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Bike share program to dovetail with DMC expansion

Nice Ride bicycles are lined up in south Minneapolis. Minneapolis debuted Nice Rice in 2010 with 700 bicycles and 65 kiosks where riders can swipe a keycard, pick up a bike and go, making it one of the largest urban bike-sharing programs in the U.S.

The Nice Ride bike share program's proposed expansion in Rochester would place stations of identical bikes throughout the downtown area.

The proposed system would encompass a 1.1-square-mile area in the downtown core and include 23 stations and 243 bicycles, according to a new feasibility study from the Minneapolis-based nonprofit group. The program is geared toward short rides, allowing half-hour or 60-minute rides before you dock the bike at another station. The Twin Cities, by comparison, has about 170 stations throughout the cities.

The feasibility study conducted over the past year aimed to determine whether a satellite of the Twin Cities program would work in the much smaller city of Rochester. The draft of the report found that "a relatively small portion of Rochester," specifically the downtown area, exhibits the concentrated demand, consolidated destinations and right mix of users that fit well with bike share systems.

The report has not been finalized, however, because the Destination Medical Center planning process may change the final result.

"We will be basically dovetailing this with the Destination Medical work," said Executive Director Bill Dossett said. "Basically, as the city looks to become more of a destination and a place where more people live in the urban area, it makes it a whole lot easier to launch a successful bike system there."


A year ago, some thought the program could be in place in Rochester as soon as this summer , but DMC planning has made the arrival date of bike sharing uncertain.

"We need to move further along with those efforts before further pursuing the Nice Ride system," said Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department Director Mitzi Baker.

Baker said she expects to see some sort of bike share system in Rochester in the future, a sentiment Nice Ride Executive Director Bill Dossett echoed.

"We want to do something in Rochester, and I think there are partners out there that will help us do it," Dossett said. It's simply a matter of finding the right tools and timing, he said.

Baker said if a bike share system is identified as a piece of the DMC development plan, the city might see it move forward more quickly. "If not, it might take longer," she said.

One of the main issues right now is the sustainability of the program financially. In the Twin Cities, about 60 percent of operating costs are from revenue, and station sponsorship covers the remaining 40 percent, Dossett said. With the current density in Rochester, that model would not work.

The initial launch for the suggested system would cost about $1.2 million, with an additional $478,000 per year in operating costs. The revenue from membership and user fees are projected to cover only about 7 percent of annual operating costs.

"I look at those numbers, and I do say that there are some big challenges there," Dossett said.


But that's not his focus. If the program can find the right tool to get people cycling and engaged, Dossett is confident it will be able to find funding sources.

Mayo Clinic likely will need to be a major partner, possibly setting up an employee program, sponsoring stations or contributing through other venues. Some of the funding could come from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota's Center for Prevention, which has budgeted $650,000 for Nice Ride's Greater Minnesota program for fiscal year 2014. The program also would pursue other local sources, grants and sponsorship.

In addition to the short-trip bike share system, Rochester also could see the arrival of Nice Ride Center, a new program that offers a more traditional flat-fee rental system by the hour, day or week.

Over the weekend, Nice Ride Center launched in Bemidji, with locations including a hotel and the tourist center renting out the orange bikes. The program offers convenient rentals for visitors, and Dossett said it will offer a lower cost for residents, particularly during the week when there is less demand.

"If it works there, it could turn out that that model might be a candidate for Rochester too," Baker said.

For Rochester, the study draft suggested a simultaneous roll-out of the Nice Ride Center program in addition to the more traditional bike share component. The Nice Ride Center system would cost $230,000 up front with an additional $150,000 annually for operation.

Implementation could happen in steps, Dossett said, expanding as the city grows.

A few barriers to bike share success identified by the study include a lack of residential density and a safe and comfortable bikeway network. To improve viability of a bike share program in Rochester, the study recommends urban residential development, wayfinding and bikeway development and increased programming throughout parks and open spaces.


Those conclusions are based on population density today, Dossett said, but the "DMC team has a vision that is very different from that."

"We need to dovetail the tool that we use to encourage cycling with Rochester today and where it's going," Dossett said.

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