Nicollet Bike Party

Transit + Bike Share = Freedom

All of a sudden: bikes everywhere. Bikes on bikes on bikes. Bikes on the beaches, bikes on the landing grounds, bikes in the fields and in the streets, bikes in the hills.

And, it has been a beautiful couple of months after a cold Minnesota winter, so of course as a team we are all trying to get our outdoors time in before it gets hot. But I’ve noticed a very clear trend in Minneapolis–there are far more people walking and biking than there were just a couple years ago. Nicollet Mall has groups of people walking around on random Sundays, without a sporting event or concert. People are outside, taking back the streets, biking around town, walking to the grocery store, Nice Riding home from work, busing to Twins games. Everything is going according to plan! It is beautiful.

Personally, while I biked a lot in high school (probably to rebel, see bottom of front page) I haven’t considered myself a huge cyclist since arriving at the University of Minnesota in 2008–I generally prefer walking and am a pretty avid transit user. But in 2013, I signed up for Nice Ride, and have used it extensively since. It’s a really great way to fill gaps in transit service and extend walksheds. Especially living right in the center of Minneapolis, Metro Transit and Nice Ride work together really well for me.

One Nerd’s Story

Thinking it would be fun to make a graph (I am not fun) I shot off emails to Metro Transit and Nice Ride to get a record of my transit and bike share trips for the time period I’ve had my current accounts with them.

Both have some data available on their websites–if you have a Metropass or Go-To card, you can check the past 60 days of usage here, and Nice Ride lists your whole trip history in your account, though their format is not great for putting it in a chart. Both organizations got back to me quickly with large Excel spreadsheets.

From July 1, 2012 to June 11, 2015, I rode on Metro Transit buses and trains 1,659 times–assuming every transfer was part of one whole trip, that’s good for 1,415 different trips. And then from May 4, 2013 to June 10, 2015, I rode Nice Ride bikes 267 times.

Some things about me to put the data (*shudders*) into perspective:

  • I’ve lived on Oak Grove Street in Loring Park and worked kitty corner from Minneapolis City Hall throughout the entire time period
  • My grocery store, The Wedge, is within walking distance
  • Until October 2014, I had a membership at the Downtown YWCA, and would often walk there after work and then home after, so there were a lot of what were effectively pedestrian commutes
  • Often I’ll Nice Ride to Lake Calhoun or the river to go for a run–if not for Nice Ride, I’d just run closer to home, so I removed those trips

My thought was that the graph would look pretty stable, with smiling chunks of Nice Ride trips in the middle during the summer months. I just counted transit trips rather than individual rides, because you don’t have to transfer with the bike share–seemed fair that way.

Magrino Transit & Nice Ride TripsDue to lots of one off things that happen in life, this does not look quite as conclusive as I was hoping! (Though it’s actually kind of cool scrolling through the spreadsheets and seeing specific things that you remember–the week I was in Chicago in February 2014, or the time I took Northstar and the Red Line for a post.)

However, it looks pretty clear that there is a dip in transit use in the summer, while Nice Ride bikes are out. In a typical summer week’s commute, I’ll sub in a Nice Ride for a bus ride two or three mornings depending on the weather. Biking from one side of downtown to the other is considerably faster than busing, and that extra tap of the snooze button is valuable.

The “Last Mile”

When traveling to and from destinations that aren’t in the center of the city, Nice Ride is especially helpful. Assuming they’re placed densely enough, bike shares are a great way to solve that “last mile” problem you’re often going to have with a transit system, especially one like ours. I would extend the last mile idea into the fourth dimension as well–you may often find yourself in a dense area that’s well-served by transit at peak hours, but may only run a bus every half hour on a Sunday or late at night during the week. Rather than wait 25 minutes at a bus stop at Lake and Lyndale, it’s easy and often faster to hop on a Nice Ride if you’re trying to meet people in the North Loop.

Green dots

Green dots = Bike share kiosks

A Part of the Landscape

The one thing I really like though, is that when taking Metro Transit and using Nice Ride, I kind of feel like I’m part of the city–part of the landscape, really. It’s hard to describe exactly, but when you’ve got that monthly transit pass and that yearly bike share subscription, you get to avoid a lot of thinking. You see a bus, you can hop on it. Running late to an appointment and you don’t want to wait for the bus? Hop on a Nice Ride. The kiosks are just there; the buses and trains just run. You’re part of that whole ecosystem.

You feel sort of cool swiping a Metropass at a train station within eyeshot of one-time users fiddling with the ticket vending machines. You feel cooler still undocking a Nice Ride bike from a kiosk within earshot (it’s a good beep) of suburbanites waiting for a cab, and then zipping away from Lake Street.

The system is very from perfect, but there is a certain freedom associated with the whole set up, which is why I and tens of thousands of Minnesotans use it everyday.

Nick Magrino

About Nick Magrino

Nick Magrino grew up all over the place but has lived in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis longer than anywhere else. He has a new cat, Sweater, and does not use hashtags at @nickmagrino. He is probably on a bus right now.

25 thoughts on “Transit + Bike Share = Freedom

  1. NiMo

    Having NiceRide and Metropass really makes everything easier. I have a commuter bike that I ride around most of the time, but if I’m ever doing something where plans could change after arriving at the initial place, I leave the commuter at home and take a NiceRide. The ability to travel around town effectively “stuff” (see George Carlin for definition) free is awesome. When you don’t have anything to tie you down you can really focus on what’s to be enjoyed and not worry about trivialities like travel.

    NiceRide is also great when your personal bike is at the shop for a couple days getting fixed up.

  2. Alex

    Your high school newspaper had a digital edition huh? I’m pretty sure that when I was in high school the teachers all had a series of meetings on how to stop the internet.

      1. Peter Bajurny

        Editor in chief!

        Britney Spears album review. Summary? Album not as bad as you’d think!

      2. Alex

        I liked the piece about how the world is going to hell because nobody is paying attention to the urgent issue of hallway crowding.

        1. Peter Bajurny

          I was having a really hard time with that headline until I figured out that Indians was the school mascot and it wasn’t in fact calling out a specific racial group.

  3. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    Minor nitpick: the photo near the top may not be the best one to illustrate your point, since it shows 5 cyclists that are technically in the intersection on a red light.

  4. Julia

    This is the city I want to be part of! Like you, I live, work, and shop within a pretty tight circle, mostly by foot, and yet I’ve wished probably 627 times I could’ve used NiceRide at that moment; unfortunately, they don’t (yet?) offer bikes in a range of sizes, so many smaller people, women in particular, are left out.

    Totally agree with you about being part of the landscape of the city with transit options–great way of looking at it! I would love to be able to augment that with biking, especially since it sounds like it makes for a wonderful pairing!

    Hopefully NiceRide will look into providing bikes that work for more people, especially women! I (and other women I talk to) want the Mpls you and so many others have right now!!!

    You mention living near Loring Park and I don’t know if sq footage factors in for you, but I know for myself and other apartment dwellers, storing a bike is particularly difficult if not impossible. Part of it is the space a bike takes up (I’m in 400 sq ft), but it can be almost impossible for people who are older or smaller or not able-bodied when their bike storage is down or up flights of stairs. For those for whom they serve, NiceRide bypasses all the storage/maintenance issues of bikes, which is particularly valuable for small spaces.

    1. UrbanDoofus


      Are the frames too big/handle bars simply too high? I know the seats go pretty low, and the step thru is helpful for smaller people. But I don’t suspect the handle bars can be adjusted.

      These suckers are heeeeeavy.

      1. Julia

        It’s the seat height. Unfortunately it doesn’t go low enough for me to even touch my toes to the ground, let alone use it. I’m not sure if it’s the frame, as the physical seat seems to add more height than others I’ve seen.

        Just a huge bummer, given how awesome they are. It’s not one of those things that’s disappointing when you first find out it doesn’t come in your size–it’s disappointment that keeps giving, when friends relatives visit and can’t use them, when in-town friends forget they don’t work and suggest them, when I have to adjust my night out for MetroTransit’s early ending rather than being able to hop a NiceRide, when I’m trying to get other women biking (more) and they don’t work for them either…

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      Agree. It’d be really great of developers included better parking options. In northern Europe they will often have parking in the basement but the access is via either; fairly shallow stairs with bike tracks on each side and the middle to walk your bike, or they’ve have a ride in/out similar to underground garages for cars. Storage is typically on dual level racks but these are easy to use for even very small people with heavy bikes.

      Even so, probably 80% of people still keep their bikes outside at path level. A good bike is pretty much impervious to weather.

      1. Julia

        I’m hoping the city of Mpls includes accessible bike parking requirements for new builds. Do you know if the dual level racks work for people with balance/mobility issues or who have limited arm capacity? I have a few friends who bike very ably, but who walk with a cane, and another who can’t lift her arms far.

        And do you have any suggestions for good visual examples of those bike parking solutions (incline of stairs, etc.)? A friend’s talking about trying to add more integrated bike parking into his triplex.

        I tried my bike outside last summer, bringing the seat in with me since it’s easy release. It got incredibly sticky, particularly the lock, and people stuffed stuff down the pipe that the seat goes in. It also seems like it’d be easier to manage (un)locking a bike/(un)hooking panniers inside in the cold of winter or in rain. I’d try it again, because I think both of those can be solved, but I also have friends who visit who don’t want to leave their more expensive bikes outside. It’d be great to have indoor space for guests as well.

        1. Rosa

          It does suck, but even with a lot of thefts & vandalism over the years I’ve spent bike commuting (3 entire bikes, several times major components that made it so I couldn’t ride the bike home, multiple times football fans poured beer all over my bike and once when they kicked it into smithereens, new lights about once a year) the cost difference between a bike and a car or a bike and the bus is so big, the six months of commuting a year I do would save money even if I had to get a new bike every other year. And it’s about half that often.

          Better/safer parking would make it a lot better, though.

          1. Julia

            Oy! That’s a lot of horridness against your bike! I’m sorry to hear it.

            I don’t drive and never have, so it comes down to a cost comparison between bikes/bus + walking for me. I love walking and it’s more flexible for my daily life (caretaking for an elderly parent, errands, meetings–I work from home) and both bikes/bus are mainly to augment that. For non-daily use in a walkable city (or part of the city), bus wins out financially/logistically without bike parking.

  5. UrbanDoofus

    I’m on board with this. Bought a bike a few weeks ago and it has become a great tool in getting around where the bus service sucks(quite a few places actually). After rush hour, biking almost anywhere is pretty great.

    I specifically like the concept of Nice Ride for drinkers as a mean to get to the bar. Perhaps an uber or taxi home? Please don’t bike home you drunk asses!

    What happens in the winter? More biking? Taxi/uber? Just wait for the buses?

    1. Rosa

      Just wait for buses, for me, mostly. Though last winter when I was working super late I ended up calling my husband for a car ride a few times (no shame when it’s below 0!). After 10 I think my bus started only coming once every 30 or 40 minutes. It was too cold for that nonsense!

      But lots of people do transit + their own bike (no Nice Ride!) all winter, and a few of my friends do transit + Car2Go and really like that.

    2. John Charles Wilson

      @Urban Doofus (and everyone): Did you know that in some states (but not Minnesota) you can get a DWI on a bicycle? That’s because the DWI laws in some states say it’s illegal to drive a “vehicle” while intoxicated, but Minnesota is among the group of states that specifies “motor vehicle”. Of course, a bicycle is a vehicle but not a motor vehicle….

      I’m curious what people think about this. Should DWI laws include bicycles?

      My personal opinion is “sort of”. I think there should be some penalty for bicycling under the influence, but I also think: 1) You shouldn’t lose your licence for driving something that doesn’t require one, and 2) The penalty should be proportional to the danger – a ticket roughly equal to speeding makes sense, jail and forced treatment does not. (AFAIK, states that include bicycles under DWI laws don’t differentiate between bicycles and motor vehicles in terms of penalties.)

      1. Julia

        I’m a bit confused about the anti-drunk-biking stuff (perhaps because I don’t bike much). I wasn’t aware that this was really any more of a danger than drunk walking (i.e. doing stupid things, sometimes being a complete moron and inconsiderate of those around you). My understanding of the problems of drunk driving is that you end up with people with bad judgment and delayed reaction times going 30-80 MPH in something weighing 1-2 tons for many miles. It’s not so much the drinking that’s deadly as the velocity and force of the vehicle they’re responsible for.

        If you’re looking to do something proportional for bikes, it seems like the fines would be pretty minuscule for a cyclist who wasn’t speeding. You’ve got 10-20% the weight at 30% the speed, with a much shorter braking (or falling off) distance. Given that a first DUI ticket is ~$1000 in MN, what would make sense for someone biking? Would the allowable blood alcohol level be higher to make up for the fact that the lower speed gives an inherently longer response time? How would that be figured out?

        Without actually knowing the frequency of fatalities and injuries from drunk biking compared to drunk walking and drunk driving, my sense is that punishing drunk biking (rather than addressing dangerous biking behaviors like speeding) would be mainly punitive and a way to decrease biking rather than increase safety.

      2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Not having given it a ton of thought, my first reaction is that you should only be penalized for drunk biking if you injury someone or something, in which case maybe general laws against assault and property damage could be used.

  6. UrbanDoofus

    Biking in the winter has always struck me as bold. Minneapolis can’t seem to consistently get big streets like Washington Ave or Hennepin plowed within 24 hours of snowfall, so it would seem more difficult on bikers. Kudos to those who ride all winter!

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      Winter all depends on the facilities for me. Shoreview has pretty good protected bikeways and they’re quick to clear them (and often again and again and after snowplows) and usually keep them in good shape all winter. Getting splushed by passing vehicles is not a problem since the paths are far enough away and curb separated which also makes us feel safer from errant drivers loosing control in slippery conditions. The only thing that usually gets in my way in winter in Shoreview is extreme cold (I’m a ‘Bama boy and kinda wimpy about it). The traffic on Shoreview’s paths has been increasing dramatically each of the past few winters.

      I think Plymouth and some other cities are similar or catching up.

      Vadnais Heights for comparison is another story and we never ride during winter there. Getting anywhere requires riding on roads with poor shoulders that are often not plowed and even when they are get filled with spray and gook quickly. There is also no protection from splush wakes from passing vehicles nor from their loosing control from driving too fast in slippery conditions.

    2. Rosa

      in some ways a bike is easier. I’m super wussy about riding in snow, but there have been big storms where it was faster and safer for my husband to pick up his bike and carry it over the drifts than it would have been to try to get a car through them.

  7. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Great post Nick. Combining these is a great option and one where trains and bikeshare both shine. It’s much easier (and faster) to take a personal bike on to a train than load them on the front rack of a bus, especially a smaller person with a heavier bike. Also keeps the bikes cleaner during winter.

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