Hit the streets

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The temperature has finally risen above freezing, but unfortunately gas prices are also on the rise. For savvy city dwellers, it’s time to put on a biking helmet or walking shoes and head outside. From the Great Commuter Challenge to a new the brand-new Freewheel Midtown Bike Center, the Twin Cities are gearing up for Bike/Walk to Work Week May 12-18 and Bike/Walk to Work Day on May 14.

Great Commuter Challenge

The Great Commuter Challenge is a race between 3 modes of transportation: the bicycle, the car, and walking/transit. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak on a bike, Roadguy (aka Star Tribune reporter Jim Foti) in a car, and Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter, walking and taking public transit will race along one Twin Cities route, running typical errands on the way to the finish line. The race begins at 7:40 a.m. at the Merriam Park Community Center in Saint Paul (2000 Saint Anthony Avenue, Saint Paul) and ends between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m. at the Central Library outdoor plaza in downtown Minneapolis (300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis).

Click here for a complete listing of Bike/Walk to Work Week events and activities.

Freewheel Midtown Bike Center

For more on the bike center, see
Midtown bike center to offer repairs, locker rooms and coffee, by Anna Ewart, Minnesota Daily

According to the City of Minneapolis press release, the new bike center will feature:
• Bike store – The Freewheel Bike shop will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., offering cycling supplies, clothing and more to greenway commuters. 

• Café – Also on site, Peace Coffee Café will offer its fair trade coffee freshly brewed to customers. 

• Bike valet – Just like a valet at restaurants, bike valets will take bicycles to a secure area while cyclists shop at the bike store, stop by the café, visit businesses in the Midtown Exchange, or head to other nearby destinations. 

• Contract storage area – People who need a place to park on a regular basis can get monthly or annual bike storage rentals. Card key access lets renters get to their storage area at all hours of the day. 

• Bike rentals – People who wish to rent a bike can do so here and spend a day biking on the greenway. 

• Bike maintenance facility – As with cars, bikes also have breakdowns on the road. This facility will help bikers get on their way quickly and easily. When bikes need to stay overnight, loaner bikes will be available. 

• Shower facilities – Showers and locker rooms will make it easier for cyclists to clean up and change clothes once they get to their destination. 

• The city’s first bike shower – Bikes get dirty, too. And when they do, the bike shower can clean them up with blasts of soap and water.

Alternate forms of transportation, such as walking, biking, skateboarding, and rollerblading are healthy, cheap, and fun. The city of Minneapolis and Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) hope to make them safer and more accessible.

“Safety improves with the number of bicyclists on the streets,” Joan Pasiuk, Director of Bike/Walk Twin Cities from TLC stated. “Drivers get used to seeing them.”

Over the course of a long Minnesota winter, drivers can become careless about looking for bicycles along side of them or pedestrians crossing the street. TLC is working to create more bike paths and more connections between bike paths, with the intent to encourage more people to bike all year round.

Bike lanes are an inexpensive way to promote safety on the roadways. Steve Clark, Walking and Bicycling Program Manager of TLC said that cyclists have the right to ride in the center of the lane on unmarked streets, but because most don’t feel comfortable doing that, they ride too close to parked cars, which is even more dangerous.

Clark describes one area in Minneapolis that is getting new lanes, “Riverside [Avenue] for instance, is four lanes right now and [there is] very little space for cyclists, but it will become two lanes with a shared middle lane for left turns. This 4-3 lane conversion will allow for bike lanes on both sides of the street and should improve conditions not only for cyclists but pedestrians as well. The other thing about 4-3 lane conversions is that they also reduce crashes without reducing capacity for motorists.”

Pasiuk pointed out some other areas getting attention, noting that there will be “lots of improvements around the U of M, and downtown.” She also emphasized the importance of linking existing facilities and connecting trails to suburbs, so travel and commuting is easier.

While TLC wants to get more people to bike, walk, and use alternate forms of transportation like buses and trains, Pasiuk says it is also important to give people a vision they can embrace.

During Bike/Walk to Work Week, the Greenway Bridge will be renamed, and a new bike center will open. The Freewheel Midtown Bike Center is down in the “trench” of the Greenway and it is more than just a bike shop.

Shawn Murphy of the City of Minneapolis explained this exciting venture, “This is a very unique facility. Chicago has the only other facility like it. It’s almost like a gas station for bikes, but more than a gas station… [it’s] a mechanic shop, parking lot, and a gas station.” Murphy stated that there will be a bike wash – the first in the city -with lockers, bike repair, bike rentals, and more. The city of Minneapolis has been extremely supportive and is a funding contributor to the bike center.

Twin Cities Bike/Walk to Work Day is Wednesday, May 14, so kick your heels up, fill your tires with air, and enjoy the sunshine.

Melissa Slachetka contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.