In 2010, the Minnesota State Legislature revised and adopted statewide transportation goals, seeking to foster an increase in the percentage of trips made by transit, bicycling, or walking. That same year, Minnesota was ranked fourth most “Bicycle Friendly State” in the nation by the League of American Bicyclists, based on a commitment to promoting cycling “through legislation, policies, programs, and by creating new places to ride, educating motorists and cyclists, and encouraging people to bike for transportation and recreation.”
Tim Mitchell, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT), notes that in some ways the state has long been a leader in bike and pedestrian policy. “Usually a state has only one bicycle/pedestrian professional on staff, and that person may be working on bike and pedestrian issues just part-time.” By contrast, Mn/DOT’s section has seven or eight full-time staffers, and there has been a staff in place since 1971. Most states, Mitchell explains, didn’t appoint staff until they were required to by federal mandate in1991. Even so, he adds, bicycling and walking have only recently entered into transportation planning’s mainstream consciousness.
Mitchell reflects on how rapidly and dramatically thinking about non-motorized transportation has evolved. The last Statewide Transportation Policy Plan was released in 2009 and was based on work done a year or two prior. In other words, just following the collapse of the 35W bridge and before large spikes in gasoline prices, and growing concerns about global climate change. A new Statewide Bicycle Policy Plan is needed, Mitchell says, to address changes in how Minnesotans get around now. “Everyday citizens are moving around differently. The new plan will illustrate that Mn/DOT is conscious of that.”
As a performance-based agency, charged with creating a mode shift in how people transport themselves, Mn/DOT is unusual among state departments of transportation. It sets goals and measures performance around specific benchmarks. Currently it is working with consultants at the University of Minnesota to develop measures for bicycling and walking, including a standardized method for doing counts. A new statewide bicycle map will be one of the major outcomes of the bicycle policy plan process.
Because of the varied geographical and demographic terrain, communities throughout the state are at very different places when it comes to planning for bicyclists and pedestrians, says Mitchell. While Minneapolis is recognized as a leader nationally for its efforts around bicycling—Bicycling magazine named it the number one U.S. city for biking in 2010 —St. Paul is also making significant strides. Medium-sized cities, like Duluth and Rochester are becoming more bike-friendly, too, and residents of first-ring suburbs are telling their elected officials, “that they want the opportunity to get into Minneapolis and St. Paul by bike in a safe and efficient way.”
To engage residents across the state to create a vision for all types of transportation for the next 50 years, Mn/DOT has been partnering with the Citizens League and University of Minnesota on Minnesota GO. Through that process, priorities and goals will emerge from citizen input that will inform a statewide multimodal transportation plan by early next year.
A lifelong bicyclist himself, Mitchell says that indications are that cycling has expanded beyond the primary realm of middle-aged white men of some affluence. This, he says, demonstrates that informational and education systems are working. It also means that investment in infrastructure that makes cycling safer for women is having an impact. In coming years, he expects to see increases in ridership among all demographics.
As for walking, Mn/DOT has three responsibilities, says Mitchell. One is to ensure that all streets are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the second is to advance the Complete Streets process established by the state legislature, and a third is enhancing statewide safety through the Share the Road campaign.
“The future is upon us,” Mitchell says, a reflection of “people’s growing concerns about the economy and climate change, and how they think about land use and accessibility.” Younger people, he notes, are looking for communities where they have more options and don’t need to own or depend on a car.
Especially encouraging to Mitchell is that bicycling and walking have entered into transportation planning’s mainstream consciousness. “They are in the forefront of everybody’s minds now. Now it’s a matter of hitting the re-set button and moving beyond many of the transportation planning assumptions of the past.”
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