Blue Cross says it’s on a mission is to improve the health of all Minnesotans by making the “healthy choice the easy choice” and therefore, has stepped forward as the lead sponsor of Nice Ride, an innovative bicycle sharing program launched last week in Minneapolis.
But State Representative Bobby Champion, who represents North Minneapolis, says once again, his constituents have been relegated to being an after-thought, kicked to the margin while affluent communities get public and philanthropic subsidy.
One leader called it shameful transportation apartheid.
If you are downtown or in Uptown, you will see bright green bikes that people can rent, ride and drop off at convenient bike stands, downtown, Uptown, at the U of M or Northeast.
But the program is conspicuously absent and unavailable to residents of North Minneapolis, the Phillips and Elliot Park neighborhoods and 8th Ward in South Minneapolis, except along the Midtown Greenway.
Blue Cross’ support for Nice Ride, which it describes as a community health initiative, is funded entirely with Blue Cross’ settlement proceeds from the historic lawsuit against the tobacco companies.
“As part of Blue Cross’ prevention efforts, Nice Ride Minnesota is one way the health company is working to tackle obesity and other costly diseases by addressing their root causes – one of which is physical inactivity,” the company says on the Nice Ride website.
If that is the case, Northside health advocates are asking, why not anchor the program in communities that have the greatest need, that have the highest rates of obesity and other health conditions created by inactivity and lack of access?
Since Minneapolis is a founding partner in the Twin Cities Bike Share Project, contributing $350,000 in start-up funding, shouldn’t 5th Ward, 8th Ward and 6th Ward, the wards with highest concentrations people of color, and the greatest health disparities, and the greatest transportation access challenges, benefit from expenditure of their tax dollars as well?
Why not focus on neighborhoods with the highest incidence of high blood pressure and diabetes, specifically Black and American Indian communities where health and access issues conspire to deprive residents of Minnesota’s high quality of life standards.
Blue Cross said, “Innovative solutions like Nice Ride make it convenient for people to maintain their health and prevent risks like high blood pressure and diabetes. Blue Cross wants to change the way people think about getting around by promoting physical activity and making it easy for people to make the active choice the easy choice. These small changes translate into positive habits over time.”
Bike Walk Twin Cities (BWTC) says it invested $1.75 million in start-up funds for Nice Ride to support creation of a network for non-motorized transportation. BWTC administers a federal Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot program and is part of Transit for Livable Communities.
According to Sherry Pugh, executive director of Northside Residents Redevelopment Council, there is a history of disregarding and ignoring the needs and wishes of North Minneapolis and similar neighborhoods. “We were a ‘dead zone’ that had both a lack of forestation and lack of bike paths. Our studies showed, despite the city’s claim to be one of the most bikeable cities in the country, in all 13 North Minneapolis neighborhoods there were no bike paths.”
NRRC, Pugh said, promoted to Willard Hay and Near North residents that they recognize the unique value of two great amenities: the Mississippi River on the east and Theodore Wirth Park, on the west. “No other neighborhood is anchored by such amenities. Plymouth Avenue is a vibrant pedestrian and bike corridor. We advocated for bike path that we finally got in 2005, and we developed ‘pocket parks’ along Plymouth Avenue for pedestrians and bike riders,” she said.
Pugh said Minneapolis doesn’t do traffic counts in North Minneapolis that would show the vitality of pedestrian and bike traffic. “They never counted traffic on our street. It was not a priority. The priority was the Midtown Greenway, with got millions of dollars. We had to wait.”