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As debut year ends, Nice Ride is cruisin'; Bike-sharing to be back for next two years

BEMIDJI -- During its inaugural season that ends Wednesday, the Bemidji Nice Ride bikeshare program saw participation numbers that were, well, pretty nice.

Director Melinda Neville said Friday there were more than 1,000 rides on those ubiquitous orange bikes that popped up all around Bemidji this past spring.

"The interest, enthusiasm and commitment of local leaders, our partners at the locations, and the community at large is wonderful," Neville said.

Bemidji was the first Greater Minnesota city chosen for the program by Nice Ride Minnesota, which operates the bike-sharing program in the Twin Cities.

Usage increased every week through mid-September.

The most popular station was at the Hampton Inn and Suites, near the Sanford Center on the south shore of Lake Bemidji. The 24-hour station accounted for about a third of all rides, Neville said.

Although the system is designed around paid rentals, about two thirds of all rides were free, Neville said.

"The Statewide Health Improvement Program funded the Ride Bemidji program that gave local residents up to two free hours during the week this summer, and all of our promotional and social rides were also free," she said.

Although sponsor BlueCross BlueShield has committed to fund the program for a further two years, the eventual goal is for Nice Ride Bemidji to be able to pay for itself, Neville said.

Nice Ride also received support from the Neilson Foundation and BSU, she said.

Neville also has high hopes for the participation numbers.

"I think it's easily achievable for us to double our numbers, maybe even triple them," she said.

There are are several new strategies in the works, Neville said.

"We are looking at the potential for long term rentals for locals, adding more social programs (Birding by Bike, for example, in partnership with the local Audubon chapter), and we're reevaluating our station locations to better serve Bemidji residents," she said.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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