Nice Ride is a vital component of a growing integrated mobility system in the Twin Cities. Still, not enough people use bicycles for utilitarian trips to grow the system and make it as dense as is needed. We’re kind of stuck.
This post is about a short-term strategy for supporting growth – revenue and riders – by meeting people where they are at – i.e. using bicycles for recreation – and leveraging what’s working to expand the system in a way that also supports increased utilitarian bicycling. This post will focus on trying this approach in a particular wedge of southeast Minneapolis.
Nice Ride generates the most revenue from trips made by casual users at destination locations. In the short-term, I propose clustering stations at Minnehaha Falls, which is a summertime destination where people want to be and infrastructure supports bike use. Each station would each serve a slightly different function but they would complement each other.
Station #1: Joyride
Yes, there is already a Nice Ride station at Minnehaha Falls near the roundabout next to Dairy Queen. But the parking lots and side streets around Minnehaha Falls show this is a place people want to be, especially during Nice Ride’s operating season.
Have you seen what people will do to eat at Sea Salt? I’m suggesting an additional station either right off the path next to the westernmost parking lot and the playground, or inside the park to next to Sea Salt and the new bike racks. Both locations are highly visible.
Why do we need a second station in this area? There is demand. I used to see evidence out my window when I lived off Edmund Boulevard on East 37th Street. In addition to your standard bike and pedestrian traffic along the river, I was always surprised by how many double surreys – those multi-person bike carriages available for rent from Wheel Fun Rental, which is located inside the park – make it a mile or more up the river.
A highly visible Nice Ride inside the park would be a complement to Wheel Fun. Families might still want to rent double surreys, but demographics are changing in America. It’s not just mom, dad and the 2.3 kids. There are plenty of singles, childless couples, empty nesters, etc., and some of those folks might want to hop on a bike and take a joyride ride next to the river, just not in a double surrey. The infrastructure is there. It’s a flat ride and you can’t find a prettier spot.
Another joyride station could be placed at Wabun Picnic Area. Like the Lake Como model where people take out bikes, ride around the lake and return the bike to the original station, this location might attract casual users and cost little in terms of rebalancing. The river, 46th Avenue South and Ford Parkway make this area into an island but it’s still large enough that people might like to explore on a bike. Points of interest include the historic buildings of the Minnesota Veteran’s Home complex, bluff top view of the river and of course, the Falls. For the adventurous, there is the trail that dips under the Ford Parkway Bridge connecting with the river trail on the other side.
Station #2: Encourage
A second station at 46th and Godfrey Parkway might encourage casual users who started in the park to keep going down the trail. Casual users probably don’t have the Nice Ride app. They might not be familiar with bike-share and they don’t want to get stranded and charged extra. Seeing another station is reassuring, so this second station would support casual riders, but the primary reason for the second station would be to target member users.
Members tend to use Nice Ride during the week for trips that might generally be categorized as utilitarian. Having multiple stations in a popular area might encourage members to use Nice Ride even outside of their daily routine. The overflowing parking lots on Godfrey Parkway offer extra incentive to use alternative transportation to reach the park. Minnehaha Falls is a popular spot to bring visitors. If you are showing an out-of-town guest around, and you don’t have an extra bike, you’re more likely to leave the car at home and get your guest a Nice Ride, if you are confident the option will be easy to access.
There are lots of reasons people might use Nice Ride rather than a personal bike when visiting a popular destination: because they are afraid of getting their bike stolen (this is why I use Nice Ride to go to Target Field), because they don’t like their bike getting rained on, because the lights are better than the lights on their normal bike, because they lost their lock, etc. The point is to cluster a couple of stations in a visible location proximate to a popular destination. Just as the existing station at the roundabout is easy to access for visitors coming from the west, this station would be appealing to visitors coming from the east who can park their bike and walk into the park without dealing with the stress of the parking lot.
Having multiple stations in this area also supports the efforts of the National Parks Service (NPS) to discourage driving to the park. A marketing effort in partnership between NPS and Nice Ride could raise awareness about opportunities to access the river using alternative transportation and awareness about the 72-miles of National Park running through the metro. For example, Nice Ride Stations could be used to share maps and information about the nearest park features.
Station #3: Connect
A third station at West River Boulevard and 38th Street would offer the casual user a place to check-in. This station is halfway between the falls and the next river stop at Lake Street. As I mentioned, it’s not unusual to see casual users venture this far north. And there’s Mississippi Gorge Regional Park, which would be a great place to stop and explore, if only the casual visitor knew it existed. (See marketing idea above.)
The real reason for this third station is to grow the travel shed for the 38th Street Blue Line LRT station and support Nice Ride use along this corridor. There is a Nice Ride station at 38th Street and 42nd Avenue, which is a good solution to a tough problem: integrating bike-share into a neighborhood of single-family homes where there is nothing to stop residents from using a car for every trip. 38th and 42nd is a commercial area in the Howe neighborhood featuring a movie theater, a nursery, a clinic, a restaurant and a café. It’s a neighborhood location, but it attracts people, including those who might come from outside the neighborhood – hey, it’s not everywhere that you can see a movie for $3.
This station could help people living east of 42nd Avenue more easily use the light rail. Right now, it’s a long walk or a bus trip to reach the Blue Line from the east side of Howe. A marketing effort in partnership between Nice Ride and MetroTransit could help encourage the bike-to-light-rail habit. For example, maybe users get a free 30 minutes of Nice Ride when they buy a single-use transit ticket. If the 30 minutes were good for 2.5 hours from time of purchase, as transit tickets are, it makes even more sense to combine bike and transit trips. Maybe everyone within the catchment areas for these stations should be sent a mailing at the beginning of the season letting them know about the stations in the neighborhood? And a free 24-hour pass wouldn’t hurt either.
On-the-street outreach outside stations might help in the beginning to raise awareness about Nice Ride among people who stand to benefit the most. Strong communication and outreach would be needed to help transit users adopt new habits.
Separate but related, a station at 46th Street and 46th Avenue could also make it easier to use Nice Ride to reach the Blue line. This station could be right in front of a multifamily dwelling, and across the street from another. There is also a bus stop at this intersection where the 23, 46, 74 and 84 all stop. Bus riders who work at the Minnesota VA home could use Nice Ride for the last leg of their journey if there were a station at Wabun Picnic area. A marketing effort undertaken in partnership with the VA home could support the idea, especially if the VA home could identify employees who take transit and Nice Ride could offer a free trial membership. Maybe employees who get to wear scrubs at work face fewer barriers to using bicycle transportation, not that you work up much of a sweat in an half mile.
What about equity?
Finally, there are opportunities to use Nice Ride to address economic disparities in this wedge of the city. For example, Minnehaha Avenue is being reconstructed from 46th Street to Lake Street and buffered bike lanes are being added. There are multi-family dwellings clustered along this street and there is a large shopping area directly north at Hiawatha and Lake. In the future, especially if Hiawatha and Lake is reconstructed, it could be much safer and easier to reach Target, Cub and other retailers by bike.
This may seem a pretty underwhelming proposal, but in the short-term it could bring in revenue from casual users. The revenue could be used to prop up nearby stations that serve a utilitarian function, but might not pay off immediately. In the longer-term, this little chain of stations should be laying the foundation to increase the utilitarian function of Nice Ride in a part of the city where mode share should be higher.
Here’s the big picture I have in mind: a wedge of the city where the bicycle is the priority mode and car traffic is routed around the neighborhoods to streets designed for high volumes like Lake, Hiawatha and Franklin. Lake and Franklin have high-capacity protected bike lanes so people on bikes can access the retail and transit connections available. Traffic along the river is decreased and maybe West River Parkway becomes a place for bikes, and the current trail a place for pedestrians. I imagine less traffic in Hiawatha, Howe, Longfellow, Cooper and Seward, which would mean that bicycling could become the safest and most convenient way to make everyday trips to destinations inside the neighborhood, like school and shopping.
(Stay tuned for Part II later this week. We know people don’t spend all their time in their own neighborhoods, so keep reading to understand how the utilitarian function of Nice Ride could be increased in the next five years.)