Nicer Rides for all neighborhoods: Equity efforts in Minnesota’s bike share

by Emily Wade, Guest Blogger

Not all neighborhoods are created equal, so the outreach efforts within them shouldn’t be either. One bike share city that has learned this valuable lesson is Nice Ride in Minnesota, which currently operates two successful programs that approach the same mission in vastly different ways.

In 2011, Nice Ride launched an equity program in partnership with the Target Corporation. Focused on Nice Ride’s urban bike share system, the Community Partners program brings free annual memberships to low-income students and residents identified through social service providers. New riders are given a helmet, taken on a station demonstration ride and given internet access to sign up for their membership. During the 2014 biking season, the Community Partners program worked with 16 organizations to distribute 884 Nice Ride memberships in Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

But the Community Partners program doesn’t reach everyone.

The three communities of North Minneapolis, East Saint Paul and West Saint Paul share in their histories racial diversity and economic instability. In each neighborhood, more than 60 percent of residents are people of color, and more than 50 percent of residents fell below the federal poverty line in the 2010 census, according to a report by the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council. However, East and West Saint Paul lie on the outskirts of the Nice Ride service area, which means residents have limited access to the bike share system. North Minneapolis, on the other hand, is dotted with Nice Ride stations.

Recognizing this physical barrier, Nice Ride decided to expand their focus to include enhancing cycling culture in communities where the Community Partners program wasn’t the right tool to motivate new riders

In 2014, Nice Ride Minnesota introduced a new equity program called Nice Ride Neighborhood. Equipped with a fleet of orange commuter bikes, the program broke away from urban bike share and instead gave 145 participants a chance to try bike commuting for four months last summer.

In addition to a bike, each Neighborhood rider received a U-lock, helmet and calendar of six bikeable events in their community. Riders were expected to attend four of these events ready to join other cyclists for a group ride, bike maintenance and shared meal. The calendar also included a log where riders could track solo trips. When Neighborhood participants brought their bikes back to Nice Ride staff in October, those who attended four events were awarded a $200 credit to Cycles for Change orVenture North where they could purchase their very own set of wheels.

“While our Community Partner program with the urban bike share has had some moderate success,” Nice Ride Outreach and Sponsors Relations Director Tami Traeger said, “Neighborhood developed out of conversations around the urban bike share being a tool that wasn’t working well for certain service areas that tend to have the highest percentages of low incomes and people of color.”

Nice Ride Neighborhood program participants on a ride with Anthony Taylor (in red jacket) of the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota. (Credit: Anthony Ongaro, Nice Ride Minnesota)

The Community Partners program and the Neighborhood program share many components, not the least of which is their recruitment strategy. Instead of Nice Ride staff choosing who would benefit from a free annual membership or a four-month commuter experience, Nice Ride leaves those choices to area service organizations like Saint Paul Public Housing and NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center.

Recruiting with partners does more than take hard decisions off the hands of Nice Ride staff. By building on personal relationships between individuals and service providers, the strategy gives Neighborhood participants a built-in support network from the start.

This community-based approach was key to the Neighborhood program’s success. A study conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center found that the Neighborhood program positively impacted participants’ opinions of cycling as a mode of transportation, heightened the visibility of bike commuting in target areas, and improved riders’ knowledge about bike safety. Some participants even reported an increase in physical and mental well-being.

For staff members like Traeger and Neighborhood Coordinator Paul Stucker, the program’s success doesn’t mean their work is over. This summer the Neighborhood program will begin the second year of its three-year pilot, which is funded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

In the meantime, staff is working to streamline communication channels, expand the program and re-envision program success. One thing they’d like to address is the Neighborhood program’s four-event attendance requirement, which can make it difficult for some riders to earn the bike-shop credit while balancing busy lives.

Nice Ride believes it can address these problems and continue their equity efforts.

“We’re essentially trying to design the tool to erase the ability to predict by race or income level whether someone bikes,” Traeger said.

Emily Wade is a cyclist and feminist living in Minneapolis. You can find Emily’s other work on Feministing, Planned Parenthood Minnesota Advocate and the Nice Ride Minnesota blog.

The Better Bike Share Partnership is a JPB Foundation-funded collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the PeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Story tip? Write