The wedge of city I wrote about in my last post – between the river and Hiawatha from the falls north to Seward – is rich in more ways than one. Bicycling infrastructure includes the trail along the river, Hiawatha LRT trail, Midtown Greenway and low-traffic neighborhood streets. It is possible for residents to make many neighborhood trips – to reach the grocery store, elementary school, restaurants and cafes, pharmacies, etc. – on foot or on bike, and they should be encouraged to do so, even if they don’t use Nice Ride. Nice Ride use should be encouraged for trips that will end outside of the neighborhood.
There are plenty of public transportation options in this wedge with the Blue Line and several bus lines, including the 21 on Lake Street, which has the second highest ridership in the cities. Nice Ride should become the go-to first-mile/last-mile solution. If stations lined the river corridor as they do the Hiawatha LRT line and were placed at strategic locations – such as neighborhood commercial areas – on the streets cutting east-west through Hiawatha, Howe, Longfellow, Cooper and Seward, more people could more easily access the light rail.
Nice Ride has a unique advantage because the system allows for one-way trips. This means people don’t need to load their bikes on trains and buses, if there is no room or they simply don’t want to deal with the hassle. Instead, Nice Ride offers peace of mind for people who do not want to leave their bikes parked outdoors all day. Although many transit stops include secure bike parking, Nice Ride makes renting a secure place unnecessary. Similarly, the system can help commuters who lack access to secure parking at work, bike the final mile of their journey, especially if their destination is downtown or near the University of Minnesota.
Within a couple of miles of the southeast neighborhoods are downtown and the University of Minnesota. Nice Ride has a strong presence in these major employment centers. Stations in neighborhoods are a natural complement to the stations downtown and at the university, they make the bike and transit combination viable on both ends of the trip.
Of course it’s not only about making alternatives available, it’s also about changing habits. Anyone who uses a bicycle regularly knows the pleasure of riding a bike is real and powerful and the benefits that accrue in mental and physical health can be motivating, but people have to find this out for themselves. This is why the marketing and outreach efforts that give people the experience of trying Nice Ride are so key.
Promoting Nice Ride to people who use transit or bike commute part of the time is a good place start. These people are more easily identified through developing strategic partnerships with employers in the downtown and with the University. For example, working with Move Minneapolis, the transportation management organization, to identify employers who understand the real financial savings that could result from a healthier workforce and reducing subsidized parking and driving expenses. If Move Minneapolis can reach employers and employers can reach employees, maybe there is potential to collect the data needed to help Nice Ride better place stations that can be used for commuting purposes and perhaps open the door to new or expanded station sponsorships.
Targeting employees who stand to gain the most from increased bicycle use is another approach. Low-wage workers in the downtown areas, such as people employed at restaurants and hotels, likely do not get subsidized parking or pay a higher percentage of their total paycheck to cover these expenses. Maybe their transportation needs are met by transit, but maybe not, working with employers who have large numbers of these workers on staff might be a start to understanding how low-wage workers feel about bicycle use and barriers they may be facing. Perhaps, an employer-sponsored program targeting low-wage workers in the healthcare industry would be the most strategic place to start. The Hennepin County Medical Center is a downtown employer with incentive to get involved in the promoting workplace wellness.
Five year plan
Nice Ride has a good start on developing a network that connects people with transit, with the concentration of stations where employment density is highest, but we have to have neighborhood stations too for integrated mobility to compete with car usage. Looking at where transit usage is highest, bicycle infrastructure exists and where destination stations can overlap with the utilitarian network is one approach to building out the Nice Ride system in neighborhoods. Making Nice Ride integral to transit makes the system strong in the long-term. Plans for the coming decades will expand transit in the Twin Cities. Transit runs year-round and so should Nice Ride. Winter cycling is happening but Nice Ride could support more significant growth than perhaps any transit agency or operator in the Twin Cities.
In the next five years, my proposal is that Nice Ride develop a priority year-round network, which includes stations connecting people with transit – right now that means figuring out a viable model for neighborhoods – and stations that are proximate to the bicycling network, including Minneapolis’s new protected bikeways plan also due to be built out in the next five years. By all means, take away the destination stations during the winter, but let’s find a way to keep the part of the system with the greatest utilitarian function open year-round. The stations that make alternative transportation competitive with car use need to be available so the habits Nice Ride works to encourage all season stick in the long-term.
Minneapolis is a rectangle sliced and diced into wedges by highways and the river. The existing highways could be a threat to reducing car dependence, but I think their existence offers opportunity. We can make bicycling and walking priority modes within these wedges because it is easy to route car traffic around the places where we live. It is not so hard to use bicycles for neighborhood trips. For longer trips, bikes are still an option when transit is available. The planned expansion of transit can work better with Nice Ride as a support. To truly change transportation habits, however, we need a year-round bike-share system in the Twin Cities.