It’s That Time of Year Again: Bike Fever

I know that there are die-hards like Bill Ostrem and Bruce Anderson, not to mention my husband, who bike almost all through the winter. But for the rest of us mere mortals, it generally isn’t until the roads dry up that we start thinking seriously about it.

Now spring is here, and I’m starting to get the itch. Carleton’s “Shrinking Footprints” blog had a piece today about the surprising and enormous success of the bike-sharing program in Paris.

Eliza Berry writes,

In a recent stop-over in Paris on my way back home from studying abroad, I decided to spend an afternoon wandering the neighborhood around Notre Dame Cathedral. I was immediately struck by the rows of sleekly designed, basket-equipped bicycles, neatly lining the streets every few blocks. Each bike was marked with a funky Vélib logo (a mix of vélo, bike in French, and liberté, freedom), The bikes are hooked into specially designed bike-stands that keep them locked until someone needs a bike and swipes their access card at one of the computerized pay stations (which look like glorified ATM machines). The rider can then drop off and lock up the bike at whichever station is closest to their final destination (rarely more than 1,000 ft away than any spot in the city). The company (JCDecaux) tracks the bikes electronically by keeping tabs on the location from which each bike was last released and returned.

London has plans to implement a similar program. (I read somewhere that 63 cities in Europe have bike-sharing or other easy bike-rental options.) Now finally, some cities in the U.S. are starting to get with it. Washington, DC will roll out the first U.S. test of the idea next month with the SmartBike program in a public-private partnership with Clear Channel Communications. San Francisco has also inked a deal with Clear Channel for something similar. Other cities investigating the idea include New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Portland, OR. Even Tucson, AZ is looking into a limited version of the idea.

We’ve had several posts about bikes and biking on Locally Grown over the past year and a half. I think my first one was about biking in Copenhagen, Denmark, where 36% of the people commute by bike. Then Ross wrote about the Danes and other European trail-blazers paving the way to encourage more bike-friendliness and see bicycles as viable transportation, not just recreation. Shortly after that I wrote about a website featuring many photos illustrating what “complete streets” look like.

Most recently, Ross blogged about the program at Ripon College which gives new bikes to students. Maybe Northfield could do one better, and work with the colleges to implement a formal bike-sharing service here. Last May the City Council authorized the creation of the Northfield’s Non-Motorized Task Force for a year. Perhaps the task force could be continued to work on a project like this (among others). Who else might be interested in exploring the idea? Think it could work?


  1. Bill Ostrem said:

    Tracy, I appreciate your well-researched post on this issue. I’ve followed news of the Paris Velib bike program with great interest and will try to follow such programs as they proceed in this country as well. I will be in Washington D.C. briefly this summer and will try to check it out there. The Minnesota Bike Summit is on April 26, and I will ask around there as well.

    The Task Force on Nonmotorized Transportation will be seeking a one-year extension to continue to work on Safe Routes to Schools and other projects. I agree that we should explore the possibility of a bike-rental program as well.

    I’m not that knowledgeable about the bike-rental programs, but they seem to be like public transit in that the user only pays part of the cost; however, instead of being subsidized by tax dollars, they are subsidized by billboard advertising rights. Thus the Smart Bike program ( is run by Clear Channel and Cyclocity by a company called JC Decaux.

    Some questions: Would Northfield be large enough to attract one of these firms? Would there be an increase in advertising signs around town?

    Perhaps we could partner with some group in the Twin Cities to try something out here. Northfield is full of smart and resourceful people who may have other ideas or other knowledge to add.

    April 15, 2008
  2. Jerry Bilek said:

    thanks for the latest post. I agree it would be great to see the local colleges follow Ripon’s lead or some form of bike sharing. I believe Carleton has had a yellow bike program. I’ve seen some yellow bikes around.

    The League of American Bicyclists is promoting Bike-to-Work Week from May 12-16 and Bike-to-Work Day on Friday, May 16.

    Trek has a program called one world two wheels:
    “A key goal of One World, Two Wheels is to increase US trips taken by bicycle to 5% from the current 1% by 2017. With nearly 40% of car trips taken being under two miles, it’s an achievable goal.”

    if you need a new helmut Mike’s carries Trek lids: “$1 of each helmet purchase is donated to the Bicycle Friendly Communities project that is part of Trek’s 1 World 2 Wheels commitment.”

    Mike is also a single speed conversion expert. He can turn that old Schwinn into a SS or fixed gear urban ride.

    April 15, 2008
  3. Bill Ostrem said:

    Here are my thoughts on where we could have bike-rental stations: St. Olaf, Carleton, Downtown, the future Transit Hub by Walgreens. Perhaps the colleges could be involved in some way in organizing this.

    April 16, 2008
  4. Anne Bretts said:

    I’m just wondering why there will be a transit hub behind Walgreen’s, where there is a lot of truck traffic and opportunity for vandalism. Couldn’t the transit hub be incorporated into whatever new use there is for the safety center? It would be more visible, safer and allow the restrooms, parking and other amenities to be used more conveniently by people using all the public space along the river. I’m sure there’s a good reason, I just wonder what it is. It would seem that coordinating the money with the city would allow a rental spot to be incorporated into the plan.

    April 16, 2008
  5. Bill Ostrem said:

    By coincidence, yesterday I was contacted by Taylor Lawson, a student at Northfield High School. Some students in a Service Learning class there are interested in starting a community bicycle program which they are calling an “Orange Bike” program. She mentioned the yellow bike program at Carleton and a green bike program at St. Olaf.

    Taylor will be speaking to the Task Force on Nonmotorized Transportation at our next meeting, Thurs., April 24, 7 pm, Nfld City Council Chambers.

    I encouraged Taylor to read the “Community Bicycle Program” entry at Wikipedia: This has a good history of such programs and some examples of the challenges, including theft and vandalism. Those would be my main concerns about a free bike program, along with ongoing maintenance.

    It would be interesting to hear what the experience of the Carleton students has been with their yellow bike program, and also what the various students would think of a bike-rental program akin to what Tracy has written about – that is, the programs in various European cities. In the Paris program, bike rental is free for the first 30 minutes.

    April 16, 2008
  6. Anne Bretts said:

    So perhaps, just perhaps, when the safety center moves, there could be a youth -run bike rental business, or perhaps even a rental and used bike retail center (getting rid of all the bikes the police department now has in storage. Perhaps the safety center could be converted to include these services, plus public restrooms, an indoor climbing wall and canoe and tube rentals if the dam is removed. I don’t know whether there would be room for all this in the current liquor store site, but if so the liquor store could move to the safety center and the vacant liquor store space could be the rental/visitor/youth hub.
    It’s certainly worth discussion.

    April 16, 2008
  7. Tracy Davis said:

    Thanks, Bill and all. I’d like to stay on top of the developments and I’m glad to hear that several different groups are working toward a similar goal, whether it results in a bike-share/rental program or however it’s structured.

    Let me know what you find in Washington, DC!

    April 16, 2008
  8. Bill Ostrem said:

    I spoke to Steve Clark of Transit for Livable Communities at Saturday’s Minnesota Bike Summit. (How’s that for a lot of capital letters?) I asked him about bike sharing programs such as the one in Paris. He said he is not trying to do that in Minneapolis yet b/c he wants to improve the facilities – the places people ride – first. Or that is his focus now. He said Paris streets often have a right lane that is for buses, bicycles, and right turns, and that this is a good way to go.

    I also got a copy of the Wisc. Bicycle Facility Design Handbook on Saturday from the state’s bike/ped coordinator. On the cover is a picture of a sign that reads “Curb lane: Buses, bicycles, and right turns only.”

    This type of lane seems less applicable to Northfield, b/c we don’t have buses. But then again, we don’t have that much traffic either. At least not yet.

    April 28, 2008
  9. Bill Ostrem said:

    See the June 2008 Bicycling magazine for a story on “23 Top Cycling Cities.” Washington, D.C. gets the vote for most improved city and they mention its SmartBike “public-use bike system,” similar to the one in Paris; the DC system opens this spring. (Article not available online, unfortunately.)

    Minneapolis is voted one of the runners-up for “most improved” status, Fargo-Moorhead for future promise (they hired a bicycle coordinator and are working on a bikeway network).

    April 28, 2008
  10. Jerry Bilek said:

    here is a good story about a biking attorney:,6610,s1-3-583-17104-1,00.html

    “People Who Ride: Walter Dellinger
    The verdict is in for supreme court attorney Walter Dellinger – biking is the best way to clear your head, lose some weight, and get around a crowded city like Washington D.C.”

    “I think people who don’t bike under rate how much fun it really is,” he said. “Just going out from my busy day to do an errand on my bike mixes up the day. You get fresh air, some exercise, and it’s fun.”

    May 1, 2008
  11. Bill Ostrem said:

    Just heard this on MPR:

    “Free bike use to be offered during GOP convention
    May 8, 2008

    St. Paul (AP) — People worried about getting around the Twin Cities during the Republican National Convention may have an answer – free bike use.

    Minneapolis and St. Paul will be given 1,000 bikes for people to use during the four-day convention that starts September 1.

    The bikes will be stationed at racks set up at different points around the cities. They can be checked out by swiping a credit card or a program ID card, then checked back in at racks stationed elsewhere.

    The bikes are provided by Humana, and 75 of them will remain after the convention.”

    May 8, 2008
  12. Mary Rossing said:

    Any idea how the orange bike project through the High School is coming along? Maybe Humana would like to donate 75 more!!

    May 8, 2008
  13. Fascinating story, Bill–thanks for the link! I just did a little rooting around on the web and found this interesting presentation by a Humana (“one of the nation’s largest publicly traded health benefits companies”) employee from the January 2008 Bike Share Philadelphia Forum.
    Humana apparently owns about 100 bikes that its employees use free of charge through their “Freewheelin” program. 2400 of their 8500 Louisville office employees have used the bikes, each bike being used an average of four times daily, according to to a Bicycle Retailer and Industry News story about the program. According to the story, as of January ’08 Humana had been contacted by about 60 businesses and 20 universities about implementing a similar program. Carleton? St. Olaf? Malt-O-Meal? Anyone???

    May 8, 2008
  14. Bill Ostrem said:

    I got an email from Taylor Lawson today about the Orange Bike program. She asked about approaching the City Council with their idea, and I encouraged her to do so and offered some advice. She said that Chief Taylor was supportive of the idea.

    Here is a link to a bike-sharing blog that is quite interesting. It looks at the “second and third generation” bike-sharing programs (commercial and/or govt. programs such as the one in DC) that are spreading:

    May 8, 2008
  15. Bill Ostrem said:

    I just did a blog post on bike-sharing:

    In the interest of continuing the discussion here, I include this excerpt (see original post for links):

    “The discussion and the news prompted me to e-mail Paul DeMaio of MetroBike in Washington, DC. Paul provides consulting services related to bike sharing. I asked him whether a town such as Northfield, Minnesota (population 18,000) could attract one of the providers of the high-tech bicycle-sharing programs, such as Clear Channel Outdoor’s SmartBike program or JCDecaux’s Cyclocity program.

    He said that a town the size of Northfield probably wouldn’t be able to attract those larger firms, given the costs of setting up such a service. But he did mention the possibility of a private service called Nextbike, which operates in Germany and New Zealand. He also thought that a non-profit model, with the cooperation of the colleges, city, and local businesses might work. He gave Toronto Bikeshare as an example, though after doing some research I found that program has been canceled. Perhaps another model is the Humana Freewheelin’ program that is being used at the political conventions. Some of those bikes will remain in the Twin Cities, so we can monitor how things proceed there.

    Perhaps someone here might explore the option of the Nextbike model as a business opportunity. Their web site and a video describe how it works: users find a Nextbike, call a number and receive a code that they can use to unlock a bike, then they pay a fee for rental.”

    May 29, 2008
  16. Bill Ostrem said:

    Here’s a news article on the Mpls bike share program. Goal: 1,000 bikes at 75 kiosks by this spring!

    And a web site:

    And, according to the Bike-sharing Blog, Montreal’s “Bixi” bike-sharing program was named the 19th best invention of the year by Time magazine:

    I hope to have our Task Force on Nonmotorized Transportation work with student groups at the colleges to help explore options for Northfield.

    November 7, 2008
  17. Bill Ostrem said:

    I spoke to Bill Dossett today. He is working on the Mpls bike share program. He said they may have a trial in the fall of 2009 and they hope to be fully operational in spring 2010. He said they are seeking some federal funding.

    He is a Carleton grad and would be a good resource as a speaker here in Northfield some day.

    February 16, 2009

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