot of people ride the bus and they pay a certain amount of money for a bus card every month. And if they could choose the bike or ride the bus, it's all the same cost."
Erickson said another way to make Nice Ride Minnesota more accessible is to include a discounted subscription in a person's health insurance plan. It could work like a health club membership and require that a person use the bikes a certain amount a month in order to get the discount.
But cost is just one potential barrier for increased bike use in north Minneapolis -- especially for African-American residents.
For the last 10 years, members of the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota have been encouraging more African-American residents to ride bikes. Louis Moore, president of the local chapter, said many African Americans are reluctant to ride for a couple different reasons. He remembers overhearing a conversation where an African-American woman talked about the stigma she attached to cycling.
"She thought that if she was riding her bicycle somewhere people would look upon her as maybe lower class and can't afford a car," he said.
Moore is a former aide to retired U.S. congressman Martin Sabo. Moore worked with the congressman as Sabo secured federal funding for much of the city's bicycle infrastructure, including the Midtown Greenway.
Moore said the most common excuse for not riding is that people are just too busy to use a bike for errands or for recreation. Others, especially those who live in or near some of the north side's sketchier neighborhoods, don't ride a bike because they fear for their safety. Still, Moore is hopeful that the presence of the shiny green bikes in north Minneapolis will encourage more people to get out and ride.
The expansion of Nice Ride Minnesota on the north side is welcome news for residents like Neeraj Mehta. Mehta was one of several advocates who met with Nice Ride Minnesota director Bill Dossett earlier this year to complain about the lack of bike stations in north Minneapolis.
"I don't think I've gotten on my bike this summer," said Mehta. "But for me it was the equity issue that really got me interested."
At the meeting, Dossett told the group Nice Ride Minnesota had plans to expand into north Minneapolis next year, during phase two. But Mehta and the advocates applied some good-natured arm-twisting and persuaded Dossett and Nice Ride Minnesota to move three racks into north Minneapolis this year.
Mehta said the outcome of the meeting was particularly gratifying because he'd recently heard a local elected official say, 'people in north Minneapolis don't get much, because they don't ask for much.'
"For me it was like, we're going to ask," says Mehta. "And we'll see what happens. We want this. North Minneapolis is going to ask for it and we did get it."
The sites for the new north side bike stations have not been selected yet. A community planning meeting is scheduled for Sept. 15. There, participants will discuss where to place the bikes, and talk about ways to break down barriers that keep some people from using the bikes right now.