The Great Bike Hope is coming...
Minneapolis will launch the first large-scale bicycle sharing system in the country next year, designed to improve public health and increase transportation options.
Nice Ride Minnesota, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, will place 1,000 bikes in 80 locked self-service kiosks throughout the city, starting in May 2010. One of the kiosks is on display at the Minnesota State Fair.
The non-profit modeled the program on similar initiatives in Paris, Montreal, and Barcelona. Some American cities have experimented with smaller-scale programs, including Washington D.C. and Tucson, Ariz.
Some perspective on "The Great Bike Hope."
The city's proposed bike-share program grew from the yellow-bike systems of the '80s and '90s and, more recently, the Paris Velib program in France. But designers of the local program only took what worked and left out what didn't. For example, while Paris installed the kiosks directly into their streets, the Minneapolis kiosks are movable and can be repositioned as needed. That keeps costs down and operations running when the inevitable construction project comes along.
Detractors of the program cite theft and vandalism as their top concerns, and for good reason: This is what destroyed the yellow bikes. In Paris, the Velib program, after a miraculous start, has seen almost half its bike fleet damaged or stolen.
But here is where numbers, business models, and direct comparisons break down. Minneapolis is no Paris. "A better comparison is the French city of Lyon," says Dossett. "This city only saw 153 bikes stolen in their first year, 5 percent of their fleet. We're prepared for a 10 percent theft rate. When you compare crime rates, we're more like Lyon than Paris."
Minneapolis also plans to use a beefed-up bike that is more resistant to abuse. Time magazine listed the bikes and kiosks as the 19th best invention of 2008, just behind the New Mars Rover.
And they look fly when pedaled in dress pants. Which is the point. These bikes are for folks who don't normally ride. They're built with business suits in mind, and the hope is to change the bicycling culture of the city.
"We want bicycling to be a mainstream activity," says Nick Mason, the point man for Dero Bike Rack Company. "It's a question of how you take it to the next level. You can spend hundreds of millions on infrastructure, which is important, but nothing has the potential to shift mode share as quickly as a successful bike sharing program."
Think of it as Field of Dreams in reverse: If they come, you'll have the support to build it.
*photo courtesy of Dero