Minneapolis residents may begin seeing some funny looking bicycles on the street this fall. The chunky “urban-oriented” bikes are part of a partnership between the City of Minneapolis and City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation to create a viable bike sharing system for the public. Not only will the system be a healthier, more environmentally friendly alternative to driving, if they pull it off it could radically change the face of the city’s urban streets. Representatives from Nordic Ski as well as the city were present at a public presentation in Calhoun Square on February 4, answering questions about what the partnership hopes to achieve.
Using a number of lessons learned from the world’s successful bike sharing programs in cities such as Paris, Barcelona, and Montreal, Minneapolis is taking a number of steps to prevent the project from becoming a disaster on a par with St. Paul’s recent “Yellow Bike Program.” First of all, the bikes will be available on a web-based subscription basis. To sign up, one would be required to pay an online subscription fee in order to receive a security card. (The annual fee has not been determined, but the best guess-timate was about $40.)The card would then be used to check out a bike from one of the city’s planned 70 – 80 kiosks. No card? Use a credit card in the kiosk for a one-day subscription. The hope is that keeping electronic records of each bike rental will cut down on the number of thefts that occur. The kiosks also contain a state of the art locking system that ensures that no bike will be able to be wrenched off illegally.
To reduce vandalism and breakdowns, the three-speed bikes are built to be relatively indestructible with durable steel frames and heavy pneumatic tires. They will also be maintained by a full-time roaming crew to ensure that each bike remains in good working condition. To prevent users from simply renting the bikes and holding on to them for days, the cost of using the bike will increase as you keep it longer, encouraging users to make short, cheap rides and keeping the number of available bikes high. For night use, the bikes are even outfitted with lights that utilize self-sustaining solar power.
One glaring problem with the plan is the obvious impossibility of renting out bike helmets with the bikes, raising the question of safety as well as liability. The Minneapolis/Nordic Ski partnership hopes that offering a bike sharing possibility to citizens will change the pedestrian culture to one that habitually keeps bike helmets on hand. Even so, it doesn’t take a cynic to imagine an injured cyclist suing the city for not providing safety precautions. Regardless, optimism from the city and Nordic Ski members remains high. The next step to tackle will be securing federal funding, which will be necessary for the program’s estimated $1.5 million dollar annual budget.
Jon Behm (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Minneapolis-based photographer and writer. While his specialty is music, Jon has a wide variety of interests that tend to take him all over the Twin Cities on a daily basis.