Living a Local Life


I was already writing this post when this election gave it a new slant. I’d started writing about how much richer my life is when I frequent local businesses and services than when I go elsewhere for those things, like the suburbs or online. It makes me feel more grounded in my community, helps invest my dollars into the local economy, and gives me more time for the things I love. After the election, I feel these things even stronger. And I feel that local action is one thing we can still hold on to, even in the hard times to come.

Bringing things in

Lives are made up of many choreographed puzzle pieces. When one thing changes, the whole fabric becomes a little different. Sometimes those shifts are small, like getting a new job pretty near to your old job. But sometimes they’re large, like moving way closer to work so you save an hour a day that you used to spend commuting. While you probably can’t get a new job, get new friends, and get a new place to live, you really don’t need to. You just need to notice the places that you spend most of your time and focus on finding the rest of what you need near there.

A few years ago, my good friend Dan lived in a swanky light rail adjacent apartment in Bloomington. He’d moved there with a girlfriend, and even after they broke up, he planned on staying. One day we were talking on the phone, I was in my bedroom in Whittier and he was at the coffee shop formerly known as Bull Run on 34th and Lyndale. He mentioned he was planning on renewing his lease. And I said some simple words that have thoroughly changed the fabric of his life: “You should move to uptown.”

He was complacent. He liked his apartment. His lease was coming up and he was just going to roll with it. He works in Edina and spent all of his free time in my neighborhood: reading at coffee shops, going to events, visiting friends. He’d never considered moving. Now he’s lived in Whittier for several years and loves it. But it almost didn’t happen because he was stuck.

There are little changes you can make that will improve your life and your neighborhood. Instead of going to the dentist in the suburbs, find one nearby that you can walk or bike to. Instead of ordering batteries from Amazon, pick them up at your local hardware store while walking your dog. Instead of driving to the suburbs to visit shopping outlets, frequent your local thrift or consignment store.

When you make these changes, you make living life a little easier on yourself. You don’t have to navigate traffic and unfamiliar streets every time you have to run an errand. You get the small pleasure of walking or biking in your neighborhood and possibly seeing an acquaintance en route. You start to recognize the baristas at your favorite coffee shop, and they recognize you. It makes the connections around you feel closer. It makes living in even a large city feel cozy and comfortable.

Moving forward

Choosing to be more rooted in your community can be good for your own sanity and for building connections. Now it has become more than that. Since the election, I’ve been inspired by the words of our Mayor Betsy Hodges and my boss, Council Member Lisa Bender. To conclude an event we held on Thursday, Lisa said that Minneapolis will continue to fight to protect all residents. Our elected leaders will do what they can to keep us safe. It was a glimmer of hope on a dark day.

I don’t just see locality as a good way to make your life more walk and bike friendly. I see it as the only way that we’ll be able to make progress in the next couple of years. We will now be entering into an era with a unified GOP federal government, and a GOP-controlled state legislature. I’m afraid of big things, like disruption of international agreements and the systemic persecution of people of color, immigrants, and women. And I’m afraid of smaller things, like a complete dearth of federal and state funding for transit projects. It’s easy to become paralyzed by that fear and horror. So I’m working to focus on the things I can impact now, with my time, my voice, my energy, my money.

It is now up to us to do the work to bring about the world we want to live in. It is up to us to start protests, to attend protests. It’s up to us to caucus for our preferred City Council candidates in April. It’s up to us to put our hands to work volunteering for organizations that we value. It’s up to us to step in when we see hate in action and to call out bigotry wherever we encounter it. It’s up to us to organize, to have conversations, to stay engaged. All this work can happen locally, and indeed, it must happen locally. Just because we are small doesn’t mean we are powerless. There are things that need to get done here, where we live. And if we harness this energy that many have felt since the election, we can put it to good work in the places where we’re already planted.


Dressing like a biker

Photo courtesy of Brian Fanelli.

Photo courtesy of Brian Fanelli.

The way we choose to dress is not a fringe or frivolous issue. Women’s bodies are policed, especially in professional environments, so being able to bike is often dependent on being able to look put together. One of the most frequent questions I’ve gotten from other women, especially women who don’t bike, is how I end up looking clean and well dressed as I arrive at work. I’ve heard questions targeted at fellow biking babes expressing amazement that they bike in heels, wear make-up while biking, or don’t carry a change of clothes. This amazement comes from a place of misunderstanding what a biking life can be like. You do not have to have a special spandex wardrobe. You do not have to bike so fast that you get really sweaty. You do not have to carry a change of clothes if the clothes you have fit your lifestyle.

There’s no definitive answer to why women are less likely to bike than men, making up only a quarter of the bike commuting population. Over at FiveThirtyEight, Mona Chalabi writes about how both fears of traffic and crime, coupled with additional care taking duties and lack of wealth, combine to make it difficult to suss out women’s one ultimate barrier. One study found that women’s barriers to cycling are mainly the same as men’s: distracted driving, hostile road conditions, and insufficient bike facilities. In that same study, about one third of respondents said they “have to wear nice clothes and look well-groomed at [their] destinations.” That doesn’t mean that fashion prevents women from biking, but it does indicate that it is a consideration for many women-identified bikers.

We live in a world that tells women they cannot be seen sweating, they cannot show a glimpse of thigh while biking, they cannot deviate from the employee dress code, and they must look feminine and professional. And then, even if they do all these things, they still aren’t respected or paid as much as men. These expectations create barriers to riding a bike, especially riding a bike to work and integrating it into the fabric of your life. Even if you do bike, drivers honk at you when you’re biking in a skirt, strange men under bridges approach you and ask if they can ‘be your man,’ your boss gives you a hard time for wearing a sleeveless top when you’re hot from arriving by bike, or your relatives criticize your helmet-flattened hair.

For me, dressing like a biker means making my own clothes. It means being able to choose the way that I express myself while ensuring I’m comfortable on a bike and in a wide variety of social settings. I don’t have to be limited to the narrow band of styles that are in stores. While I choose to make my own clothes, this is a recent endeavor that came out of frustration with the options available to me. I understand that most folks don’t have the time or inclination to do it. There are plenty of ways to find personal style, be it through clothes that are handmade, thrifted, swapped, or bought new.

Sewing means I can make dresses with traditional feminine silhouettes that fit my personal style and my particular body, but that are made from modern materials to allow for movement.  I hate having two wardrobes, one for work and one for play. Dresses allow me to feel like myself in most any situation. And since I have a one-track mind, I like the consistency and simplicity that comes with having a uniform. For rides shorter than three miles, I don’t wear bike shorts, but for longer ones I do. I don’t wear a helmet. I often ride slowly. I like that my wardrobe and the bikes I ride are stylistically similar, it makes me feel like I’m firmly planted right in the middle of a Venn diagram of beauty and practicality.

In her essay, Dressing like a feminist, Morgan at Craft & Bee writes that “making your own clothing can be an act of resistance to the shortcomings of mainstream fashion.” So often, the clothes that women are told to wear are constrictive, revealing, or impractical for biking. On the other side, the clothing that’s made specifically for bikers is often primarily sporty, available in only certain sizes and colors, and, in some cases, produced by a company that objectifies women in their advertising. Developing a personal style that combines form and function allows us women-identified folks to navigate the world in whatever way we prefer.

How do you think about fashion and biking?


The Rules of the Road

DSC03341It can be hard to figure out what the hell you should be doing out there in the vast wilderness of traffic. People get angry about pretty much every behavior. Someone will get mad at you for following the law precisely, while someone else gets mad that you harmlessly break the law. Car-driving commenters love to rail about how bikers break the law and use that as an argument for why we shouldn’t invest in bike infrastructure or encourage cycling. Bike-riding commenters complain about drivers parking in the bike lane or pedestrians walking on bike paths. It’s all a hot mess. To help bring some clarity to the conversation, here are critical rules and behaviors for navigating urban streets no matter what mode you’re using. Some of these rules are not actually legal, so follow them at your own risk.


  • Idaho stop: The Idaho stop is a law which allows bikers to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs. I advocate for this approach, since it helps people biking establish themselves in the road. The authors of one study stated “stopping discourages bicycling, substantially increasing time, energy expenditure, discomfort, risk of collisions and risk for strain and overuse injuries.” They went on to write that, “Bicyclists enjoy vastly superior abilities to perceive and execute a safe yield at a stop than other modes, and great incentive to do so safely.” The study found that bicycle injuries decreased by 14.5% the year after the law was implemented. Whether or not the Idaho stop is officially canonized into law, we shouldn’t ticket bicyclists for running red lights or failing to stop at stop signs when this behavior can improve their safety and comfort. This is not a full license to blow through a red light. But if you come to a stop (or significantly slow down even if you don’t put your foot on the ground), look both ways, and make sure it’s safe to proceed, then go ahead.
  • Don’t bike fast like a jerk: If it’s a Saturday afternoon and you wanna cruise 25mph down the Greenway unimpeded, just stop. That’s not going to happen. If you try to zip down the Greenway and get frustrated every time someone is in your way, it’s your own fault for having unrealistic expectations. If you want to bike fast and unimpeded, bike in the street with the cars. You do not own the path any more than anyone else. This means that if you yell, “On your left,” from two blocks away and people don’t hear you, you’ll have to slow down, repeat yourself, and pass once they move over.
  • Biking on the sidewalk: Biking on the sidewalk is dangerous. A study in Minneapolis by Bike Walk Twin Cities found that 39% of motorist-bicyclist crashes occurred when bikers were entering traffic from a sidewalk. Sidewalk biking may feel safer to you, but it’s actually one of the most dangerous things to do on a bike. If you’re afraid of biking in heavy traffic, find quiet side streets to bike on. For example, in my neighborhood many people bike on sidewalks along Lyndale Avenue to avoid heavy car traffic. If they biked just one or two blocks off Lyndale in either direction, they’d find quiet side streets where there’s less traffic and slower moving vehicles. This is a better option than sidewalk biking. If you insist on sidewalk biking, realize that it’s your responsibility to yield to pedestrians, to take extra caution at all intersections, and to be aware of your surroundings.
  • Don’t pass on the right: There is no need to pass on the right. Other bikers aren’t expecting you there and if they’re about to turn right, they’re going to turn right into you causing both of you to crash. If you’re trying to pass on the right because it’s not clear to pass on the left, that means it’s not clear to pass at all. Just wait a second already!


  • Slow down: Speed is dangerous. Driving faster increases the likelihood that you will kill a person walking or biking if you hit them. If you’re driving at 20mph and hit someone, the chance that they’ll die from their injuries is 5%. If you’re driving 40mph and hit someone, the chance that they’ll die from their injuries sky rockets to 85%. If you’re in a crowded pedestrian area or on a residential street, 25mph is plenty. Driving slower means you’ll have more time to respond to someone in the street and will be less likely to seriously injure or kill someone if you do hit them.
  • Stop for pedestrians and bikers: Did you know that in Minnesota, walkers have the right of way at every corner? Every corner where two roads come together is an unmarked crosswalk, which means you should be stopping when you see someone waiting or starting to cross. It’s a law that most drivers ignore and most pedestrians are too afraid to take advantage of, so the norm is that drivers don’t stop at unmarked crosswalks and barely stop at marked ones. You can and should change this norm by respecting walkers and bikers who are trying to cross the road.
  • Move over: If you are passing someone on a bike, you must give at least three feet when overtaking them. This is to avoid sideswiping them or hitting them if they swerve to avoid debris in the road. This is not a simple courtesy, it is a matter of life and death. You will probably have to cross the center line to pass a cyclist safely, and that is okay. If you can’t change lanes or there’s oncoming traffic that prevents you from crossing the center line, then just wait. It’s common sense. Don’t put someone else’s life at risk just because you’re impatient.
  • Don’t honk, seriously: It’s loud. Honking is illegal unless you’re in imminent danger. Honking is scary for people outside of a vehicle. If you’re honking at a person on a bike, you might cause them to lose their balance and fall over right in front of you. Just don’t do it.
  • Don’t give up your right-of-way: I know you’re trying to be nice when you give up your right-of-way and wave a biker through a stop sign, but you’re making things worse. Imagine being at an intersection where another vehicle has clearly gotten there first, as often happens to me when I’m on my bike. I sit and wait for them to go. They sit and wait for me to go because I’m on a bike, and they’re confused or trying to be courteous. Sometimes they’re waving me through, but often I can’t see the driver due to windshield glare. Then after we’ve been stuck in a stalemate for far too long, I eventually go. If drivers would just go in the correct order, we’d avoid a stalemate and I might not even have to put down my foot because I’d be able to time my approach to the intersection to arrive after the car has proceeded through.
  • Right turn on red: Right turn on red is dangerous, many pedestrians are hit, injured, and killed this way because drivers only look to the left to ensure they are safe to move into traffic and do not look to the right to avoid hitting pedestrians in the crosswalk. If you’re going to turn right on red, do not move into a crosswalk until you’re pretty certain you can move out of it quickly. Before turning right into traffic make sure you look right to ensure you’re not going to run over a pedestrian. If you don’t have a clear sight line to oncoming traffic, or would have to block a crosswalk for a significant period of time to get one, just wait. Red lights don’t last that long.
  • Don’t park in the bike lane: The bike lane is not there for you to park in. There is no excuse for parking in a bike lane ever. Figure out some other place to stop or park your car that is not endangering the safety of bikers.


  • Don’t walk on bike paths: If there’s a bike path and a walking path and you’d prefer to walk on the bike path, just stop. The reason there’s a bike path is so people can ride their bikes on it; the reason there’s a walking path is so people can walk on it. These are two different groups that move at different speeds, it makes sense to keep them separated. In the winter when walking paths aren’t plowed, the bike paths essentially become shared use paths, so see below.
  • When you’re walking on shared use paths, stay right and stay alert: It’s great that you’re out walking your dog, but other people want to use the path too. Don’t take up the whole thing because your dog’s leash is way too long and he’s curious about those smells over there. Pay attention to your surroundings. If you’re on a shared use path, stay to the right and stay alert. Be ready to move over when people jogging, rollerblading, or biking want to pass you. It’s only polite.
  • When someone says “On your left” trust that they’re passing on your left: This means you need to know left from right and be ready to move over if someone’s coming. Please pay attention.


  • Don’t use your phone while you’re moving: Even if you’re walking. Pay attention to where you’re going. If you must use your phone, pull over to the side of the road or walk over to an unused part of the sidewalk. Don’t block traffic, watch where you’re going, and avoid hurting or killing people.
  • Be courteous and patient: No matter how many people behave well, there will always be a contingent of people who are gonna act like assholes. Accept this. Don’t go fuming into a rage anytime someone on a bike blows through a red light. They’re one person, they’re not an ambassador for everyone who rides bikes. If a walker on the bike path is taking up all the space and not paying attention, realize that it’s not a personal affront against you or a reason to treat other walkers like enemies. If a driver cuts you off, try to let it go without escalating the situation or cutting off the next driver you see. There are lots of careless mistakes that happen in moments of confusion, they’ve happened to me and they’ve happened to you. The best we can do for ourselves and for others in our community is to assume that other people are just trying to get somewhere doing the best job they can.

Acme Comedy Club threatens to leave Minneapolis over parking


When people drive to the iconic comedy venue, Acme Comedy Co., in the North Loop they have the option to park in one of two surface parking lots across the street. This may look like one giant block-wide surface lot, but it’s actually two. One 156-stall lot is owned by Acme’s landlord, Schafer Richardson, and the other 120-stall lot is owned by developer Curt Gunsbury and is dedicated to be used for tenants of his Itasca V building across the street and nearby office workers. Gunsbury is planning to develop his portion of the lot, located at 721 N 1st Street, into an apartment complex, and now Acme is threatening to relocate to the suburbs.

Acme has been located in the North Loop for 25 years. When the warehouse district was mostly warehouses, there was no shortage of parking. But now the North Loop is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the city which means there’s more vitality and interest–but less parking. There are plenty of theaters and venues in downtown Minneapolis that manage to thrive despite the difficulty finding cheap parking nearby. Acme’s hyperbolic response to this minor change in the status quo may reflect more on proprietor Louis Lee’s existing feelings about parking rather the specific impacts of this new development project.

The Lot and Development

Gunsbury’s lot–the lot that’s being developed–includes fewer than half of all the parking spaces that currently exist across the street from Acme. This lot is leased on a contract basis to tenants and nearby office workers, including one overnight legal business that may have up to 200 contract workers at a time. While Acme customers can use this lot for hourly event parking in the evening, there is no guarantee of regular access to these spaces. It is unclear how much actual parking Acme customers would be losing under this plan. The adjacent parking lot, owned by Acme’s landlord, is not being developed.

The new apartments being built at 721 N 1st Street would have dedicated parking. Gunsbury asked for a variance for this new building to exceed the city’s parking maximum. Due to the fact that Bassett Creek runs underneath this area of the North Loop, parking cannot be built underground. The complex at 721 would have 222 parking spaces on the first level. Of these, 152 spaces would be for residents of the 124-unit apartment building and their guests, and 70 spaces would be available for the current office tenant contracts. As the developer’s representative stated at the City Planning Commission, the fact that there may be extra spaces available in the evening would be a “great opportunity” for Acme customers to access the lot. An agreement like this would be similar to Acme’s existing informal arrangement with Gunsbury’s parking lot, though with fewer spaces available.

Some of the argument against this development from Lee states that his landlord, Schafer Richardson, has not “set aside” any parking spaces in the lot that’s not being developed for Acme to use during the duration of construction. This makes sense to me. Why should that lot set aside spots for Acme’s use only, when there are other reasons people in the area would want access to a surface lot? That lot is still going to be there, but Acme patrons will access it on a first-come first-served basis, just like everyone else.

City Planning Commission

Acme created an event to encourage supporters to turn up at the Minneapolis City Planning Commission (CPC) on June 27th. The room was packed with comedians and lovers of comedy. There wasn’t, however, a representative from Acme itself to give background or data or to be held responsible for some of the claims they’re disseminating to loyal supporters through high-profile comedians on social media. It was also clear that the folks in the room did not understand the full scope of the project, the role of the CPC, or what a parking variance is. That’s okay, I didn’t know many of those things when I showed up.

It was strange to hear impassioned pleas from comedy-lovers about the lack of parking, only to have them ask the commission to deny a variance to add more parking. Their strategy was to ask the CPC to deny all variances in the hope that this would prevent the development project from moving forward. The CPC could not legally do what the speakers wanted. As Commissioner Luepke-Pier stated, the variances being asked for were fairly minor and even if the commission opposed them, the development project could still move forward with minor variations. The CPC does not have the power to stop a development project for the reasons brought up at the CPC meeting without risking being sued by the developer.

Parking vs. Density

When I showed up at the CPC meeting, I spoke to a few people milling around outside the room. I asked them why they were there and we started chatting about Acme. They accused me of supporting a ‘rich developer’ over a local comedy club. I said that I was there to support density and building housing in a city with a housing shortage. Both online and in person, people have asked how the building of luxury apartments will address the housing shortage. Today’s luxury apartments are 2040’s middle-class housing. We need to have housing stock for people to live in, and as this housing stock ages it will become less luxurious and therefore more affordable. Additionally, when higher end apartments are available, this prevents rich people from renting, buying, and renovating cheaper housing which keeps those units available for the people who need them.

At the CPC meeting, speakers said that parking needs to be prioritized otherwise businesses will die. Speakers talked about how people from the suburbs will stop coming to the city if there isn’t abundant parking, and without these patrons businesses will close. They said that without parking, eventually the city will be full of apartments for people to live and nowhere for them to eat or be entertained. This is just wrong. As more people live in Minneapolis, there becomes more demand for restaurants, entertainment, and stores. We don’t have the speculate, these things are already happening. The people who live here support the businesses they need. Mixed density areas, like the North Loop, are particularly healthy and good for residents and business owners alike. We should build neighborhoods for the people who live in them, and not just to prioritize easy access for people who don’t live there. If the resulting vitality of the neighborhood attracts people from other neighborhoods and suburbs, that is a benefit and not the primary purpose.

It is true that the North Loop is dense and parking can be hard to find sometimes. I believe that the additional people and activity that come with being located in a dense and lively environment more than make up for the downside. There are more places to eat and better access to public transit at this location than others. It’s easily walkable for folks who live nearby and it’s ideally located for arriving by bike, being central in the city and near the river trail and Cedar Lake Trail. There are other options for arriving at this location besides driving.

It’s clear many people care deeply about Acme. The outpouring of support through the petition, on social media, and at the CPC meeting showed how much this venue means to the neighborhood and the city. The actual impact of the 721 N 1st Street development project is likely to have a minor, if any, impact on parking availability at Acme. If Acme wants easy and abundant parking, they can choose to move to the suburbs or make an arrangement with another parking provider.

No one is forcing Acme to leave Minneapolis. They have a choice to make. They can choose to stay in their historic venue in an urban, evolving, North Loop and risk losing certain customers who are swayed by the parking argument. Or they can uproot themselves at high cost, move to a more parking-friendly area, and risk losing folks who live and work in Minneapolis, and those who enjoy visiting the city for its culture and vitality. Acme has been framing this argument as if the developer and city government are forcing them to leave. This is not true. It’s Acme’s right to make whatever choice they make, but they need to take responsibility for the fact that this is their choice, and their choice alone.



Bikers come in all ages: An interview


The 8-80 Cities project promotes healthy communities where people ages eight through eighty can feel safe and comfortable navigating by whatever mode they choose. My interviews thus far have explored how adults in their twenties through forties get around by bike, but I’m looking to expand the conversation. Reed Nicholls is nine years old and just finished 3rd grade at Northrop School. I sat down with him and his mom, Amy Brugh, to hear his perspective on riding a bike in Minneapolis.

Biking in Mpls: Tell me a little about how you ride your bike, do you ride with friends or with family?

Reed: Mostly with my family.

Biking in Mpls: When you’re going places or just for fun?

Reed: Sometimes we just go on bike rides because we don’t have anything to do. Sometimes because we are going to a place.

Biking in Mpls: I heard you have two bikes, a tandem and your own bike, which one do you like best?

Reed: I definitely like my own bike because the tandem, whenever we have to go up a hill and down a hill, on the last gear it always gets me off on biking. It moves the pedals. It’s just weird.

Biking in Mpls: Do you ever do any tricks on your bike?

Reed: I remember my brother and I we used to want to know how to do a wheelie. Sometimes when I’m riding I’ll try and pop up into a wheelie.

Biking in Mpls: Has that ever worked?

Reed: No

Biking in Mpls: What are your favorite places to ride?

Reed: I like riding down at [Minnehaha] parkway and other times I ride around on the square that the streets have made with 46th, Bloomington and Cedar, and 42nd.


Amy: Could you tell Lindsey about what your school does on bike day?

Reed: We have a bike-a-thon. A whole bunch of kids bring their bikes to school. For the smaller kids you only bike two miles, I think. But for third grade and up, that means me, we bike over eight miles.

Biking in Mpls: Where do you go on the bike ride?

Reed: We go way down by the Mississippi by Fort Snelling State Park.

Biking in Mpls: Do they do that throughout the year or just once?

Reed: Once a year.

Amy: What would you think if they did that more often?

Reed: It would be fun.

Amy: Could you tell Lindsey about what you’re doing this summer?

Reed: I have the STEM program, which is a summer school but it’s not a summer school. I’m pretty sure there’s some biking involved in that.

Amy: It’s at Pillsbury which has the bike fleet. I think they ride their bikes every day. It’s a MPS school program. You get to ride a bike with your class and you get to learn about how to maintain your bike and fix bikes.

Reed: That sounds good. That’s happened where the chain comes off. I was trying to fix it and when I finally got it back there was stuff all over my hands.

Biking in Mpls: Do you ride to school?

Reed: Sometimes.

Amy: Why don’t you bike to school more often?

Reed: Because of Cedar. I have to wait there a whole long time because some cars just don’t mind to stop. Sometimes when I’m biking, like at stop signs or red lights, I can see people looking down at their phones.

Biking in Mpls: That drives me crazy. How do you feel about that?

Reed: I feel mad. When the light turns green for me, I still don’t go because they’re texting. Sometimes the car is on the crosswalk, because I go on the crosswalk with my bike to get across instead of in the middle of the street. When I go on the crosswalk, all the time the cars inch forwards until they’re blocking the crosswalk so I have to go around them. That means I still have to go in the middle of the street.

Biking in Mpls: What would make you feel better about biking to school?

Reed: A bike lane!

Biking in Mpls: Do you feel like biking is important?

Reed: It’s definitely better for the environment. For driving, it gives off the exhaust. For biking, there’s no exhaust except your air coming out of you.

Biking in Mpls: Are there any other reasons you think biking is important?

Reed: Well it’s important that you get your exercise.

Biking in Mpls: What’s your favorite thing about riding a bike?

Reed: It’s fun. It’s just fun to ride your bike.

Reed Nicholls is a cyclist and future 4th grader living in Minneapolis.