Three mile smiles

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Biking three miles at an average pace only takes slightly longer than driving. While about half of all trips in the US are three miles or less, 72% of those trips are driven. Pedal MN’s new 3 Mile Smile campaign is trying to change that. Through stories, resources, and rides, they’re encouraging Minnesotans to back away from the car keys and hop on their bike for trips of three miles or less.

There are many ways that getting started biking can be daunting. You have to find a bike. You have to figure out how to transport stuff on your bike and look presentable when you arrive at work. You have to learn how to bike confidently in traffic, even if it freaks you out a little. But traveling long distances doesn’t need to be a barrier. Work is 15 miles away? You don’t have to tackle bike commuting immediately, instead you can bike for shorter trips to your favorite neighborhood restaurant or the grocery store.

Biking for short trips can be powerful on a personal level by saving you money and improving your physical activity. On a societal level, the positive impact can be staggering. A 2012 study conducted by the University of Wisconsin calculated what would happen if 50% of short trips (less than 4.9 miles) in the Midwest were conducted by bicycle instead of by car. They found that the reductions in air pollution and increases in physical activity would result in a savings of over $8 billion and 1,295 fewer deaths per year. That’s incredible.

Pedal MN’s 3 Mile Smile campaign includes articles that will connect you with other folks who choose biking for short trips. Want to learn about the physical activity benefits of biking three miles? There’s an article for that. Want to read a 5-year-old’s perspective on biking for short trips? There’s an article for that too.  You can also learn about garage sale hopping by bike, mountain biking with kids, vacationing with bikes, and more.

And if you want to learn about biking with your dog? I wrote about how fun it is to pull my pup in her trailer and have her run alongside my bike.

Summer is prime biking time, and with the trailer I never have to leave Rosie behind. I bring her to outdoor concerts, festivals, and to get drinks on patios with friends. I bring her bike camping and on group bike rides. Drivers treat me better when I’m biking with a trailer, giving me a wider berth because they probably assume I have a kid in there. Passersby look in the trailer expecting a child, and are then tickled to see it’s a dog tailing along for the ride. Dogs are the perfect conversation starters, and dogs in bike trailers even more so. All the attention we get sometimes makes me feel like a celebrity’s bodyguard, constantly yelling thanks to all her smiling fans.

Read the entire article here.

I love the 3 Mile Smile campaign, because biking for short trips is easy and fun. Once you get used to it, choosing to bike for short trips will feel just as normal as choosing to drive. Driving makes me feel blah in many ways. I feel disconnected from my surroundings. I feel lazy. I feel like I missed an opportunity to move my body and breathe fresh air. Even in the middle of a hectic day, a short ride can lift my spirits and put a spring in my step. And that’s definitely something to smile about.

 

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3rd Avenue is getting a protected bikeway, but it could’ve been better

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Photo from the city of Minneapolis.

On April 15th, the Minneapolis City Council voted to install a protected bikeway on 3rd Avenue S through downtown Minneapolis. This is a much-needed north-south connection that many people, including myself, have been anticipating after years of construction and torn up bike lanes. Many folks were very excited about the project on 3rd Avenue, because the initial proposal was to have a very green, human-scale street with medians and greening. And yet, the design that was approved by a narrow 7-6 margin did not include any of the most exciting elements of the original design. There was extensive engagement around this project, but in the end the public process was flawed and the city went against recommendations from its own Bicycle and Pedestrian advisory committees, as well as neighborhood and other community groups.

The public process

Initially, Minneapolis Public Works staff proposed a design that would leave medians installed south of 7th Street, allowing for a 3-lane design including one lane for car travel in both directions and a median turn lane, while accommodating protected bikeways and pedestrian space. This is the streetscape depicted in the cover photo, taken from this document. This plan would’ve changed the street from 4 lanes to 3, something known as a road diet. This three lane design would replace what has been called a four-lane death road by Bill Lindeke at streets.mn. The four-lane design is what you’ll see on Broadway Avenue, Franklin Avenue, Hennepin Avenue north of Central, and many other places. These are roads with two lanes of traffic in each direction, and no middle turn-lane. That means there’s a wide variety of speeds on these roads, with some cars stopping and waiting to turn left, and other frustrated drivers speeding up to swerve around them. They’re dangerous. Three-lane designs are safer because they moderate speeds and make roads narrower, creating a better crossing environment for pedestrians.

On 3rd Avenue, Public Works proposed a 3-lane design for the south section of the street, with a 4-lane design to accommodate heavier traffic volumes on the north end of the street. Both designs included a protected bikeway, but the 3-lane design would’ve slowed traffic and kept the medians and greenery while creating more space for people biking and walking. The Bicycle (BAC) and Pedestrian (PAC) Advisory Committees supported the 3-lane design south of 7th Street because it would’ve created an overall safer, greener, and more pleasant experience for everyone while not negatively impacting car traffic.

Even though the above design was the one presented to all committees, on April 15th the Council voted on an entirely different design. It seems that a number of business owners in downtown Minneapolis became concerned that the road diet would negatively impact traffic, which would negatively impact their business. Public Works engineers presented designs based on their own analysis of what would work, but it was the unfounded concerns of business owners that influenced the introduction of this new design. The new design called for four lanes of traffic from the Convention Center to the Mississippi River, which would require tearing out the medians on 3rd Avenue and including two lanes of traffic in each direction.

The chairs of both the PAC and BAC co-wrote an editorial for the Minneapolis Journal where they stated:

“The Council will vote on a four lane street design that was never shared with the public or the City’s advisory committees… nor was it shared with the local neighborhood organizations. The BAC and the PAC were presented a vastly different design recommendation by Public Works staff on multiple occasions over the past six months, but this concept has not been shared with the Council as an option. […]

The BAC and PAC reviewed a three lane concept that, on the southern end, preserved the beautiful greening that Council Member Goodman and the downtown community invested in not so long ago. The design would also enhance that area by creating a safer, more comfortable experience for all road users without compromising traffic flow. Staff emphasized that the three lane configuration would work well for motor vehicle traffic on southern end.

The lack of process and transparency in the recommendation of a hasty, less safe and comfortable design has been disheartening and confusing. City Council should discuss and approve the design that was recommended by public works staff to the BAC and PAC, as appointed resident and stakeholder advisors to the City.

The original design presented and recommended by public works staff and supported by the BAC, PAC, Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association, and Citizens for a Loring Park Community preserves planted medians and makes the street safer for all: people who walk, bike, and drive.”

The vote and aftermath

By the narrowest of margins, the new, less safe design passed City Council in a 7-6 vote. Council Members Cameron, Frey, Glidden, Cano, Bender and Andrew Johnson voted for the original three-lane design, while Council Members Goodman, Barb Johnson, Reich, Palmisano, Quincy, Warsame, and Yang voting for the last-minute four-lane design.

I was very disheartened when I heard the news. First, we need to acknowledge that creating safe infrastructure is more than just throwing in some bollard-protected bikeways when we redo a street. We need to bring creativity to new projects and be willing to experiment with new road designs. We’re just starting to get the hang of this protected bikeway thing here in Minneapolis, and there’s much more to it than just bollards. The original design for 3rd Avenue was safer, greener, and more pleasant for people biking and walking. And that design isn’t happening. And second, the public process around this entire project has been skewed and shady. What’s the point of having Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committees if you don’t even present the correct designs to them for approval? What’s the point of having Public Works staff who tells you a certain design will work in a certain area if you’re just going to cave and give in to unsupported concerns from business owners who don’t even live in Minneapolis?

Council Member Cam Gordon wrote about the result on Facebook:

This [outcome] was disappointing for many reasons, but chief among them was the complete lack of any meaningful argument (other that the fact that a few businesses or building owners were concerned) in favor of four lanes given by any member of the Council majority this morning. That’s because all of the facts pointed to the superiority of a 3-lane layout. It would be safer, it would move traffic equally well, it would increase greening, and it would make for a more vibrant street. It’s clear that we made the wrong decision and we made it based on feelings, not facts, and the connections and influence of a few powerful non-Minneapolis residents to one or more Council Member. That is not a healthy dynamic.

Another unhealthy dynamic: our professional staff brought forward the 3-lane version for this portion of this street because, in their professional analysis, it would have worked just as well for traffic management. The Council majority ignored that analysis. Worse, someone from the Council majority (perhaps with help from business interests) appears to have pushed our staff into bringing forward a different recommendation. I am worried that we sent a bad message to our staff this morning: politics, not factual analysis, are what matter in the decisions we make. […]

A slimmest of possible Council majority voted for a layout with nothing to recommend it but the feelings of a few building managers, ignoring facts, our professional staff’s analysis, and the voices of all of the other stakeholders, including our own Council appointed advisory groups. And that’s disappointing.”

Why we should be only medium upset

As everyone’s been saying as consolation in this situation, we will have a high-quality protected bikeway on 3rd Avenue. It won’t be as high-quality as it could’ve been, but it’s still a step in the right direction and it’s an important missing connection in our bike system. And yes, you can look at it that way.

But I’m heartened by something else. I’m heartened by the fact that you can’t throw a stone lately without hitting someone on a bike. People are out biking, even in poor weather. People are participating in 30 Days of biking. People are riding racing bikes, Dutch bikes, beat-up single speeds, commuters, and Nice Rides. Everyone is seriously killing it out there on their bikes.

What does this have to do with 3rd Avenue? Well, it’s evidence of a culture shift. Eventually, more and more people will be riding bikes. This influences our road designs in a couple ways. One, Council Members will see the increased ridership in their wards and perhaps that will shift their thinking to prioritize cycling more. Two, more people biking means more constituents who can contact their Council Member to support progressive bike infrastructure. And third, hopefully, eventually all the increased bicycle traffic will begin to shift long-held views by business owners. The evidence shows that bikes are good for business, but it’s taking a lot longer for perceptions to catch up to the data.

So yes, you can be disappointed and disheartened by the outcome of the 3rd Avenue project. I know I have been. But I hope that in the not-too-distant future, the fact that many more regular folks are out biking will make our elected officials much more amenable to taking risks that will pay off in better streets for all.

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The problem of enforcement

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It was a beautiful September day, and Eric Nelson, a 43-year-old Minneapolis lawyer, thought spending the afternoon on the shore of Lake Calhoun was the perfect way to say goodbye to summer. So Nelson, who lives car-free, hopped on his bike and headed west on Lagoon Avenue.

But just as Nelson was preparing to cross the busy Hennepin Avenue intersection, a blue Ford Escape zipped out of the left side of his peripheral vision and made a right turn in front of his bike.

“I didn’t see the car at all until it was turning into me,” he said.

Unable to brake fast enough to prevent a collision, Nelson says he smacked into the back passenger side of the vehicle and fell over, shaken and hurt. Two men sitting outside of William’s Pub and Peanut Bar witnessed the incident and rushed to help the fallen cyclist off the blacktop.

Meanwhile, Nelson says the driver of the Ford slowed down briefly, then drove off, northbound on Hennepin.

One of the witnesses called 911. The operator sent an ambulance, but not the police. The paramedics who arrived checked Nelson out, and though he was sore from the crash and sported torn pants, a scraped elbow, and cracked glasses, he declined transportation to a hospital due to cost concerns.

The next morning, Nelson says his shoulder was causing considerable pain, so he went to the doctor, who performed X-rays and discovered a shoulder separation. Later that day, he headed to the Minneapolis Police Department 5th Precinct to report the crash.

“They didn’t seem to be too interested in it,” Nelson says. According to Nelson, the desk sergeant asked skeptically why he’d waited a day to report the crash.

He pushed the issue and finally the police took down all his information. With two independent witnesses, documented injuries, a license plate number, and what appeared in his own legal judgment to be an open-and-shut case of hit and run, Nelson was optimistic that justice would be served.

But justice, according to Nelson, was not served. A few weeks later, he received a letter from the MPD that told him that, though Nelson was free to pursue damages in civil court, no criminal charges would be pursued against the driver.

Nelson’s experience with car violence and his frustration with law enforcement’s lackluster response are hardly unique among Twin Cities cyclists – and with the percentage of Twin Cities workers who commute by bike more than doubling in the last ten years, that has many concerned.

Tyler Suter, a bike commuter from South Minneapolis, was carefully navigating the icy surface of 36th street, westbound on a wintery commute home from work, when a tailgating driver laid on the horn behind him, gunned his engine, and sideswiped Suter, slamming him to the curb.

A shaken Suter called 911 and reported the driver’s license plate number. Upset but not seriously injured, he declined an ambulance. The emergency operator said she would pass the driver’s description and plate number on to the cops in case the perpetrator was still in the area. Suter assumed the cops would follow up with him for more information.

When he hadn’t heard anything after two weeks, Suter called the police. Not only had a report not been filed, but it took three days to convince the cops to send an officer to take his report.

When the officer arrived, Suter says he was anything but sympathetic.

“The first thing he said was, ‘I really hate it when I’m walking on a path and some jerk on a bike passes me without even ringing a bell,’” Suter.

Although he hoped the cops would at least pursue the matter (they did not), ultimately Suter says he just wanted a report filed. With no witnesses and only a license plate and vehicle description, he didn’t necessarily expect an arrest in his case.

But the officer’s attitude soured him towards the MPD.

“It feels like cyclists are a nuisance, Suter says, “like we don’t also pay their salaries.”

Lackluster enforcement

According to many Twin Cities cyclists, law enforcement response isn’t only lackluster in cases where a collision occurs. It’s deficient when it comes to prevention as well.

Scot Moore bike commutes every day between his home in the Whittier neighborhood and downtown Minneapolis, only a mile and a half each way. But despite the short ride, he says he experiences close passes every day.

Under Minnesota law, a pass is illegally close when an overtaking driver leaving any less that three feet between the passing vehicle and a cyclist, even when the cyclist is in a bike lane. Close passes can be terrifying, especially for less experienced cyclists.

“I don’t want to be desensitized to it,” he says. “But honestly I’ve come to expect it.”

Close passes aren’t just scary. They can also lead to serious injury and death. Last month, four cyclists riding single-file along a two-lane road in Angier, North Carolina, were all struck and injured, two critically, when a driver tried to squeeze by them in the face of oncoming traffic.

But despite the danger close passes present to cyclists, and the frequency that Minneapolis cyclists say they’re passed illegally by drivers, only 10 citations for violating the safe passing law have been issued in all of Hennepin County in the past five years.

Taking it seriously

Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bike Coalition, acknowledges that many Minneapolis cyclists have a low opinion of law enforcement’s commitment to keeping cyclists safe.

“It’s common for cyclists to be frustrated by what they perceive as cops not taking it seriously when cyclists are hit and injured,” Fawley says, “[The police] often question whether the victim was wearing a helmet, and they’re quick to call something an ‘accident’ rather than a violation.”

Sergeant David Hansen, Bike Patrol Coordinator for the Minneapolis Police Department, says that the MPD is doing an adequate job protecting the safety of cyclists and that negative experiences like those of Nelson and Suter are the exception to the rule.

“All it takes is one negative interaction, or one perceived negative interaction, and that spreads like wildfire in the community,” Hansen says. “That sways their perspective.”

Hansen is also quick to point out the safety problems he sees within the cycling community.

“The cyclists are as much in need of enforcement as motor vehicles are,” Hansen says. “I see as many cyclists putting themselves in danger as I see motor vehicles putting them in danger.”

Still, he admits that 10 citations for passing a cyclist too closely in five years seems low.

“Is that happening more often than 10 times? You and I know it is. It’s fair to say that law could be enforced more than it is,” Hansen says. “I think that’s a direct result of lack of knowledge by the the officers.”

According to many Twin Cities riders, that’s precisely the problem. They say it’s not just about what they see as law enforcement’s dismissive attitude towards cyclists, but also a serious lack of bike knowledge in the MPD.

Renee Hoppe, who races for the the Koochella Racing team and commutes regularly by bike, says many officers haven’t got a clue what it’s like to cycle in the Twin Cities, or how to keep cyclists safe.

“They don’t know the bike laws,” Hoppe says. “For example, they’re not aware that bikes can legally take the full lane, that it’s often safer if they do.”

She adds with sarcasm, “And, I have yet to experience a cop coming to my rescue when someone almost hits me on my commute.”

Hansen admits that though the bike cops he supervises go through a 40-hour International Police Mountain Bike Association certification program, most patrol cops aren’t given any specific training on bicycle law or safety.

An enforcement policy

The key to the problem, according to Fawley, is that Minneapolis lacks a city-wide, comprehensive traffic enforcement policy. The question of which traffic laws to enforce and when is mostly left up to individual cops, and he says that’s a problem for cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians, a problem that thus far has remained largely ignored by both police and bicycle advocates.

“It’s not an issue that’s risen to the fore locally,” Fawley says. “Enforcement is an important part of the equation for having a city that’s safe and comfortable for people getting around, and I think that’s a discussion that’d be valuable to have coming up soon.”

One of the reasons tackling the enforcement problem is important, Fawley stresses, is because a comprehensive traffic enforcement policy is one of the requirements for earning Minneapolis a platinum-level certification from the League of American Bicyclists. Currently, only five American cities hold the coveted certification: Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado; Davis, California; Portland, Oregon; and Madison, Wisconsin. Minneapolis is a gold-certified city. This certification validates the hard work cities have put towards becoming more bike-friendly, while outlining where they lack and helping them fill gaps.

“The goal is to have improved traffic safety whether you’re driving, biking, or walking, and what are the ways we get to that outcome?” Fawley says. “I think that more should be done, and I think it needs to be more strategically thought out.”

A big challenge to developing that strategy, Fawley says, is the diversity of opinions on enforcement within the cycling community. Some cyclists want the cops more involved, some less, and he says the community is more splintered on the topic of enforcement than on the topic of bike lanes, a famously divisive issue within the cycling community nation-wide as well as locally.

Another major tangle in the enforcement-policy thornbush, according to Fawley, is the question of racial equity. A study performed by the ACLU found that between 2012 and 2014, black residents of Minneapolis were almost nine times as likely to be arrested for low-level offenses than were white residents. There’s concern within the cycling community that asking for stronger enforcement will perpetuate these statistics.

“In other places there’s evidence of racial profiling in enforcement with bicycle issues,” he says. “It could be an issue locally, and we think that’s very important to keep in mind when we design an enforcement program.”

The Coalition has volunteers doing research into the profiling issue, Fawley says, and their findings will inform the organization’s recommendations on enforcement.

“We’ll have to have some kind of strategic effort around enforcement that does take into account concerns of profiling,” he says.

Ken Paulman, a year-round bike commuter, agrees. After he was the victim of bullying by a Jeep driver a few years back, he was shocked the attitude of the cop who responded to his 911 call.

“He told me, ‘There’s no way I could do what you do,’” Paulman says. “That’s always stuck with me. That’s alarming. That’s a guy who puts on a bulletproof vest for work and he’s afraid to ride a bicycle in his own city.”

Ward Rubrecht is a Minneapolis-based storyteller, journalist, and bicycle activist. He is the founder and moderator of MPLS Bike Wrath, an online community for sharing information on Twin Cities drivers who put cyclists in danger.

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I already failed at 30 Days of Biking, and I’m okay with that

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It was April 1st. My Facebook feed was full of 30 Days of Biking selfies. People were feeling it. I could feel them feeling it through the computer screen. I was excited about their excitement. I was looking forward to photographing the Perennial Cycle pastry ride the next day. I was ready to see more people on the trails, ready to experience the joyful community of cyclists in this city. And yet, I failed that first day off the bat. I didn’t get out on my bike. And you know what? I’m okay with it this year.

30 Days of Biking is the start of the biking season. Folks who haven’t biked in the winter have an incentive to get their bikes tuned up and out the door. Group rides start popping up everywhere you look. People are biking around and smiling when it’s nice and grimacing when it’s cold but they’re doing it. I love it. It feels like 30 days of celebration of biking, kicking off the beautiful weather season here in Minnesota. It makes April my favorite month.

I’ve completed 30 Days of Biking twice, and both times were glorious. The first year that I actually biked all 30 days in April was in 2014. It was the year I’d started biking earlier than ever before. I was on my bike in early March, biking through cold and light snow. I felt like I was doing it, biking as close to year round as I ever had. That first April was a celebration. I was pushing myself with my biking limits and completing my 30 Days of Biking pledge was part of that. The next winter was the first one I biked through. I felt so proud of myself that I’d done it. Last April came soon after I started this blog, and it made sense to tangle myself up with as much biking-related stuff as I could.

I’m glad I biked all those days. I’m glad I forced myself to get out on the saddle even on days where I had nowhere to go. I’m glad that I stuck to that commitment and learned more about myself in the process. But now that I’ve biked year-round for two winters, now that I’m settled into my biking routines and am pushing myself in other areas, I don’t feel like I need 30 Days of Biking this year. On the first day of April this year, I walked. I took my dog on a long walk and later walked to meet up with a friend near my house. I could’ve gotten on my bike just to say I’d done it, but something about that struck me as disingenuous. This year, I don’t feel the drive to bike every day. Forcing myself to bike when my heart isn’t in it makes me love biking a little less.

I love that 30 Days of Biking exists. I love that it pushes people to push themselves. I love the camaraderie and the energy and the enthusiasm. But I also think there’s some pressure that comes along with it. As a person who writes about biking, I feel it. I feel like the expectation is there, that to be a biker I have to bike every day in April. There’s an overwhelming swell of information on Facebook, friends and acquaintances alike touting the life-altering magic of biking all 30 days. I’ve been there, I’ve been that person. I wrote a blog post about it with whole-hearted conviction last year.

My thinking has shifted a little. There’s no room for shaming or for pressure when it comes to biking, even within yourself. I’ve never had someone overtly shame me for not biking, but sometimes I think they’re disappointed in me and thinking that causes me to shame myself. I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want to put undue pressure on myself to bike even when I’m sick, or have to go very far, or have had a long, hard day. I don’t want to feel guilty for driving my car when I could’ve biked. I want to be a little gentler to myself when it comes to my transportation choices. I think of myself as a biker, and I like thinking of myself that way. But sometimes I take it too far, so this month I’m trying to let it go.

If you can’t bike every single day in April, but you can bike 22 days, that’s rad. You should do it. I want you to love every second of biking during those 22 days. I want you to be proud of it, and to try things you haven’t tried before. And I don’t want you to feel bad about those 8 days you skipped. If you’re ready to break your own boundaries and bike every day this month, I’m happy for you. I want you to push yourself, and to feel pride with every passing calendar day. I want you to tell your friends and loved ones about how much biking has meant to you. I want you to encourage them to join you. I want you to feel good.

I’m accepting the fact that this year my heart’s not in it. I want to enjoy all the group rides. I want to see people biking around with big grins on their faces. But I also want every time I get on my bike to feel good, unburdened. Maybe next year I’ll jump back on the wagon, but this year I’m just not feeling it. And that’s okay.

 

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The corporate bike forum: Minnesota’s not-so-secret society of commuter advocates

This is a guest post by Marc Berg, the first in what I hope to be a trend of occasional guest posts on this blog.

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Want to Join Corporate Minnesota’s Not-So-Secret Society of Commuter Advocates? We’re meeting at Great River Energy on April 19th.

My first post on Minneapolize was about the vision for a downtown bike center, where people would be encouraged to commute by bike because they have everything they need in terms of end-of-trip facilities. That idea continues to gain traction, as one facet of what I like to jokingly call “our diabolical plot to normalize transportation cycling.”

Those of us who regularly commute to our jobs by bike get a little thrill out of being seen as the workplace iconoclasts – at least when it comes to matters of transportation. We swagger in each morning with our helmets in hand and messenger bags over our shoulders, hoping this quiet but public display about our lifestyle choice might eventually convince at least some of our coworkers to leave their cars at home and join us for the ride in. It’s a personal form of grassroots bike advocacy that allows us to feel that we’re making an individual contribution to a larger cause of bettering the world through more biking.

Thankfully, the Twin Cities has a growing network of like-minded folks who hold semi-annual conferences under a mainstream-sounding name – the Corporate Bike Forum – which, since 2013, have been hosted by local corporate heavyweights such as Best Buy, Wells Fargo, Ameriprise, and Target Corp. Conceived in 2013 by David Gepner, chair of the Hennepin County Bicycle Advisory Committee, the forums seek to “facilitate networking, share ideas, and help create strategies around getting your co-workers to bike to work.”

The next forum is scheduled for April 19th at 2:00 p.m., and will be hosted by Great River Energy in Maple Grove (more info below). Previous forums have included discussion of some of the more well-known local workplace initiatives, such as (1) the expansion of the Dero ZAP program, (2) the creation of Target’s employee bike center, and (3) the health insurance cost savings QBP realized by offering cash incentives to its employees who bike.

The last forum, held at Target in October 2015, featured a panel discussion on the challenges facing women as bike commuters, led by Brittany Peterson of Target, Jo Olson of Bike.MN, and Pamela Moore of Transit for Livable Communities (TLC). Brittany, Jo, and Pam each shared personal stories of how they became bike commuters, the positives and negatives they encountered in creating a commuter lifestyle, and things they felt would help more women start to see bike commuting as a realistic and attractive option. Forum participants were encouraged to offer their own perspectives on the issue of women-as-bike-commuters, and did so – enthusiastically – about safety concerns; the absence of decent trip-end facilities (i.e., showers and lockers) at many workplaces; the need to provide new female commuters with better information about routes, equipment, and attire; the intimidating quality of some of the male-dominated “bike snob” commuter groups; and a pronounced fear of “looking dumb” as a female bike commuter and not meeting cultural expectations about workplace attire and appearance. Ideas suggested to alleviate some of these problems included holding group ride-ins with a “no-drop” rule, employer-sponsored bike skills classes, and employee-commuter groups making extra effort to offer an environment more welcoming to women.

As a middle-aged male, I realize I’ll probably never fully grasp the subtle cultural and environmental factors that discourage women from biking. Still, we can all agree that too many obstacles remain, and that real action is needed. Implicit in every question, comment, and story I heard from the group that day was a wish that the proverbial “powers that be” – the unseen individuals who make the big decisions in our lives – would simply listen for a moment, and understand that these ideas make sense, and can benefit so many people in so many ways, that tangible action would follow in the foreseeable future. Everything that Brittany, Jo, and Pamela said about the things employers could do to make bike commuting a more appealing choice for women would be easy and inexpensive to implement. Do we just need to get the right people in the room with us? What’s the best way to convince business leaders that they should join our cause, and run with it? These are all crucial questions and ideas that need to be addressed on an employer-by-employer basis. The Corporate Bike Forum, however, can serve as an effective sounding board to brainstorm these ideas first.

Presentations scheduled for the April 19th event at Great River Energy will include “Creating a Workplace Bike Culture: the U of MN Experience” by Steve Sanders; “Duluth, a BFB Hotspot: Best Practices from the North Shore” panel discussion hosted by Shawna MullenEardley, and a tour of Great River’s employee bike facility let by Greg Archer. Registration is available on the Bike.MN website. If you can’t make it this time, but want to be kept in the loop, the group recently opened a Facebook page as a platform for online information exchanges, including announcements about future forums.

Interested in joining the discussion? Do you have some excellent ideas to encourage bike commuting? Or find a support network of folks who could help you to spread these bike-radical ideas into your workplace, and further our evil plan to subvert the car culture? Register for the April 19th event, join the Facebook group, and help us crank forward to that ultimate victory. Maybe the Corporate Bike Forum will grow so large that we won’t be seen as “different” any more.

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