Minneapolis doesn’t have enough bike lanes

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Yesterday’s Star Tribune article by Steve Brandt asked: Does Mpls., big-city leader in bike network density, have enough bike lanes? In the article, Brandt states that we have the densest bike network, well ahead of Boston, our nearest rival. And yet, this is a very narrow and short-sighted question to ask. American cities are terrible at bike infrastructure. In Minneapolis, we’re doing a decent job. But we’re only doing well when compared to how poorly most other American cities are doing. It’s like wondering whether a C student is doing too well when everyone else in the class is getting a D. It just doesn’t make sense. We don’t need to be confined to a box of mediocrity.

When Copenhagenize ranked the twenty most bike friendly cities in the world in 2015, Minneapolis made the list at number 18. It felt like a symbolic nod, an acknowledgement that some American cities are trying, rather than a legitimate inclusion of a world-class bicycling network. They stated: “Minnesota’s largest metropolis has the lowest baseline score of all the cities in the Top 20, but it makes up for that with bonus points in a number of categories.” I’m glad we made the list, but Minneapolis has nothing close to the amazing infrastructure you can find in places like Barcelona and Amsterdam. There, it’s not a struggle to find protected bike lanes. Barcelona has a comprehensive network that makes it so nobody bikes in the street. They don’t have to. Everywhere you need to get by bike can be accessed within just a few blocks of a protected bikeway. Getting around is easy, even for tourists who don’t speak Spanish.

Many folks in the Star Tribune comments stated that less than 1% of folks ride bikes and so we shouldn’t spend money on infrastructure that very few people are going to use. Well, that’s just not true. In Minneapolis, about 4% of folks bike to work regularly, but that doesn’t capture people who bike commute only occasionally. A comprehensive report from People for Bikes found that 34% of Americans rode a bike in the previous year. The report found that many people believe biking is a good way to get around and would like to bike more, but are afraid of being hit by cars. They found that 46% of people said they would be more likely to ride a bike if bikes and motor vehicles were physically separated. Minneapolis has a long way to go. We’re just barely starting to implement our protected bikeway plan. Many, many people do not feel comfortable biking in traffic. Until our bike network is comfortable and easily navigable for all people, ages 8 to 80, we won’t have enough bike lanes.

Asking whether Minneapolis has enough bike lanes shifts the conversation in the wrong direction. The question itself is inflammatory, as you can see by the over 350 comments that have been left on the article so far. People are pulling out all the old tired arguments against biking in response, as they do with almost every Star Tribune article that references biking. I bet most of them didn’t even read the article. If the Star Tribune wants to adequately cover biking in a way that doesn’t result in unnecessary divisiveness, they shouldn’t ask incendiary questions in their headlines. The City Pages, owned by the Star Tribune, has been doing an equally poor job covering cycling topics.

So maybe now is the right time to say that I want this blog to be a place to write about and discuss cycling in a supportive and balanced way. In the next couple weeks, I’ll begin posting articles from guest bloggers. I’m happy to hear your perspective. Want to let me interview you, write a post, or just share some ideas you’d like me to explore? Send them to hello@bikinginmpls.com. I’m looking forward to this new chapter.

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Protected bikeways are even more useful in winter

This summer, I volunteered for the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition at Open Streets. My role consisted of standing around with a sign and encouraging people biking by to try out a temporary protected bikeway. This was part of a block sectioned off as a protected bikeway, with some fake planters and chalk. The idea was to give people an idea of what biking in a protected bikeway would feel like.

While volunteering there, the most frequent question I got was, “How are these going to be maintained in winter?” People were concerned. They were concerned that the city was going to spend money on facilities that would be costly or impossible to maintain amidst ice and snow.

It may only be early March, but I’m fairly comfortable saying that winter is over (although you can thank me for the blizzard I’ve undoubtedly summoned with these words). Protected bikeways weren’t a problem this winter. As you can see from the photo above, Minneapolis has done a bang-up job of keeping up the Oak Street protected bikeway cleared. Robin Garwood took that photo, and posted the following on Facebook the day after a snowfall:

“The Oak Street protected bikeway was SO GREAT this morning. Fully protected from any potentially skidding cars, good surface, no parked cars (or moving ones) encroaching on my space.

It’s funny: one of the major concerns we’ve heard about protected bikeways has been winter. It snows here! What will we do to clear a protected bikeway?

Oak Street is a magnificent example. It’s plowable, and it’s plowed. The parking areas, where they are adjacent to the bike facility, are so well-defined that all the parked cars are in the appropriate place. And the end result is a facility that actually provides MORE benefit in the winter than in the warmer months of the year. I say that because the “baseline” of no facility or standard bike lanes is so much worse in the winter – and the experience on Oak Street is as good today as it was in September.

We should build 50 miles of these.”

I agree. It makes much more sense to have protected bikeways in the winter. In the summer, roads aren’t slippery, there’s more daylight, and drivers are more accustomed to seeing bikers around. It’s easier to bike on bike boulevards, side streets, and unprotected bike paths. In the winter, there are more obstacles and more reasons people might be afraid. If we can build high-quality protected bikeways that are easily maintained, these will become more useful in the winter than in the summer. People will be able to get around without fear, and that’ll encourage more people to give winter cycling a shot.

Let’s build them, let’s build them all.

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Bikes, dating, and spandex: An interview

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Biking in Mpls: What’s your bike origin story?

Anthony: I had a bike in college, got it stolen, then didn’t bike for a long time. Then summer after my first year of law school one of my friends, who was also in law school at the time, he was sort of into biking. He had a fixie and a steel-frame Fuji that was really cool. I decided to borrow that bike, which he was cool about, so I borrowed it for a long time. I just noticed that getting to class and everything was just so much more efficient. And I’d also been getting ticketed and scofflawed with my car. I lived in Loring, so I had that hazard permit parking. You can just park within a certain radius, it doesn’t matter where but in this block. It is convenient, but after a certain time everyone comes home so parking becomes very scarce. The whole five-foot from a driveway thing, I was getting parking tickets all the time. The scofflaw thing is if you have four or more unpaid then they just tow it and make you pay all the tickets and then go to the impound lot.

Biking in Mpls: Oh no!

Anthony: Then there was street sweeping. So in one year of school I had my car towed four times. It was devastating.

Biking in Mpls: That’s painful, I’m so sorry.

Anthony: I started to know people at the impound lot by name. That was when I decided, I’m just gonna try this out. I left my car at my parent’s house. Eventually my brother took it to Chicago and then we sold it. I don’t own a car now. That was right around the time where I found my single speed, so I bought that and I had my own bike. The fall of my second year of law school was when I decided I was going to gear up and slowly try winter cycling. When you first start doing it, it’s a lot of layering up, not always so great and not always so warm but, you know, I made it work.

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Biking in Mpls: In your email, you mentioned that dating without a car has been hard. Do you want to tell me a little about that?

Anthony: I’ve got an array of social dating apps: Bumble, Hinge, Tinder. Each with their own utility value and degree of fruition. That’s a whole different dynamic. So let’s assume that I’ve successfully navigated to a texting situation, which probably means we’re going to meet up. At some point we probably discuss interests and I mention that I bike year-round. Sometimes if I’m not super into it I might just show up in this jazz [spandex bike clothes]. Sometimes I might try a little harder and I bring clothes so then I’m temporarily naked in a public bathroom because I’ve got to put on chinos and not spandex. So that’s a thing. Most have been pretty cool about it. A couple haven’t. They ask in a very accusational and hostile way about not having a car. I think it’s more the absence of that degree of romance of having a guy pick you up and take care of the logistics.

Biking in Mpls: It’s probably a very different gender dynamic when you tell someone you don’t have a car. I was doing online dating when I did not have a car for about nine months. Dudes would be super into it, they’d be like, “you’re such a badass.” I tend to like people who ride bikes, but that was a weird gendered dynamic of, “oh you don’t have a car, you’re so hip.” Putting me in this weird box of ‘this is who you are because I know this one minor fact about how you get around.’

Anthony: Yeah, almost fetishizing.

Biking in Mpls: Yeah, I experienced that a fair amount. I also remember being on OkCupid and people having in their profile, “I’m not going to deal with someone who doesn’t have a car.”

Anthony: Really? I could see smokers or everyone has the obligatory “not here to hook up.” But that’s aggressive. I assume you didn’t pursue anything with those guys.

Biking in Mpls: I was also like, I don’t want to own a car. I have a car now, and I want to own like a third of a car. I want to have two roommates and I want to have one shared car together. So the perspective of someone coming into a potential dating or relationship situation being like, “We must both own our own cars,” that’s a value differential that’s probably insurmountable.

Anthony: It just speaks to somebody’s ability to accomodate, understand, and empathize. The assumption is that you’re going to safely arrive at wherever you’re going to meet. You’ll do everything to can to get to a place where you’ve committed to going.

Biking in Mpls: Right. I am very happy to go pick people up. My boyfriend doesn’t have a car so if we want to go for a hike, even if it’s out of the way I’ll go pick him up. It’s a 15 minute drive, it’s not a big deal to me. He doesn’t ask to be picked up, but I’ll offer because it’s a nice thing to do. Especially if we’re going for a hike far away, does it really make sense for him to bike half an hour to my house? No. I have a friend who lives in Northeast who’s married and they share one car, so yeah if we’re driving somewhere together, of course I’m happy to give her a ride. I think it’s such a luxurious thing to have a car in the first place that I want to spread it. 

Anthony: I think that speaks to how you value your friendships too. For me I try to operate under the assumption that I’m always responsible for getting myself home. Sometimes I’ll meet up with friends who are married, friends from law school who got married and live over on Girard. I know that oftentimes at the end of the night they’ll offer to drive me home. Sometimes I politely decline because I want the exercise. But I appreciate those gestures, so sometimes even if I would prefer to bike I still accept the ride. I just want to validate their offer.

Biking in Mpls: Yeah I think it makes people feel good to be able to do something nice by giving a ride.

Anthony: Yeah, it’s a thing we allow our friends to do to help us. That’s a demonstration of care and trust.

Biking in Mpls: The whole online dating landscape is really weird, but I felt like there were some extra layers when I didn’t have a car, which it sounds like you’ve experienced too.

Anthony: Yeah, it’s not always seen as cool, or as an indicator of my ability. Yeah, as you know, sometimes it really sucks out there. But it’s determination, planning, and knowing what I need to do on my ride to stay warm. The women who’ve reacted to it poorly see it as an irresponsible kind of thing. To them, driving is clearly the better option. So they wonder if it’s a stubborn willfullness to not be a motorist.

Biking in Mpls: There’s still very clearly status associated with owning a car in America. Also there may be a fear that if you don’t have a car it’s because you have a shit ton of credit card debt and you can’t afford a car, or something like that. Those are wild inferences to go off on based on this one small fact, but I feel like those both probably contribute.

Anthony: You see people’s reactions to it early on. I appreciate the presumption that I can take care of my own shit. I will get there. You don’t have to worry about me, we don’t have to wrap up dinner early because you think it’ll be dangerous. It’s not a weird manipulative way for me to suggest, “Hey, instead of biking all the way home, could I just stay over?” I’m not going to do that. So yeah, I’ve had some interesting experiences with it.

Biking in Mpls: Do you think not having a car has changed anything else in your life, for good or for bad?

Anthony: Yeah, definitely. As far as errands go and collecting things for living, like groceries, that’s definitely changed. I have to plan. I got to the grocery store almost every day. I don’t own a gym membership since I don’t feel compelled to work out ever.

I have to plan more, very rarely do I not have a pack with some clothes. I usually have to bike with work clothes. This is the first year I’ve gotten into this jazz [spandex bike clothes]. I notice people noticing that I’m dressing inappropriately to be in public. You just have to get over it. Sometimes people will snicker or jeer. If I do some work after this and meet up at a happy hour, I’ll probably be the only one dressed inappropriately. But I just deal with it. People can look and think, “Yeah that’s really kind of graphic in that area” but I’m like “whatever, I’m warm and I biked here.”

Biking in Mpls: Do you wear spandex year round?

Anthony: Only recently have I had to migrate. My waist is a certain size and my legs have started to be wider. I can’t find a saddle that’s comfortable that doesn’t rip my pants, basically. I’ve ripped too many pants and too many shorts. Otherwise I need to [wear spandex] to preserve my other clothes. I don’t know if it’s my saddle or what.

Biking in Mpls: I’ve never really ripped pants. I don’t really wear pants, I wear skirts and dresses. Those are perfect for biking, I can wear as many thermal layers of leggings as I need under a dress and still show up to a place and look fairly appropriate.

Anthony: It’s a pleasant contrast when you see ladies out there either all geared up or looking nice, going out with friends.

Biking in Mpls: Yeah, I love seeing all the different types of clothes people wear. All these people from all these different backgrounds, riding their weird bikes and dressing how they dress. I love it.

Anthony: It’s fun, this time of year you see more of the fatties, you see people geared up.

Biking in Mpls: Is there anything else you want to tell me about biking? Anything that inspires you, or that you’re excited about?

Anthony: It’s changed my lifestyle in a lot of ways. I eat a lot more. I feel more capable and independent. My alone time is definitely on the bike. I spend a lot of time just obsessing over cleaning things. Just in the last year I’ve gotten a lot better at maintenance. So saving money on labor but being able to tinker and put a lot of love into it.

I feel like a stronger individual. I can go be involved in my friends’ lives and do social things, and then bike 13, 14, 15 miles home. The things you get to see, like some things are so picturesque in the winter. Sometimes at night I’ll turn off my lights and just go by natural light. There are so many things I want to take pictures of, and there are other times where I’m like this is just for me. Just being able to keep those memories.

I have certain periods of my life associated with playlists, since I almost exclusively bike with music. Some rides are good and some rides are bad, and some rides I’m just trying to bike off some aggression, or some rides I’m bummed about some bullshit social dating thing. Then there are super happy moments. Some of my favorite times in the spring and summer are when you get home and you’ve done a bunch of stuff but you feel almost called back out there. No biking is enough until you’re just dead. You just keep going and going. Those times are so much fun.

Biking in Mpls: Well you kind of answered this question, but what’s your favorite thing about biking?

Anthony: You find different ways of motivating yourself. For me, in my last relationship, when I was biking and hustling to go see her, in my mind and in my heart I needed to move faster because I wanted to see this person. I was going to a place where I was going to enjoy myself. She never really heard about that, and doesn’t really know. She didn’t know how much love was going on in those rides to get me to her.

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Anthony Q. Truong is a cyclist living in Minneapolis.

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Highlights from the Winter Cycling Congress

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The Winter Cycling Congress (WCC) is over, but it’s given many folks a lot to think about. Last week at the Bicycle Advisory Committee’s 5E subcommittee meeting, we discussed what we found most inspiring at the WCC. Here are some of the more notable ideas and projects we learned about:

Highlights

  • The main purpose of the WCC is to not need the WCC anymore. The hope is that eventually winter biking will become a normal part of our cities and communities. Eventually it’ll be normalized, and we won’t need to have special conferences to talk about it. It’ll be no big deal.
  • There was wide and varied discussion of equity, justice, and making biking more accessible to all people.
  • The weather was perfect for the conference. It snowed, and we were able to show off our maintenance skills. People from Finland and elsewhere were impressed with our snow removal practices. We did a good job here.
  • My highlight was seeing all the ways that people and communities bring creativity to the challenge of encouraging winter cycling. I loved hearing about mobile bike feasts in Saskatoon, community projects in Minneapolis, and the way the Slow Roll movement has been changing communities.
  • I was thoroughly inspired by tactical urbanism. Tactical urbanism is this idea that you get volunteers to implement small-scale urban changes, like a DIY bike lane, and see how it goes. In comparison to traditional methods, tactical urbanism requires less investment so allows communities to be more creative and try out new ideas.
  • It was hard to bike on bike boulevards without a winter bike. They got icy and rutted, and may not provide as much functionality in winter as in other times of the year. These streets are not heavily trafficked enough for the snow to melt from the heat of cars, which makes biking rough. We might need to rely on other types of infrastructure for winter, like protected bikeways.
  • One Canadian city has a on-street bike corral cost-share program, similar to Minneapolis. However, they’ve done it better. Their bike parking is covered which means it can be left in place year round, and the city foots 90% of the cost, vs. just 50% in Minneapolis. Minneapolis could look into improving our on-street bike parking corrals and footing more of the bill, which might encourage more businesses to make use of the program.
  • Richfield Public Works presented about their new Sweet Streets campaign. Folks were impressed with how progressively Richfield is approaching street design. They’re not just putting in some bike lanes here and there, they’re building a livable city where people can get where they need to go by whatever mode they choose.
  • At the 38th Street LRT stop, Metro Transit will be implementing secure bike parking cages. Individuals will register their Go-To Card by which stop they’ll be using, and then can use their Go-To Card to open the secure bike parking only at that stop. It’ll provide secure, ample bike parking without the hassle of a locker.
  • There are a variety of different automatic counters that cities are using to capture how many people are biking. One idea was that we could set up one of these automatic counters near a ZAP counter to figure out how many folks are biking and compare that with how many of those people have ZAP tags. That way we can use ZAP data to estimate the total number of bikers.

These were just some of our main takeaways from the conference. Were you at the WCC? What was the most inspiring thing you learned?

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If bikes were important

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If we treated people on bikes like they were important, we wouldn’t close down all the bike lanes through downtown. We wouldn’t allow mail vans, UPS trucks, or construction vehicles to park in them. We wouldn’t allow snow and debris to pile up in bike lanes over the winter. We would treat bike lanes like we treat streets. Are we going to shut all streets through downtown to cars without an alternative? No, we’re not going to do that. Because then people can’t get places and they get mad. Well, what if we thought the same way about bike lanes?

Downtown is a hot mess right now if you’re trying to get through north/south. There’s a street you can sort-of bike on but it’s mostly under construction. There’s a nice place for you to bike where you’ll have to share the lane with right-turning cars and busses and oh, hell regular cars too. There’s this nice parked car protected bikeway that’s often full of snow, debris, parked cars, and pedestrians. Every other bike lane is or has been under construction this year. There have been many times where I’ve struggled to figure out how the hell I’m going to traverse downtown. WHY IS THIS A PROBLEM? Seriously, why is it a problem for me to get through the densest area of the city? This is the part of the city that should be easiest to navigate by any and all modes.

I don’t feel comfortable sharing the road through downtown with angry car commuters. I don’t want to be doored by biking in the few available bike lanes that are very firmly in the door zone. I want a handful of routes through downtown which are not compromised. I want the city to stop thinking bike lanes are a luxury and closing them off whenever it’s convenient to do so. What if we valued the ability of people on bikes to get through downtown the same way we value people in cars getting through downtown? Things would look drastically different.

I’m not saying that we’re not doing a good job. There have been great improvements for biking in Minneapolis in just the last year. We passed a protected bikeway plan that calls for 30 miles of protected bikeways by 2020. We built some of those protected bikeways. We hosted the Winter Cycling Congress. We hosted more Open Streets than ever before. A lot of people who care about biking put their hearts and hard work into making this city a better place to ride a bike.

And yet, downtown has been almost impassable for months. Despite all this effort, despite all these people putting in hours and hours to advocate for better bikeability, when it comes down to it, most people don’t think biking is important. Unfortunately, it seems that people who are in positions of power in the city don’t think biking is important either.

One major thing we can do to change this is to pass a Complete Streets policy. We need to make it clear that biking and walking are priorities. They aren’t luxurious forms of recreational exercise people do on a whim. Biking and walking are legitimate forms of transportation that people rely on to move around our city. We need to make it clear that biking is important, it’s not a crazy thing that crazy people do. It’s a normal thing that normal people do. But when bike lanes are closed and there aren’t good options for getting around on a bike, people are much less likely to do it.

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