“If you build it, they will bike. A lot.”
How Minneapolis’ development as a bicycling city makes a personal effect.
Four years ago Minneapolis was chosen as a community to take part in a $100 million pilot project to improve biking and pedestrian infrastructure. Unlike previous projects this one sought to allow each of the four chosen communities to develop it’s own comprehensive plan of action to increase cycling and walking while decreasing more environmentally harmful methods of transportation. In Minneapolis the non-profit Bike Walk Twin Cities was put in charge. The result was monumentally successful and resulted in a 50 percent increase in biking while significant reductions were made in gallons of gas burned, health care costs, and carbon dioxide emissions. This is my story of becoming a bicyclist at the same time that Minneapolis was evolving to become one of the most well-known bike cities in the country.
At the end of 2006 I crashed my car. It was totaled and I was broke – a new car was not an option. Overnight I began a car-free lifestyle. At the time I had a hybrid bike from Target. It got me around but the bike was not properly built and parts broke quickly. After my seat got stolen and I taco’d a wheel I was forced to let the bike go. I went to the thrift store bought a $20 Schwinn road bike. I got it tuned up and loved it. A month later it got stolen and I was heart-broken. A kind person gave me a bike for free after hearing my stolen bike story and I finally had a nice commuter friendly bike – complete with a rear rack and panniers – that I rode for a long time.
Though I was slowly learning more about biking and Minneapolis’ shops, events and resources, I was still strictly a commuter. I rarely rode for fun and ultimately I considered biking a chore that was necessary due to my lack of a motorized vehicle. I had no interest diving further into the culture and community of bicycling. All that changed one winter day. A good friend of mine worked at the non-profit shop Cycles for Change (formerly Sibley Bike Depot) he let me try out his fixed gear bicycle. A bunch of my friends had jumped onto the fixed gear trend but I generally thought they were impractical and dangerous. However, that winter day that I jumped on I found that the fixed gear allowed me to feel more in control of the bike on the icy Minnesota streets. Even more importantly I found that riding a fixed gear was a lot of fun. For the first time since I was a kid I felt like I could bike for more than just chore of getting to work and school.
My friend from Cycles for Change helped me to begin the process of getting my own fixed gear bike for as little money as possible. I bought an old Schwinn Le Tour frame and gave my bike savvy friend $100 dollars to be my personal shopper at the annual Twin Cities Bike Swap in Blaine. He got everything I needed and helped me build my own fixed gear bike designed to be exactly what I wanted. I finally felt like my bike was specifically meant for me and I started to ride my bike simply because it was fun. Before I knew it I was riding constantly and feeling better and more confident with each ride. I even started to attend bike events like alley cat races all the while more and more people who were also becoming involved in the bike culture of Minneapolis.
As I evolved as a bicyclist I learned how to use Minneapolis’ remarkable resources and opportunities for bicycling. I regularly use the Midtown Greenway to get across town or out to Hopkins and St. Louis park. I find bike lanes and bike boulevards that have been regularly popping up all over the city as they are added or repainted. My job in Saint Paul has resulted in my regular use of the Lake Street bridge that connects the Twin Cities. The bridge was a big part of Bike Walk Twin Citie’s plan to use the federal grant money. Bike lanes and bike signs were installed throughout Marshall Avenue. A sidewalk was added and the speed limit for cars was reduced. The project resulted in an increase of nearly 40% of bicyclists and pedestrians using the bridge.
Ultimately, it’s become clear that funding for bike and walking infrastructure played an important role in the positive development of this city and in my own development as a bicyclist. Minneapolis was deemed Bicycle Magazine’s #1 bike friendly city in 2011, has bragging rights to the country’s first urban single-track mountain bike trail system, hosts the largest bike-sharing program in the country (https://www.niceridemn.org), and holds several titles and top-ten spots as one of America’s healthiest cities. I never could have predicted that 5 years after my car accident I’d be working at a bike shop, participating in races, commuting from Minneapolis to St. Paul daily, and going on bike camping trips 40 to 50 miles away. Minneapolis is an amazing city for bikes and bicyclists. A lot of the credit goes to the cyclists that have worked hard to create a fun and supportive community. However, it’s difficult to imagine making so much progress without the infrastructure initiatives and funding that opened the doors for development and growth as a cycling community.