Val Escher is a freelance graphic designer and photographer who lives in Southwest Minneapolis and describes her bicycle as “my grocery cart, my mail bag, my carry-all.”
In fact, the bike is not just Val’s preferred mode of transportation; it is her walker as well. Val was born with physical disabilities in her arms and legs. As a toddler, she was taught to use a bicycle in order to keep active and preserve her mobility, and she’s been riding bikes every since. As a long-time resident of the Twin Cities, she’s observed a huge increase in traffic over the years, but she feels safe when she uses the protected bike lane on 36th Street, which she takes to get to Lake Calhoun and visit local businesses. In Val’s opinion it’s not just the “special cases” who will benefit. She simply views safe travel by bike or on foot as a human right.
Last month, the City of Minneapolis released a new plan acknowledging people like Val who use bicycles in everyday life deserve safer conditions on streets. The Draft Protected Bikeways Plan outlines a 48-mile network of high quality protected bikeways, which if approved will be implemented in the next five years.
A protected bikeway provides a physically separated space for cyclists. Existing trails and paths count as protected bikeways but this plan focuses on upgrading existing painted bike lanes — to include separation from car traffic — and adding new segments where needed to create a network of safe, comfortable and convenient utilitarian cycling routes. The plan would also provide a more welcoming environment for those people who are interested in cycling but uncomfortable with current conditions, including people not cycling on a regular basis or not cycling as much as they might under better conditions.
Faith Cable Kumon is a Kingsfield resident who considers herself an occasional cyclist using her bike when it’s convenient and the weather is nice. To make her four-mile commute to downtown, she has shifted her working hours to avoid peak traffic.
Arriving at work mid-morning and leaving after rush hour allows her to avoid all the cars parked along Marquette and 2nd Avenues and ride at her own pace instead of keeping up with the pace of traffic and negotiating turning cars at every intersection, an exercise which used to leave her feeling “winded and frightened.” She would like to see a protected north-south route connecting South Minneapolis neighborhoods with downtown and believes protected bikeways benefit drivers as well.
Recounting a recent interaction she had while driving next to a cyclist who kept maneuvering into free spaces at a busy intersection, she said: “It’s hard to be predictable when there’s really no infrastructure for the person on a bike.”
David Wee is a retired Downtown East resident who uses his bicycle for utilitarian trips as much as possible and said doing so has kept his heart strong and healthy. He agrees there is not a strong incentive for people to ride bikes on streets under current conditions.
“There’s no question who’s going to be injured in a crash between a cyclist and a motor vehicle,” Wee said.
Yet with the growing consciousness about bicycles, the amount of space available and the extensive existing road network here in the Twin Cities, he sees the new plan as feasible and desirable. Through embracing both protected bike lanes and a network approach — connecting the places where people live with the places where they work, go to school, shop and recreate — Wee sees potential for Minneapolis to truly become a world-class cycling city.
As Baby Boomers age and more Millennials begin having children, the demand for alternatives to the car will be felt more acutely. Minneapolis now has the opportunity to construct a cycling network appealing to both ends of the spectrum at the cost of $7.2–$12.1 million or less than the cost of 2 miles of urban street, which averages $8 million per mile.
Annie Van Cleve is a freelance writer, blogger and volunteer with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.