A Nice Tour of Saint Paul

October 3, 2012 by cynick | Posted in bike-jaunts , saint-paul

’Twas a nice day for a bike ride.

The fall colors had made a stunning surprise appearance, contrary to all predictions that the drought promised to keep them all but muted, and, given that the sunshine was warm, I thought there there couldn’t be a better time to take a tour of St. Paul by Nice Ride bike.

To the uninitiated – not that there could be many of you, if you are paying the slightest bit of attention – Nice Ride is a bike sharing system. You first pay for a daily, monthly, or yearly subscription, and then check out a bike at one station, ride to a different station, and check it back in.

The catch: you only have half an hour to ride between stations before you begin to incur “trip fees”, which for very good reason, grow arithmetically (not exponentially! – just another split hair to help quash the cultural overloading of the term “exponential growth”, used when more often than not what is actually happening is some kind of polynomial or geometric growth. End nerd.). This keeps bikes available in the system, and discourages people from hoarding them at the office.

The system is designed for short trips, in both the placement of the stations, and in the bikes themselves. Stations generally come in clusters that are centered inside a commercial area, or contain common pathways to and from a school.

There are a few outliers that require a bit of hustle in order to avoid the trip fee, but I’m guessing that those will become rarer as the system fills in over the coming years. (For the record: in my two years of subscribership, I have never paid a trip fee. The clock nearly ran out once, but I managed to beat it with just a minute to spare.)

You certainly would not want to ride a Nice RIde bike all day long over every pothole-pocked road of the city, but they are plenty comfortable for a five minute jaunt from, say, one side of downtown to the other.

If you are an annual subscriber like me, you have your own-RFID based key that can be stuck into a slot in the dock of any bike. This saves much time mucking around with credit cards at the kiosks every time you want to take a ride.

For my tour, I checked out my first bike at the station near Kellogg and Robert, and about 4.5 hours later, I arrived back at that same station, having visited all 46 St. Paul stations along the way.

Pics or it didn’t happen:

My routing was ad hoc, and probably not completely optimal, but followed the general idea of tackling the West Side first, then working west along Grand Avenue, and coming back east along University Avenue, down the middle of the LRT tracks whenever appropriate.

I loosely based my strategy around minimizing traversals of the bluffs along the Mississippi, and trying to travel on the spine of the ridge that runs roughly north and south along Snelling Avenue.

(Digression: I’ve always thought it would be interesting to try to write bike path mapping software that takes into account changes in elevation in addition to terrestrial distance. That is, the optimal path might not be the proverbial straight line, but it might make twists and turns through some saddle point in between one or more hills. Perfect beta city, believe it or not: Omaha.)

I did the whole tour on the same bike. On several occasions at nearly full stations, having gotten into a groove of slamming the bike into the closest open dock to the “legend” end of the station, running over and taking the picture, and running back, I took off on the wrong bike!

Each time I did this, I knew it immediately due to the seat being too low or ridiculously high, but at one station in particular, when I turned back around to get the correct bike, more than one had my exact seat setting, oh no! – but then, looking closely, I was able to pick mine out by the absence of cobwebs on the handlebars.

By no means should this imply that the system has been underutilized – indeed, I think it’s been highly popular – on the contrary, the spiders are wildly efficient in some areas of the city, especially closer to the river!

For future purposes of historical reference, here is the (completely unabridged) routing I took:

Leg 1: (3 min) Kellogg-South Robert-Fillmore-Livingston

Leg 2: (6 min) Livingston-Plato-South Robert-Cesar Chavez-State

Leg 3: (2 min) State-Cesar Chavez

Leg 4: (4 min) Cesar Chavez-Wabasha-Plato-Fillmore-Harriet Island

Leg 5: (5 min) Harriet Island-Wabasha Street Bridge-Second

Leg 6: (3 min) Second-Wabasha-Sixth-St. Peter-Fifth

Leg 7: (3 min) Fifth-Market-Kellogg-Science Museum

Leg 8: (4 min) Science Museum-Kellogg-Exchange-Eagle-Chestnut-Shepard-Washington-Upper Landing

Leg 9: (6 min) Upper Landing-Sherman-Shepard-Chestnut-Ryan-Walnut-Exchange-Ramsey-West Seventh

Leg 10: (3 min) West Seventh-Kellogg-Kellogg & Smith

Leg 11: (5 min) Kellogg & Smith-Kellogg-John Ireland-Minnesota History Center

Leg 12: (4 min) Minnesota History Center-Marion-St. Anthony-Western-Western & Central

Leg 13: (4 min) Western & Central-Western-Dayton-Virginia-Virginia & Selby

Leg 14: (4 min) Virginia & Selby-Virginia-Laurel-Dale-Hague & Dale

Leg 15: (3 min) Hague & Dale-Dale-Dale & Grand

Leg 16: (5 min) Dale & Grand-Grand-Milton-Summit-Milton & Summit

Leg 17: (3 min) Milton & Summit-Summit-Lexington-Grand & Lexington

Leg 18: (2 min) Grand & Lexington-Grand-Kowalski’s (Kombucha)

Leg 19: (7 min) Syndicate-Portland-Hamline-Laurel-Albert-Hague-Saratoga-Selby-Snelling-Laurel

Leg 20: (3 min) Laurel-Fry-Summit-Macalester-Grand & Macalester

Leg 21: (2 min) Grand & Macalester-Grand-Grand & Fairview

Leg 22: (4 min) Grand & Fairview-Grand-St. Thomas

Leg 23: (8 min) St. Thomas-Grand-Cleveland-Summit-Prior-Marshall & Fairview

Leg 24: (3 min) Marshall & Fairview-Fairview-Fairview & University

Leg 25: (7 min) Fairview & University-Charles-Prior-Middle of LRT Tracks-Hampden-Charles-Raymond & Ellis

Leg 26: (8 min) Raymond & Ellis-Raymond-Como-Carter (Macaroon)

Leg 27: (5 min) Carter-Eckles-Commonwealth-St. Paul Campus

Leg 28: (18 min) St. Paul Campus-UM Transitway-Como-Hamline-Railroad Tracks-Energy Park-Hamline-Minnehaha-Minnehaha & Simpson

Leg 29: (5 min) Minnehaha & Simpson-Simpson-Thomas-Snelling-Sherburne-Sherburne & Snelling

Leg 30: (7 min) Sherburne & Snelling-Sherburne-Hamline-Western District Precinct Station

Leg 31: (4 min) Western District Precinct Station-Hamline-Marshall-Syndicate

Leg 32: (7 min) Marshall-Griggs-University-Middle of LRT Tracks-Lexington-Wilder Foundation

Leg 33: (9 min) Wilder Foundation-Lexington-Sherburne-Dale-Dale & University

Leg 34: (6 min) Dale & University-Dale-Sherburne-Marion-Marion & Aurora

Leg 35: (7 min) Marion & Aurora-Marion-Concordia-St. Paul College

Leg 36: (5 min) St. Paul College-Marshall-John Ireland-MLK-Capitol Grounds-DOT Building

Leg 37: (3 min) DOT Building-MLK-North Robert & Fourteenth

Leg 38: (5 min) North Robert & Fourteenth-Fourteenth-Jackson-University-Lafayette-Grove

Leg 39: (4 min) Grove-Pine-Tenth-Ninth-Wacouta-East Seventh & Wacouta

Leg 40: (3 min) East Seventh-Temperance-Ninth-North Robert-North Robert & Tenth

Leg 41: (2 min) North Robert & Tenth-Tenth-Tenth & Cedar

Leg 42: (3 min) Tenth & Cedar-Tenth-St. Peter-West Seventh-Wells Fargo

Leg 43: (2 min) Wells Fargo-East Seventh-Cedar-Fifth-Fifth & Minnesota

Leg 44: (2 min) Fifth & Minnesota-Minnesota-Seventh Place-Jackson

Leg 45: (2 min) Jackson-Fifth-Wacouta-Fourth-Union Depot

Leg 46: (3 min) Union Depot-Middle of LRT Tracks-Fourth-Jackson-Kellogg

(Thanks to Peter Bernardy for his Impressionist Amalgam of my pics of the stations!)