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.
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.