I had a Marie Antoinette moment at Open Streets in North Minneapolis this past weekend. I was talking to a young boy — maybe eight or nine years old — and he was bummed out because he didn’t have a bike. Did I know where he could try one out.? I had the immediate feeling of disbelief that a child of that age should be deprived of one of the greatest gifts of childhood —one that offers them freedom and mobility along with exercise. Was my privilege showing through?
I was helping out a friend of mine doing a performance project, so I was there in the morning, and I was surprised by how few people were out bicycling the street in comparison to previous Open Streets. I’ve been to the Lyndale Avenue Open Streets in previous years, where thousands of people have swarmed since Open Streets Minneapolis first started in 2011.
On Saturday morning, I thought: Where is everybody? I wasn’t in one of the areas by the pop-up parks — it was a residential area, but still I was surprised that there weren’t more people passing by that didn’t have volunteer shirts on.
Because I had previewed the event, I knew that some of the organizers felt it would be a challenge because the potential North Minneapolis Greenway route had fewer businesses along it than other Open Streets stretches. The reason Open Streets chose the less populated route, along Humboldt and Girard Avenues, was to seek feedback about the proposed new Greenway route. On the one hand, I get really excited about this idea. On the other hand, I realize that I don’t live in North Minneapolis and it really has to be a community discussion for the people who would be affected.
My sense is that the city and the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and the other organizing groups are taking the right steps in regard to the proposed greenway. With something like that it can easily be taken by the community to be an imposed idea, so it’s important to really be conscientious about seeking input from the community. This Open Streets was about showing the neighbors what such a Greenway would be like. It’s just a proposal- can people imagine it and see it as a positive addition to the area?
I do think it’s going to take more than simply putting a Greenway in, however, to increase ridership. Initiatives like Free Bikes 4 Kids sounds like a great program, for example. They were at Open Streets and they offer a great way to actually put bikes in the hands of kids whose families can’t afford them.
At the same time, actually listening to people who live in North Minneapolis is a hugely important. I think those conversations are happening, but it’s something that planners have to continually be aware of.