Part 1: What about bike share marketing?

In this two-part blog series, I discuss the idea of bicycle share marketing as an important tool for creating a diverse user base rather than letting bicycle share market itself. 

Given bike share’s continued problem with integrating a diversity of users, why don’t we look at how its marketed?

Bicycle share is a popular new form of transportation and leisure bicycling in the United States. Despite its popularity and continued growth in cities across the country, bicycle share has a deep equity problem. From its most recent inception in places such as Washington D.C. and Minneapolis, bicycle share systems (BSSs) have been criticized for not placing stations in low-income and people of color-dominant communities and being wholly inaccessible to already underserved communities.

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Marketing image, Nice Ride Minnesota

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Northside Nice Ride Neighborhood Ride (6/20/15)

This is my second summer helping out with the Nice Ride Neighborhood program. Our local bike share company, Nice Ride, in partnership with community organizations, offers a long-term bicycle loan program in the summertime. Participants get to keep a flashy orange bike from June to October. They can also earn $200 towards a new-to-them bicycle by pledging to ride twice a week and attending four Nice Ride Neighborhood-organized events. In North Minneapolis, about 200 people have orange bikes this year. In St. Paul, the number is around 70. The program has almost triples in size from its inaugural year.

From an equity standpoint, the program succeeds immensely in its diversity of participants. Much of this has to do with the community organizations that partner with Nice Ride to make this a vibrant community experience. This includes bicycle organizations that represent marginalized bicycle communities, such as Women on Bikes and Major Taylor, leading the group rides.

I attended the first event scheduled for North Minneapolis this year. For this event, Major Taylor Cycling Club organized and led a group ride from Webber Park to the nearby Juneteenth celebration along the Mississippi River trail.

Nice Ride Neighborhood participants circle-up for a pre-ride check-in

Nice Ride Neighborhood participants circle-up for a pre-ride check-in

This year’s Juneteenth was a heavy day for many people. A celebration rooted in emancipation seemed trying on the heels of unspeakable murder and a year of constant protest against police brutality. But there is nothing more real than an African-American cycling group leading a majority Black group of bicyclists to Juneteenth and around the neighborhood’s off-street trails. I was happy to witness such an occasion.

Walter, a leading member of Major Taylor, talks with the crowd about ride safety.

Walter, a leading member of Major Taylor, talks with the crowd about ride safety.

The group of participants grows and the hot summer sun peeks out just in time for our 5-mile ride.

The group of participants grows and the hot summer sun peeks out just in time for our 5-mile ride.

The ride itself was full of life. Around 45 people attended, which proved to be a challenge when we initially winded down the hilly bike trail. Some participants were still learning how to maneuver their bicycles, which resulted in one early-on crash. The rider was fearless as she got back on her bike quickly and continued with the ride. As I told her, I would have still been crying on the ground and refusing to keep biking, so kudos to her and her courage to continue on!

Due to the crash, we got cut off from the first half of the group and ended up meandering a bit off-course. Add that to my list of bicycle-asks: detailed markings and directionals on trails!

We soon found our way to the Juneteenth celebration. We only stayed for 15 minutes because we had to head back to the park and eat the food awaiting us. I think the participants would have enjoyed a longer stay at the celebration. Some of us talked about coming back, but those plans did not come to fruition mostly due to tiredness after our ride! It was fun to turn a bunch of heads at Juneteenth with our wild group of orange bike riders and I wished the participants could have soaked that in a bit longer. Something to consider for next year, perhaps.

Our ride back took a different route, showing off even more off-street bike trails to the participants. On the way back, another fearless woman crashed her bike and got right back up and kept riding. We discussed how cool her scuff marks made her look.

My perceptions of (lacking) Northside amenities were challenged, although I did take note that this infrastructure is very far north, on the perimeter of the neighborhood. But, if people are looking for relaxing trails to ride near their home, they are certainly beautiful options on the Northside. As for infrastructure for utility transportation? Still need some work on that.

The bridge of dreams, tucked away behind the bicycle trail

The bridge of dreams, tucked away behind the Webber Park bicycle trail

When we got back to the park, a lovely spread of food awaited us. A local catering company, that makes a point to hire at-risk youth by the way (!!!), made us sandwiches with handmade bread. The young men who served us were clearly trained in fine-dining service, which I hope made people feel mad respected! Everyone was clearly stuffed after eating lunch. Many of us stayed around and chatted (some Black Girls Do Bike networking happened!), others went home for a nap. I ended up riding with a participant another 5 miles to an arts festival on the Northeast side of town. I finished up my day by randomly running into Walter from Major Taylor, our leader for the Juneteenth ride. On our bike ride together we accidentally rode our bikes through a very closed, very under-construction street. Whoops!

These group rides with Neighborhood participants remind me how important community is to bike riding, especially if you are new to biking around town. As a continual skeptic of bike share and its related programming, there is very little negative to say about this program. It builds strong and fearless bicyclists, fosters community, and exposes people to a variety of bicycle infrastructure and community events.

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Bike share programs really piss off rich people

To cut to the chase, here is an amazing Daily Show clip about NYC’s bike share program.

Here is my take:

In my dissertation, I spend a bit of time discussing Minneapolis’s bike share program, Nice Ride, and the city’s major, but intentional, screw up of not putting stations in North Minneapolis–our underemployed, predominately people of color area of town–when the program rolled out in 2011.

When I interview Mayor RT Rybak for my dissertation, i asked him about this very obvious omission. He told me,

First, we went where our accounts knew there was the most people biking. Knowing that that was the place we could succeed the most we also knew we had to quickly come up with a strategy to address affordability and location so we weren’t perpetuating the gaps in the system. So we immediately began working on grants strategies that would allow us to take more risks to put racks that may not be used as much in locations where it wasn’t as much of a bike culture. That’s where all the North Minneapolis ones came from. Then we worked a lot with the insurance folks about what they required because they anticipated so many bikes would be stolen.

I asked Debra (a former resident of North) of the Twin Cities Greenways organization whether she was concerned that the North side was not given Nice Rides immediately. She responded,

It was a concern of mine because they should have did it in the neighborhood but I also understood it was a pilot program, they wanted to try it out in areas that already had high bicycling activity. North Minneapolis does not have a high bicycling activity. But now that people have rallied around Nice Ride and spoke their mind to the mayor and to the Nice Ride officials, we have Nice Ride in the community.

In September 2011 I attended a community meeting in North Minneapolis about a proposed Greenway During the meeting, at least one community member referenced the initial lack of Nice Ride stations as a clear example of how the city does not prioritize North in its bicycle infrastructure planning.

This is not the first time bike share programs have been criticized for excluding predominantly poor and/or people of color neighborhoods.

Most recently, New York City rolled out its bike share program. And, as always, the criticisms came rolling in, too. But this time the criticism was just plain weird.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart recently did a piece, “Full Pedal Jacket,” on the NYC bike share program and what I am seeing as a new form of critique of bike share programs. Although the clip does explore the issue of poorer neighborhoods being excluded from a bike share program once again, the clip also exposes that these bikes are eye sores and a massive showing of the totalitarian city government. The extremely wealthy hate these ugly, ugly bikes.

I really have nothing to say about that besides…umm, ok? NYC clearly has a class that does not exist in other cities. A class so wealthy that they do not even think bicycles are cool. I have never heard this critique before, ever. Way to go 1%!

You gotta love the Citi Bike wheelies being popped outside of Manhattan–in a neighborhood without Citi Bike stations.  Of course.

Helmets,

M