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MN Health Experts Look to Expand Bike Share Program

As a test run of the Nice Ride bike share program looks to become permanent in Bemidji, a similar program is set to kick off in Rochester later this summer. (iStockphoto)
As a test run of the Nice Ride bike share program looks to become permanent in Bemidji, a similar program is set to kick off in Rochester later this summer. (iStockphoto)
July 22, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Now in its final year, a bike share pilot program is earning praise from Minnesota health experts who are looking to expand the idea to other parts of the state. The Nice Ride program in Bemidji is being hailed as a success by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, which helped sponsor the test project.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota's director of strategic communications Stacy Hiller said there have been some unique challenges bringing the nonprofit bike-share system to less populated rural areas.

"They need a bike that is a little bit lighter that they can ride a longer distance and has some of those special features on it, like the front basket to carry groceries, to carry school books," she said. "Just those features that make it easier from a longer-distance commuter perspective."

Hiller said the next challenge is finding ways to fully fund Nice Ride Bemidji to make it a permanent fixture in the city. Nice Ride is currently in talks with public and private groups to work out a deal to make that happen.

The program provides a recreational amenity for residents, but according to Hiller the bigger goal is to promote health. She said bikes can provide mental and cardiovascular benefits for regular users, which is why the program's sponsors have also set up the Wheel Being program that provides local patients with a free Nice Ride bicycle.

"And they are able to use it throughout the riding season as long as they ride it twice a week," she added. "And it's going to be programs like that that will make this sustainable in the long term, and will also really start to contribute to those more positive health outcomes."

After St. Paul and Minneapolis, Bemidji was the third city to become part of Nice Ride Minnesota a few years ago. Now the plan is to expand to Rochester later this summer.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - MN