Lessons from America's surprising No. 1 bike town
How did snowy Minneapolis beat out Portland, Ore., for the title of best bike city in America? This year, Minneapolis is adding 57 new miles of bikeways to the 127 miles already built, and an additional 183 miles are planned over the next 20 years.
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But when the lime-green bikes were put away for the winter in November 2010, those questions had all been answered. Only one bike was stolen, only one accident reported, no major injuries suffered, and less than $5,000 in damage from vandalism, far lower than the organization’s projections.Skip to next paragraph
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More than 100,000 rides were taken from June to November last year, and Nice Ride operated in the black. This year the system added 500 more bikes and 51 more stations, expanding outward from the center of Minneapolis and moving into St. Paul. From April to September, Nice Ride had logged 172,000 rides.
Amy Duncan had not been on a bike since the 1970s but joined Nice Ride to do errands downtown. “I learned to ride a bike again, and 100 percent of my success belongs to Ride,” she said.
The bikes themselves feature adjustable seats, lights, and a rack for carrying a briefcase or shopping bag. The system is particularly popular with out-of-town tourists, downtown office workers, university students, and residents of apartment buildings and condos.
Many local users may actually own bikes, but find Nice Ride easy to use in certain circumstances, such as when they take transit downtown or to the university. Every Nice Ride bike you see likely represents one less car on the road.
Learning from Minneapolis
Even people who haven’t ridden a bike in years cheered when Minneapolis was named America’s No. 1 biking city – biking has now become part of our positive self-image.
It’s a model other cities are excited to emulate – starting with Pittsburgh and Columbus, whose leaders and planners were inspired by their tour of Minneapolis’ biking innovations.
“You see right away how bikes are accepted as a mode of transportation,” said Alan McKnight, the director of recreation and parks for Columbus, Ohio, as the tour came to a close. Yarone Zober, chief of staff to the mayor of Pittsburgh, was excited to find that “the bike facilities here are not all big, expensive infrastructure.”
“Places famous for biking, like Copenhagen and even Portland, feel very far away,” remarked Jeff Stephens, director of the Columbus advocacy organization Consider Biking, who came to Minneapolis looking for ideas he could apply back home. “It was exciting to see what they’ve accomplished in Minneapolis, which is a city that seems a lot like Columbus.
“Our mayor has said that he wants Columbus to become a ‘bike town’,” Stephens added, “and seeing what’s been done here gives us a clearer sense of what that means.”
• Jay Walljasper is author of the forthcoming book All That We Share, is a contributing editor to National Geographic Traveler, editor of OnTheCommons.org, a senior fellow of the Project for Public Spaces, and a contributor to Shareable.net, where this article originally appeared.
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