Bike sharing program coming to Twin Cities during RNC

Anna Ewart

Many expect traffic will be bad on St. Paul streets during the Republican National Convention, but bike lanes across the Twin Cities may get busy, too.

A temporary bicycle-sharing program will bring 1,000 bikes to the Twin Cities during the Republican National Convention, which runs Sept. 1 to Sept. 4 in St. Paul. Another 1,000 bikes will be available to rent during the Democratic National Convention, which will take place in Denver, Colo. from Aug. 25 to Aug. 28.

The program is sponsored by Humana Inc., a health insurance company, and Bikes Belong , a bicycle-advocacy group sponsored by the U.S. bicycle industry.

Mat Barlow, special projects coordinator for Bikes Belong, said that people will be fitted for bikes and given locks and helmets. Their credit card information will be taken as an incentive to return the bikes.

The program, modeled after a bike-sharing program in Paris, is meant to promote bicycling as a healthy transportation option for short trips in cities, he said.

“We kind of want to introduce people in the states to that – the vehicle being the conventions,” Barlow said.

Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., delegates, media and anyone else will be able to use the bikes for free, but they have to register at Humana’s Freewheelin website first.

They’ll be able to pick up the bikes at stations, which will be assembled the weekend before the convention.

At press time, fewer than 1,000 people had registered for the bike rentals, according to an e-mail message from Humana spokesman Jim Turner , who also said that more are expected to register during and right before both conventions.

Notable participants include Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who Turner said have already signed up.

RNC spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin said she was unaware of any delegates who have signed up for the bike-sharing program. There are 300 vehicles in the “GOP Express,” which will be used to cart delegates around the Twin Cities, she said.

“Our priority is to minimize congestion,” Subbotin said.

Kathy Rabusch , a local project coordinator for Bikes Belong, said they have finalized most of the stations in the Twin Cities.

In Minneapolis, there will be stations near the Stone Arch Bridge, the Hennepin County Government Center plaza , Loring Park and, possibly, the Minneapolis Convention Center .

In St. Paul they’ll be in Crosby Park , Indian Mounds Park and Upper Landing .

On Monday, the city of St. Paul released traffic management plans for several streets surrounding Xcel Energy Center during the RNC.

No cars, bikes or other types of vehicles will be allowed on these streets Aug. 29 through Sept. 6.

The blocked streets are near some of the parks where bikes will be stationed.

This is the first time Bikes Belong and Humana have organized bike-sharing programs during political conventions.

Of the 1,000 bikes, Humana will leave 70 bikes in the Twin Cities to start a permanent bike-sharing program. Augsburg College started a bike-sharing program on its campus last spring.