News Column

Nice Ride loans out 140 bikes in low-income neighborhoods

July 29, 2014

By Frederick Melo, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.



July 29--Bicyclists are being asked to ring their bells in encouragement if they see a rider on an orange bicycle. Nice Ride MN is lending out 147 bikes for the next four months to new riders in urban neighborhoods where the nonprofit bicycle-sharing system has been slow to catch on.

The orange bicycles -- a departure from Nice Ride's traditional green bikes -- are being distributed in Frogtown, the East Side of St. Paul and North Minneapolis.

"Infrastructurally, these neighborhoods aren't really bike-friendly, by and large," said Paul Stucker, Neighborhood Program Coordinator with Nice Ride MN. "They're places where it's just harder to take that leap."

He said the participants, all adults, were chosen with the help of neighborhood nonprofit groups and health and social service organizations, but Nice Ride did not prioritize riders based on race or income.

"If there's any demographic we want to target, it's people for whom this is a new idea," Stucker said. "If they did have their own bike, it's probably a $100 clunker, or less than $100 ... that makes it more difficult to find (biking) to be fun and useful and efficient."

Some studies have questioned why residents of low-income areas -- who stand to gain the most financially from reducing their car use -- appear to be cycling the least.

In 2012 and 2013, surveys conducted on behalf of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association in poor, largely African-American areas of Washington, D.C., generated a wide range of responses.

Many residents revealed that they viewed car ownership as a status symbol. Others pointed to concerns about their physical safety, long travel times and a lack of bike lanes and other bicycle infrastructure. The city's poorer residents averaged longer commutes to work than higher-income respondents in the same area.

Former Minneapolis City Council member Natalie Johnson Lee, of North Minneapolis, hopes to be a role model for others in the new Nice Ride program. She said that when Nice Ride initially rolled out in Minneapolis in 2010, it put temporary $250 financial holds on credit cards, scaring away lower-income customers.

"A lot of people weren't excited about that," she said of the holds.

The charge has since been reduced, and payment options now vary with year-long memberships, student packages and 30-day pay-as-you-go rates.

For its new outreach program, Nice Ride has partnered with the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota to guide the new riders through orientation and six community events, each of which includes a family ride.

Those who attend four of the events and ride at least twice a week will receive a $200 voucher toward the purchase of their own bicycle. Participants can take their bicycles to Venture North in Minneapolis and Cycles for Change in St. Paul for free maintenance and biking classes.

On Saturday, a group of inexperienced riders got together by the NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center on Penn Avenue in North Minneapolis and traveled together a few miles to Folwell Park for a picnic.

"There were people that were afraid about coming out," said Lee, who suffered a mishap with her bicycle chain but found help getting it back in place. The nerves quickly gave way to new friendships. "Everybody was encouraging each other. The camaraderie was great."

All of the orange bikes were distributed throughout July and have already been assigned for 2014, but organizers hope to offer the program again next year with some tweaks based on results from this season. Nonprofit organizations such as Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, Hmong American Partnership and the Minneapolis Urban League helped select participants.

The Neighborhood Program is funded by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

Stucker said the riders represent most walks of life, with the oldest in their 70s. The youngest is 18.

"We don't ask people their income," Stucker said. "That's not a factor on our end. The demographics of these neighborhoods tend to skew certain ways, but certainly we're covering a pretty broad geographic area."

Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172. Follow him at twitter.com/FrederickMelo.

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(c)2014 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

Visit the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) at www.twincities.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN)


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