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Bike Program For Low-Income Returns In Twin Cities

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A bicycle loan program is back for its second year in the Twin Cities, aiming to provide poor adults with a free bike for six months.

This year the Community Partners Bike Library has more bicycles, more volunteers and another $110,000 in funding.

The program’s goal is to spread a love of bicycling and its health benefits to people who might otherwise be left out. Minnesota Public Radio News reports the program aims this year to reach 200 adults from April to September — 50 more than last year.

“I think it’s in a great moment of expansion,” program director Claire Stoscheck told MPR. “People are very, very excited about it.”

Cycling is popular in Minneapolis, with miles of bike ways on and off the streets. Another public bike rental program, Nice Ride Minnesota, opened its second season in Minneapolis last Friday with 56 stations and about 350 bikes in the system. Under that program, subscribers can grab a bike at a kiosk and just go.

Sibley Bike Depot, a volunteer-run bicycle shop in St. Paul, created the bike library with a $193,000 grant from Bike Walk Twin Cities. The library was one of dozens of programs to receive money as part of a $22 million federal pilot program to increase walking and bicycling in the Twin Cities. Last week, program organizers found out they’ll be receiving up to $110,000 in funding for 2012, in addition to funding for this year.

The season kicked off on Saturday at CLUES, a Latino social services agency in south Minneapolis. The group is one of 16 nonprofits partnering with the bicycle library to recruit riders.

Eighteen people showed up for the bicycle safety orientation, which was more than organizers predicted. Ten adults had already applied to the program and had bicycles waiting for them.

Perla Montoya, 26, hadn’t ridden a bicycle since she was 6 years old. “I never fell down,” she said, laughing. A few minutes later, she was easily pedaling up and down the alley. She said she plans to bicycle to work every day and looks forward to getting healthier.

Cesar Orjuela, a community health worker at CLUES, said he hopes the program helps combat high rates of diabetes and high cholesterol.

“We need to promote healthy living in our communities,” Orjuela said. “And this is the best way to have very good health.”

Each biker in the program receives a helmet, a bicycle lock and a two-hour safety training orientation. The program also provides bicycle maintenance classes and coordinates group rides. Organizers hope extra classes and rides will help build a sense of community and encourage people to return the bicycles at the end of the six-month loan period.

Last year, 30 percent of the bicycles weren’t returned, but Stoscheck isn’t alarmed. The program had estimated that it would lose 1-in-4 bikes.

“Honestly, I’m very impressed with how many came back, considering it’s a complete honor system,” she said. “I just think it shows how good people are and how people really care about their community.”

This year, mechanics have outfitted each bicycle with an odometer to track the number of miles ridden. Riders can opt to create teams to compete in a “miles pedaled” challenge, with the top teams receiving prizes at the end of the riding season.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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