Monday, June 27, 2011

Some growing pains for Nice Ride

I suppose I could have been interviewed on KSTP this evening, but I decided against it because I was sweating and breathing a bit heavily. I took a Nice Ride MN bike from the Akerman Hall station on the University of Minnesota campus over to the newly-opened station at Raymond Avenue & Territorial Road in Saint Paul, only to discover a KSTP news van parked next to it with a few station employees hanging out—including one of their anchors, Bill Lunn.

[Update: Here's their story]

The Raymond Ave station had been empty all day long, so I figured if the Nice Ride folks weren't going to start populating it, I may as well start on that task myself. At the moment, it appears to be the only active station in Saint Paul—Last week, I took a bike from the Territorial & Westgate Drive station which stood about two blocks into the city, but the Nice Ride folks tweeted this morning that it had been removed due to a problem with permits. Three additional stations planned for the Hamline-Midway neighborhood were added to their map last week, but don't seem to be activated yet.

I'm not a big fan of the way Nice Ride is currently working to expand, although I temper those thoughts slightly because I think they're playing a bit of a longer game. They hope to expand into downtown Saint Paul next year, so part of this year's expansion involves adding stations along the University Avenue corridor (a well as Marshall Ave and Grand Ave) to start building up the link between the two downtowns.

The spacing of the newest stations is pretty large—significantly larger than what I'd like to see. When bike stations are spaced half a mile apart or more, they lose a lot of value for acting as the "last mile" link between transit and other destinations. The Marcy-Holmes neighborhood across the Mississippi River from downtown Minneapolis has been largely ignored, despite being fairly dense and chock full of students who cycle to the nearby U of M. I'm also a bit wary of expanding the bike sharing along the Central Corridor at this particular moment, especially since University Avenue is half torn up along that stretch. The remaining old pavement is not in very good condition (though it won't be much longer before traffic begins to shift onto new pavement on the south side of the street and the north side starts getting torn up). Riders can use side streets in many cases, of course, but there is a major choke point between Cleveland Avenue/Transfer Road and Fairview Avenue, where the Minnesota Commercial Railroad gets in the way and blocks off most roads and forces University Avenue itself into a relatively narrow underpass (in current light-rail construction, it is the only segment of two-lane road along the street—other parts of University have three-lane striping with a center turn lane).

The Nice Ride system as currently envisioned for 2012 is going to cover a huge geographical area, making it among the largest bike-sharing systems in the world by that measure. With a little help from Google Maps, it appears that the distance from 50th & France in southwest Minneapolis to East 7th Street & the Bruce Vento Trail—two stations planned for next year—clocks in at nearly 14 miles. Even Paris's huge VĂ©lib' system with 1,200 stations and 20,000 bikes only stretches about 12.5 miles. That's ten times the number of bikes and stations that Nice Ride will have by the end of next year, so I hope they know what they're doing.


  1. I also hope they know what they're doing.

    I know that these bikes aren't intended to be used for recreational purposes, but I'm still surprised that Nice Ride hasn't been playing more towards Minneapolis' strengths - in particular the wildly popular off-street trails. Based only on the Nice Ride station locations, one would never guess that the river parkways or the chain of lakes are excellent places to ride a bike. Even if folks were using a hypothetical station at Lake Calhoun for all the wrong reasons (i.e. recreational only), the revenue would surely be welcomed anyway. It's hard to imagine that there wouldn't be folks willing to pay a one-time $5 to bike once around Lake Calhoun.

  2. Politics...

    I thought the same thing when I saw the expansion map - too spread out. Especially because the stations are already too far apart in places like Whittier, Hawthorne and Elliot Park. Like you mentioned, it's a bizarre strategy to spread way out into St Paul while leaving dense areas like Marcy Holmes and Phillips uncovered.

    And to build on what Reuben said - it is amazing how long it took them to even expand along the Midtown Greenway. Hi-Lake just got a station last week!

    I have one last NiceRide complaint - stations should be on the street whenever possible. It's just too awkward to have to sidewalk ride all the time.