Spin City

A few years ago, when Mayor R. T. Rybak compared Minneapolis’s Washington Avenue to the Champs Élysées in Paris, this magazine poked fun at the idea, suggesting it might be a while before Louis Vuitton displaced the Déjà Vu strip club.

But such judgments may have been premature. Earlier this summer, Minneapolis narrowed the gap with the City of Lights a soupçon by introducing a bike-sharing program reminiscent of “Velib,” the bike-rental system begun in Paris in 2007. Like the French model, the Minneapolis scheme, Nice Ride Minnesota, allows urbanites and visitors alike to make short trips around the city on comfortable green bicycles for as little as $5 a day. Rybak, who pushed the idea locally, was convinced it would be a success, and he was right: Administrators tallied nearly 11,500 trips between 60 kiosks stationed in various neighborhoods during the program’s first three weeks, and calls poured in from cities as far away as Big Lake (the end of the new Northstar commuter rail line), asking if the program could be expanded.

Launching Nice Ride cost roughly $3.2 million—hardly a free trip. But the project is funded, in part, with money from BlueCross BlueShield of Minnesota and the Federal Highway Administration, and executive director Bill Dossett says the program’s yearly operating costs are likely to be considerably less than the startup costs. Plus, any balance sheet should take into account the hard-to-measure benefits: less pollution, less noise, less traffic, and presumably better health for bike riders.

Nice Ride has experienced a few bumps—the instructions at the kiosks can be confusing, and the system doesn’t take debit cards—but for the most part, Minneapolis’s experiment with bike sharing seems to be going smoothly. Even vandalism seems to be low: In the first three weeks, two bikes were rented with stolen credit cards, and both were recovered.

A few days after the program started, we spotted Mayor Rybak sailing along a downtown street on a Nice Ride cycle. “Salut!” we called out. “Bonne idée!” But the mayor was already gone, moving fast.

Joel Hoekstra, Editor
jhoekstra@mnmo.com
 


Contributors

David Bowman, who created the images in this month’s feature “Electric Avenue” (page 96), often spent hours on the midway at the Minnesota State Fair, waiting for the perfect moment to take a single shot. “It attracts a lot of attention,” he says of his large-format camera. “People stop to ask questions—about the camera, about me, about the project I’m working on. That’s kind of part of the fun.”

As a reporter who has covered criminal justice issues for MinnPost and City Pages, writer Beth Hawkins has interviewed numerous lawyers over the years. But few have proved as intense as attorney Jeff Anderson, whom Hawkins interviewed for “Lawyer vs. Vatican” (page 104). “He’s utterly committed to his cause,” Hawkins says. “I came away believing that raw emotion is what fuels his 18-hour days.”

In this month’s “So Smart It Hurts” (page 78), senior editor Tim Gihring explored the subject of special education for child prodigies and other brilliant kids. “These aren’t the teachers’ pets getting straight As and heading school council,” he says. “They’re often outliers with few classmates they can relate to, and yet it’s hard for many of us to empathize. To hear their stories is a real check of one’s own perspective.”

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Joel Hoekstra writes frequently about design and architecture for Midwest Home and has contributed to a wide range of publications, including This Old House, Metropolis, ASID Icon and Architecture Minnesota. He lives in Minneapolis in a 1906 Dutch Colonial that is overdue for a full remodel—or at least a coat of fresh paint.