Joan Pasiuk realizes that she, as a 58-year-old woman, is an atypical bicyclist. A lifelong cyclist, it’s only been in the past several years that she’s come to see that streets don’t need to be designed the way they are, and that bicyclists must not put up with risks they’ve been accustomed to.
Pasiuk is program director for Bike Walk Twin Cities (BWTC), an effort to increase biking and walking, and decrease driving, established by St. Paul-based Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) after being selected by Congress to oversee the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Project for the Twin Cities. The Twin Cities is the most urban and northern of four areas chosen to participate.
The $21.5 million initiative aims to increase bicycling and walking through investment in infrastructure, such as bike lanes and off-road trails and paths, and innovative programs, like Nice Ride MN bicycle sharing and Sibley Community Partners Bike Library, Bike Walk Ambassadors, which provides education and outreach to schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods, and St. Paul Smart Trips, which promotes the use of transit, bicycling, walking, car/vanpooling and car-sharing, for commute and non-commute trips. BWTC also does neighborhood marketing, planning, and regular bike and pedestrian counts.
Transportation is “a platform for social change,” says Pasiuk, who adds that the vision she would like to see in place is that metro residents don’t need to own a car. This requires spreading the message that there are options for getting around, and that those options are available to everyone. It also means chipping away at a number of barriers. For example, there may not be a family or social pattern that encourages bicycling, walking, or mass transit use. Cultural heritage plays a role, too. In the eyes of many new Americans, being American means driving a car. It’s a form of status.
Getting more women and elders on bicycles as a regular part of their daily lives is a key benchmark of whether investments in current initiatives are succeeding, says Pasiuk. She identifies a number of steps being taken to increase the number of female cyclists, including one-on-one coaching, offering classes and bike shops that are gender-specific, and working with ambassadors.
Increased use of alternative modes of transportation also depends on employers ensuring that commuting is possible for all workers, she says. Being able to bike to work should be considered a necessity, something that employers make available as a way to attract a wide range of employees. On that count, she notes, Minneapolis is doing quite well. In 2011, the city received the League of American Bicyclists Gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community designation.
Many challenges remain, says Pasiuk. “We can’t take our eye off of policy and funding.” She emphasizes that the amount of funding going to bicycling, walking, and public transportation in the U.S. is “unacceptable,” far behind that of so many other countries, not just in Europe, but South America and China as well. And Minnesota, for all the notoriety its year-round bicyclists receive, “still has not conquered winter.” “If you can’t walk safely to a bus stop and it’s easier to get to your car, then that’s a problem.”
Depending on where you live, it may seem as if we’ve already entered a new transportation age; a world where bicycling, walking, mass transit, and bike- and car-sharing are no longer fringe activities. Six points of view:
New World of Biking on Minneapolis’s Northside
Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.