Shoreview’s cycleways are quite inviting; for residents, folks in neighboring communities, and those just passing through. They’re also inviting for the thousands of people who work in Shoreview, but most of these workers don’t have bikes at work to ride.
Shoreview recently took a step towards becoming one of the first suburbs, possibly in the nation, to change that.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining Ady Wickstrom, Shoreview City Council, Tony Desnick, Director of Greater Minnesota Strategies for Nice Ride MN, and Charlie Grill, Shoreview Public Works Coordinator, for a bicycle tour of Shoreview.
Nice Ride is sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, who recently put out a request to communities around the state seeking proposals for programs that can help communities improve the health of the folks who live and work in these communities. One overwhelming request from cities was for bike share systems like Minneapolis has.
And this is where Tony comes in. He joined Nice Ride this summer to fulfill that request. His job is to take bike share beyond Minneapolis and St Paul proper to other cities throughout Minnesota—from the suburbs and exurbs of the Twin Cities to Rochester, Bemidji, and beyond.
For good reason, people recently got excited over Minnesota having the lowest health insurance premiums in the nation. Contrary to some politicians bluster though, this has nothing to do with MNSure. It does have something to do with how effectively Minnesota healthcare providers deliver their services, how well some safety net programs have worked to keep people healthier and from becoming significant healthcare expenses, and, the overall health of our population.
Perhaps most important is the latter, the overall health of our population. We Minnesotan’s are a healthy lot, at least compared to folks in other U.S. states. This is largely our more active lifestyle and that we seem to eat healthier (note our abundance of local/organic eateries, hipster tomatoes, and farmers markets).
Compared to Europe and Asia however, we know that even Minnesotan’s still have a lot of room for improvement on the health front, particularly in the area of preventable diseases. Hypertension, stroke, joint problems, heart disease, alzheimer’s, and other ailments caused by obesity and lack of physical activity lead the way and are estimated to account for as much as 35% of our highest-in-the-world per capita healthcare costs.
Insurers are also feeling increasing pressure from people who already lead healthier lifestyles. These folks don’t want to continue paying higher and higher premiums to cover the higher healthcare costs of people who choose to lead less healthy lifestyles. As one insurer pointed out, “it doesn’t make sense for someone who drives very carefully and never has a crash to pay the same premium as someone who drives less carefully and has a crash every year. If you are higher risk; choose to smoke or be obese, you need to pay your fair share.”
And this is why insurers and employers have such a vested interest in our health.
Biometric screening questionnaires and the discounts offered for completing them have helped to make us more aware of the healthy and not so healthy choices we make. Many employers have also promoted healthy living initiatives and offered special programs for people with low biometric scores to help them improve their health. Now they’re going the next step and saying that if you want the lowest rates, you need to have actually done something about controllable risk factors such as low physical activity and being significantly overweight.
While a daily sweatfest at the gym might be good for you, moderate routine exercise is appearing to possibly be much better. Not only do people get the benefits of little bits of exercise spread throughout the day, increased metabolism, and reduction in sedentary periods, but while we are good at hitting the gym for a couple of weeks after our New Year’s resolutions, we’re not so good the other 11 months of the year.
Active transportation, walking and bicycling to many destinations instead of driving, is something we can do, enjoy doing, and will do, all year long (though I’m sure I’m not the only one who limits how far they’ll ride when it’s really nasty weather out … like below zero).
Employers across the country and Twin Cities are increasingly promoting active transportation as one of the best options for regaining our health.
Infrastructure Is Key
A critical element for the success of any kind of bike share program, according to Tony, is good infrastructure. There is no better proof of this than our own Not-So-Twin-Cities.
Bike share has been a huge success in Minneapolis where there are good facilities and more and better facilities being built. Across the river in St Paul it’s another story. St Paul has bicycle facilities, but not nearly enough and what they have is often missing the ‘good’ part. (The good news is that St Paul seems on the road to correcting this deficiency with their new Sustainable Transportation Engineer/Planner, Reuben Collins.)
The criticality of good and safe bicycling facilities has been echoed by bikeshare operators across the globe.
Nice Ride doesn’t want another St Paul experience and that was a key element behind our ride on Tuesday. Tony got to experience Shoreview’s bicycling infrastructure by the seat of his pants—quite literally.
A New Paradigm
Suburbs and outstate communities may require different programs and bikes than what has worked so well in more dense cities like Minneapolis and New York.
Nice Ride was a leader in the U.S. with bikeshare, though they were able to piggyback a bit on the experiences of cities like Montreal and Nice, France. These new endeavors may be a bit more groundbreaking. Fortunately, Nice Ride has the people, backing, and creativity to make it work. And with leaders like Ady and Charlie, Shoreview could become even more of a bicycling and health leader.
For Shoreview this could prove to be one more benefit in helping to attract and keep good employers and improve the health of the community, fiscally and physically.
So, NiceRide is coming, or isn’t coming, to Shoreview? I’m a little confused.
They’re exploring options. I think the only thing publicly announced so far is Bemidji.
You’ve definitely drunk the Kool-Aid of Nice Ride’s “Greater MN” program, Walker! Tony Desnick gave a presentation to the Richfield Transportation Commission, and I’m just not sure they’ve really come to appreciate the nuances of the suburbs.
An Edina city council member was quoted in the local paper, had pretty much the same reaction I did to this new program: Richfield (and Edina) are not “greater Minnesota”. The fact that we’re across the street from Minneapolis does not mean we should be treated the same as Bemidji.
And that’s both a positive and negative statement about the first ring suburbs: on the one hand, there are fewer recreational bike destinations compared to many small towns (e.g., Lanesboro). On the other, we’re also denser and extension of Minneapolis’s grid and transit network. It’s frustrating to seemingly only be considered for an outstate program that both depends on the resource we don’t have (exciting recreational destinations) and discards the resources: the density and character of the city.
The suburbs are, likely, somewhat different than the core cities. The point-to-point program that works so well in Mpls, may not work so well in Richfield or Shoreview where a ride it to Target and return it to the same kiosk may be a better approach (though integration with the core point-to-point system could be very beneficial if rebalancing issues can be avoided).
In the ‘burbs I don’t view this as recreational, but transportational. The lack of recreational paths is, in my opinion, irrelevant. A lack of safe (and often segregated) cycleways to local amenities on the other hand, is critical.
I guess what miffs me (and what presumably miffed Edina) is the idea that everything that is not Minneapolis or St. Paul should be treated the same, regardless of what’s actually there. Richfield has over 5000 people per square mile, while Shoreview has 2000. (Or Maple Grove has 1800.) Richfield is the densest major suburb overall, but the older portions of Edina are quite dense as well. Richfield has not just good transit service, but better transit density than most of South Minneapolis. (The only major east-west bus line south of Lake Street.) Richfield was recently named Minnesota’s only “bicycle-friendly suburb,” given the same BFC ranking as the City of St. Paul.
So I find it frustrating to be treated the same as a Maple Grove or — in a different-yet category — a Bemidji, when the realities of these communities doesn’t reflect that assumption. Transit density in particular means that one-way trips are very likely, and aren’t accounted for well by the “Greater Minnesota” plan that Nice Ride has suggested.
And I don’t mean to denigrate Maple Grove or Shoreview either. They too are a different category than Bemidji, or Minneapolis, or Richfield, having the rather unique feature of concentrating traffic on high-speed arterials. For those folks in particular, high-quality bike facilities on those arterials are critical, since there is no option of doing something like the Bryant Bikeway to Lyndale.
First, I am not an expert on Nice Ride or what they are doing nor do I in any way represent them. I agree with you that each community needs to be evaluated differently. Richfield or Edina may indeed have the ingredients for a point-to-point type system to work, or they may not. I don’t believe point-to-point would work as well as round-trip in Shoreview, though I could be wrong on that as well. My impression though, is that a round-trip system would be the best option for Shoreview and many other communities; suburban, exurban, and outstate.
That said, I’m not sure Nice Ride, or anyone, can effectively develop custom one-off’s for each city. That can be very expensive. They likely need a very limited number of programs, like two or three, and then need to choose the one that best fits each community. If folks in Edina or Richfield think that point-to-point is the best for them then I’d think they’d need to make a case for that to Nice Ride.
Whatever they do, I do think it’s important for them to work with Nice Ride rather than institute their own incompatible system.