Sponsors Sold on Health, Economic Benefits of Minneapolis Bike-Share

Don’t
count out Boston just yet, but it looks like Minneapolis may be the
first American city out of the gate with a public bicycle system of
1,000 bikes or more. Last week, the non-profit Nice Ride Minnesota selected the Public Bike System Company (the same firm behind Montreal’s Bixi) to install its system, which is slated to feature 1,000 bicycles at about 75 stations when the first phase wraps up later this year.

nice_ride_kiosk.jpgThe first phase of Minneapolis’s bike-share system will consist of about 1,000 bikes at 75 kiosks. Image: Nice Ride Minnesota.

Boston’s bike-share will also launch this year with a fleet of about 1,000 bicycles, reports NPR’s Andrea Bernstein. With Denver planning to get a 600-bike system up and running in April, and Washington, DC working out some kinks in the plan to expand its SmartBike pilot, 2010 is shaping up to be a momentous year for bike-share in American cities.

The
multi-city horse race is fun to track, but Nice Ride director Bill
Dossett downplayed the competition. "My view is that if all of us
weren’t doing this, then none of us would be," he said.

As
each of these cities figures out how to make bike-share work, one of
the interesting things to watch is how they get people excited about
the idea of public bikes. For Nice Ride, the name of the game is public
health and economic development. The project has attracted a broad
range of support, with major chunks of funding coming courtesy of
health insurer BlueCross BlueShield and contributions from local
businesses.

A $1.75 million federal grant will cover
much of the initial cost, with $1 million from BlueCross providing most
of the remainder. "BlueCross BlueShield is all about fighting obesity
right now," said Dossett. "They’re interested in
anything that encourages physical activity."

Small
businesses in Minneapolis’s downtown retail area are bullish on bike-share, he added, "because it’s an economic
development tool. It gets people to come out to lunch from office
towers a mile away."

Subscriptions
($60 per year, $5 per day) will cover 80 percent of the cost of running
Nice Ride, with contributions from local businesses — who can pay to
sponsor individual bike-share kiosks — taking care of the rest. Other
bike-share systems, including Washington’s SmartBike and Paris’s Velib,
rely heavily on contracts with major outdoor advertising firms, which
have proven problematic on more than one occasion.

After
Nice Ride’s first season, which runs through November (the kiosks will
be removed during the winter), Dossett hopes to expand beyond the
downtown core and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. "Our
plan is to expand into new neighborhoods through
partnerships with local businesses," he said. "We hope to be doing
those kind of
constantly."

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