Robin Garwood, aide to Minneapolis Second Ward City Councilmember Cam Gordon, explains that a host of elements have come together to make Minneapolis a top bicycling city. Garwood points to the area’s outstanding trail network, a vastly improved on-street network that features more designated bike lanes, the growth of bike sharing, top-ranked access to bicycle parking, and the variety of bike shops, including stores like One On One Bicycle Studio & Go Coffee, the Angry Catfish Bicycle & Coffee Bar, and Birchwood Café that have bicycling as one component.
The presence of a newly formed Minneapolis Bicycling Coalition, which Garwood belongs to, is a huge boost to bicycle advocacy, he says. “There are lots of people living here who have biking as a major part of their identity.”
All of these advances make it possible for Garwood to not own a car, something he has never done. When essential, he can borrow or rent, or use Hour Car’s car-sharing program. Garwood also stresses that access to public transportation is essential to making biking a primary mode of transportation. “If weather is prohibitive, you have to have a backup, an alternative way to get to work.” By serving as an example to others that it is possible to get around without owning an automobile, Garwood sees himself as part of “culture change.” Normalizing behavior, so that biking is not associated exclusively with students or 20-something guys, he offers, is also essential to expanding bicycle ridership.
Garwood comes to bicycling first and foremost as an environmentalist. “We need to stop using as much energy as we use.” He says that even after our transportation system is electrified, “we are still going to be using more energy than we can reap.” For a mode shift in transportation to occur, Garwood says, biking must be safe. He refers to studies that show that approximately one-third of the population will never bike, most often due to age or physical disability, but that an even larger group will bike if bicycling is a safe, convenient option.
One lesson major cities are learning, Garwood says, is that the more bicyclists there are on the street, the safer bicycling becomes. Drivers become more aware of cyclists and there’s an increasingly good chance that drivers are bicyclists themselves.
As a member of the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee, Garwood is excited about the 2011 Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan, which identifies dozens of infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects/initiatives. Among other things, the plan calls for adding 183 miles of bikeways, 300 bicycle parking spaces each year through the City’s 50/50 cost share program, expanding Nice Ride’s bike share to all parts of the cities, doubling the number of locations where bikes can be rented by 2015, and ensuring that all residents are within one mile of a trail, 1/2 mile of a bike lane, or 1/4 mile of a signed bike route by 2020.
In Minneapolis, there are currently 127 miles of on-street and off-street bikeways, over 17,000 bicycle parking spaces, and 3.8 percent of residents commute to work by bike.
Also encouraging is that women are bicycling in far greater numbers than they have, Garwood says. Women tend to be more cautious, smarter, less willing to take risks, and more likely to be responsible for transporting kids, so for those reasons, making streets even safer increases the likelihood more women will bike. That’s what happened in Bolivia, Garwood says, which borrowed a page from Copenhagen and instituted cycle tracks, that separate bike lanes from car lanes. As a result, Bolivia has witnessed a dramatic rise in the number of women and older women who bike.
Closer to home, a recent study shows that more urban women in this area commute to work by bike than men. The reverse is true in Twin Cities suburbs. Still, far more people of both genders ride for pleasure and exercise, than commute to work or bike for shopping.
Garwood praises the Seward neighborhood for being “out in front” on transportation. He applauds the visioning and planning process it designed and implemented, noting its high degree of sophistication, especially in clarifying transportation goals. This has led to bicycle lanes on Franklin Avenue, bumpouts for safer pedestrian crossings along the thoroughfare, and bike center plans. He suggests that other neighborhoods would do well to model their efforts after Seward’s. He also notes that the city as a whole can learn much from European cities that have increased their bicycle mode share to the 30 to 40 percent range, far above what it is in the U.S.
Life beyond cars, from fringe to mainstream
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