If you’re dialed into the transit scene here in America, you’d probably know that Minneapolis is where it’s at for bikers.  Bicycling magazine recently named the City of Lakes the #1 bike-friendly city in the country, dethroning the strong bike scene in Portland, Oregon.  Portland still maintains the highest percentage of commuters that ride, but Minneapolis is close behind at #2, which is pretty incredible considering the harsh winters of the Minnesota landscape.  What pushed Mpls to the top this year was not only its strong and passionate independent riders, but city-wide services that compliment this alternative and healthy mode of transportation.  A perfect example of this systemic approach towards increased two-wheeled usage is a month-old bike share program called Nice Ride, an appropriate compliment to the state’s Minnesota Nice reputation!

This Nice Ride kiosk is about 100 ft from my apartment in Northeast Minneapolis.

Nice Ride is now the nation’s largest bike share program… it is in its first phase of development, which when completed will feature 1,000 unmistakable lime green bikes stationed at 75 metro kiosks.  Phase two will grow organically to include new neighborhoods and more kiosks. As of now, the focus is primarily on the downtown, U of MN, and uptown areas of Minneapolis.  Expansions will include more North Metro neighborhoods.

Although in its infancy, Nice Ride looks to have all the ingredients to rock some solid staying power… by its 20th day of operation, 10,000 trips had been taken.  Many of these trips were for the novelty of trying something new, but increasingly Minneapolis residents are recognizing that bike sharing is a legitimate form of transportation that can replace the congestion of urban driving.  It is extremely convenient with the plentiful locations, and can be very affordable if used properly.  The pricing structure of Nice Ride is really catered towards short trips.  Any excursion longer than half an hour kicks into an increased rate on top of the daily, monthly, or annual membership options… here’s a chart of how the subscription rates break down:

Nice Ride Minnesota was created through the Twin Cities Bike Share Project in July 2008.  It received funding from both public and private sources, with a large investment coming from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota Center for Prevention (a program funded through the Federal Highway Administration).  It truly is an extensive program, rivaling the efforts and infrastructure of many successful European cities’ bike shares… pretty cool!

But digging a little deeper for a second, I wanna throw some ideas out there about how this specific bike share program is a model example of how communities will be designed in the 21st century.  If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’re probably familiar with the concept of thrivability (for a quick recap, please refer to this post HERE).  Basically, the premise is to redefine our goal to not only sustain and survive, but to thrive… to exchange the mindset of ‘a little less bad is good’ to truly healthy and restorative measures.  Thrivability has really captured my imagination and I’m constantly on the lookout for examples of things that might classify as  being thrivable.  I feel that this bike share has the tools to be a functioning case study of thrivability.

For starters, thrivability differs from sustainability in that its focus is exclusively on positivity and creative rebuilding, not patching and repairing existing problems.  Something that is truly thrivable won’t have any adverse effects on what I call the ‘4 P’s’: People, Planet, Profit, Philosophy.  Bike sharing can in theory hit all of these P’s… let’s break them down:

People: Socially, bike sharing increases the health of communities and enriches the fabric of urban density.  Citizens trade an unhealthy lifestyle of passively sitting in a car for one of activity and interaction.  Opposed to large expanses of concrete parking lots, cities would instead invest in the development of experiences on the street level.  Retail opportunities would grow near bike lanes and kiosks, people would be happier and healthier by exercising more, and a stronger sense of community would develop as more people interact face to face.  Also, being able to conveniently access transportation without ownership issues of maintenance and storage is a huge perk for both urban infrastructure and citizens’ peace of mind… Nothin’ but positives here!

Planet: The environment is a clear winner with bike sharing as well.  The pollution, carbon emissions, and water degradation from our reliance on cars is highly damaging to natural ecosystems and the future of a healthy biosphere.  The implementation of smart urban growth is imperative for our survival on the planet (over half of the world’s population currently lives in a metropolis, and numbers are projected to skyrocket to 70%+ in coming decades)… this development requires a heavy dose of alternative transportation, and bike shares are at the forefront of this movement.

Profit: The economics of bike sharing is a bit more subtle than some of the other benefits, but is still very substantial.  Tying into some of the social issues I mentioned above, not many understand the economic repercussions of a petroleum-based transportation sector.  The US Dept of Health estimates that the burning of fossil fuels account for $120 billion a year in health impacts on American citizens… fossil fuel companies are not liable for these costs… Then take into account the lack of exercise people get by sitting in cars, obesity, diabetes, and other lifestyle illnesses and the economic benefits of bike sharing clearly takes a huge burden off of health care overhead.

Other hidden benefits of a strong urban community are business, retail and advertising opportunities along streets that gain more bicycle and walking traffic.  Property values could also improve if located near a bike share kiosk… Additionally, another huge economic perk is that creating infrastructure for bicycles is far more affordable and adaptable than the creation of additional roads and various other alternative transportation options like buses and light rails.

Philosophy: The final ‘P’ is a fun one!  The philosophy behind bike sharing is very much thrivable.  I truly believe that the 21st century will be defined by access as the 20th century could be defined by the idea of ownership.  To truly drive the scale of change that is needed, people (particularly here in the states) need to separate from the need to own everything.  Ownership puts an incredible amount of pressure on a world full of rapidly depleting resources and often acts as emotional baggage, tying material goods directly to an individual’s sense of identity.  Sharing bikes, cars, tools, etc increases an understanding of interconnectedness while saving people money, time, and stress.  Progressive programs like Nice Ride are at the cusp of this wave, forcing individuals to rethink necessities and better define elements that promote value within a community.

So as you can tell, I’m pretty excited about having a top notch bike share program here in my home town!  Despite having 3 bikes of my own (I know, hypocrit of ownership!), I was able to effectively utilize the Nice Ride the other night.  I was at a buddy’s b-day celebration and needed to jam back to my apartment across town before others were ready to leave.  A kiosk was conveniently located right outside the restaurants door… I swiped my card, grabbed a bike and 20 minutes later dropped it off at another station 100 ft from my apt door… it was pretty choice!  I smiled and thought to myself, ‘welcome to the 21st century!’