As a long-time bicycle commuter and cycling enthusiast, I have enjoyed the benefits of cycling, sometimes over substantial distances, as a substitute for other forms of transportation. For me, cycling is an integral part of my daily transportation needs. In 2012, I carpooled from Saint Paul to Minneapolis and took a Nice Ride bicycle out to participate in the Surly Trail Loppet. As the westernmost station was on Glenwood at Morgan Avenue, there was a bit of a walk to reach the start of the race at Wirth Park (and the same for the return trip).
Turning the clock forward to 2015, I attended a business event in Saint Louis Park this fall, getting fairly close via Metro Transit (train and bus) to my destination. On the way back I enjoyed a substantial walk to Wirth Park. As the Nice Ride system had expanded, there was now a station at Wirth Beach (currently the westernmost edge of the system). Having that station available was critical to my decision to use the bicycle option for the return trip. Once on the bicycle, I took advantage of the superb weather to complete my round trip to Saint Paul using the Nice Ride system. Along the way, I visited the Minneapolis Central Library and stopped for some shopping. Having the option of cycling back rendered my trip to the western suburbs more enjoyable and healthier.
I have not maintained a car for several years (rare for someone in the mid-50s age range), but the efficacy, efficiency, and ease of use of the Nice Ride system has made this possible. From my perspective, the wider the reach of the system, the greater the benefits.
But my usage is somewhat atypical, based on the data available from the Nice Ride system. Riders fall mostly into either a commuter or recreational rider category, with consistent and distinct patterns for each. As I am a bicycle commuter (and have been, more or less, since 1989), the regularity of my routine puts me on my own bike on most days. But where my commitments render round-trip bicycling problematic (usually due to timing or the need to appear in business attire and not sweating) Nice Ride fills the gap by providing a one-way transportation option without requiring the effort of getting my bike to the event. These one-way rides, when combined with other modes of transportation (mass transit, car-sharing, car-pooling, walking) make doing without a personal automobile possible and provides a painless means of enjoying both exercise and the outdoors.
To expand the existing system, creating synergies between bicycle-friendly natural attractions and cyclist destinations are the primary way to cement consistent ridership. The existing Nice Ride system has no station between Lake Nokomis and Linden Hills. This provides a disincentive for bicycling along much of Minnehaha Parkway. Even more compelling, there is no station within a mile and a half of 50th and France. This denies an opportunity for travel between two distinct destinations (north to Linden Hills and east to Lake Nokomis/Minnehaha Park) for populations who are open to frequent travel by bicycle. As an added incentive, increased sales at local shops derived from bicyclists will refute the misperception that bicycle lanes are bad for business.
A priority for expanding the Nice Ride system should focus on areas that serve bicycle-friendly people, traveling to popular businesses, along routes that are pleasant to ride. The 50th and France district and Minnehaha Parkway are two such areas and deserve consideration.