A ticket to ride -- or pedal

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Looking for a new way to get around? Keep an eye out this month for bright red bikes locked up at different locations around town. They're yours to use, free of charge.

The Red Bike Project, a temporary, free bike share program organized by an ambitious group of young Red Wingers, will run from mid-August through early September this year. The red bikes will be located on special bike racks at Third Street, Levee Park, Bay Point Park, and along Old West Main Street.

Most small cities hope their graduates go off to college or trade school, learn valuable skills, and return ready to contribute to their hometown. Red Wing is lucky enough to have a group of talented young adults who don't wait to wait until they've completed their degrees to improve their hometown — they're already getting started.

Recent RWHS alums Elise Leise, Meyer Beckner and Joey Haley, along with Adam Wronski, Nora Bayley and Adam Kaiser, began planning the project in June. They are either college students or very recent college grads. They're not wasting any time before giving back to their hometown. For Leise, the desire to lead the project comes from a renewed appreciation for her hometown, after spending a year in Senegal as a Global Citizen Fellow.

"When I came back, I realized how grateful I was to have such a strong hometown community, a feeling I think most Red Wing alumni can relate to," she said. "Red Wing is where I will raise my kids if I move back to the Midwest."

In the spirit of staying local, the germ of the idea came not from Senegal, but Stockholm, Wis. The inspiration struck Leise walking around the town after visiting Stockholm Pie with her family. "I loved the free blue bikes scattered throughout the streets," said Leise. "I thought, why can't we do something like this in Red Wing?"

Users will send a text to the bike share number, and then receive a code to unlock and relock a bike at any of the Red Bike rack locations. Maps of the area will be available at each bike rack as well.

The group hopes to use the project to gauge interest in a permanent bike share program in Red Wing. If all goes well this summer, Leise hopes to bring back the program during the spring.

Once she heads to college at the end of August, the Red Wing High School Sustainability Club will take over through September. The stated goals of the project are to promote environmental sustainability and an active lifestyle, but Leise thinks it can have a social impact as well.

"We believe this will connect the regions of Red Wing into a stronger, more cohesive community," she explained.

According to Leise, there are three ways to participate in the program: ride a bike, review the program, and tell as many people as possible about it. Leise encourages everyone to attend their feedback meetings in late August, contact them on social media or send an email to redbikeproject@gmail.com.

All together now

The Red Wing Sustainability Commission supported the project early on. The Red Wing Police Department donated the bikes from its impound lot, while the Red Wing Bicycle & Outfitter Company is helping to fix them up. ArtReach is designing and painting the bike racks, the YMCA is providing winter storage, and Live Healthy Red Wing contributed funding and insurance to the project.

Live Well Goodhue County supported Red Bike through its mini-grant program, too. For Live Well Coordinator David Anderson, it's about giving more people the opportunity to pedal.

"For some of our residents, having access to bikes is not possible," said Live Well Goodhue County Coordinator David Anderson. "By partnering with the things like the Red Bike Project, we allow everyone to have access to a bike. If it's successful it's possible that it will be replicated in our other communities."

According to Anderson, Pine Island already has a bike share program during the weekends, and plans are moving forward in Zumbrota and Cannon Falls as well. Here in Red Wing, Leise hopes to bring a permanent bike share program not only downtown, but into each Red Wing neighborhood as well.

"We come from a town of strong connections, shared values, and an incredible drive to improve," Leise said. "It's essential for us as young adults to help contribute and add to that legacy. If our community wants to create change, we all need to play a part."