Love thy neighborhood: Imagining A Land of Lanes

Recently, the huge advancements in biking infrastructure that have been made in the past five years have slowed. While Minneapolis-St. Paul has made a historic investment in off-road bike trails such as the Midtown Greenway and the Cedar Lake Trail, physically-protected and buffered on-street bike lanes remain rare. In 2012, Portland was named the number one biking city in the country by Bicycling Magazine. This is indicative of Portland’s continued investment and advancement in biking infrastructure.

The most salient expression of Minneapolis’ lack of abundant and safe biking infrastructure is in the recent death of Marcus Nalls, a 26-year old man who was biking on Franklin Ave in Minneapolis when he was hit by a drunk driver. Why major thoroughfares like Franklin Avenue, Hennepin Avenue, Selby, and Snelling Avenue do not have protected bike lanes—where parked cars separate the bike lane from traffic—is beyond me. Too often has our transportation policy focused on getting the maximum amount of cars down a major road in a given hour, with little attention given to biking as a commuting option.

Yes, we have built a tremendous off-road network as well as bike boulevards on residential streets throughout the Cities, but it is time to invest heavily in bike lanes on major roads. Only then can biking become a daily fixture in the way we commute.

Last month, St. Paul unveiled a bike plan to add 214 miles of bike lanes within the next 20-30 years. The goal is to complete a “Grand Rounds” a so-called “circular trail” around St. Paul. Minneapolis has already completed theirs. While any announcement of bike lane expansion is exciting, this plan does not go far enough to ensure our place as a leader in cycling in America. Since this plan spans the next three decades, it all but ensures that a little over seven miles of bike trails are built per year for the next 30 years in St. Paul. That number is abysmal.

One promising idea in the biking realm that has been recently floated is for the conversion of a traffic lane on each side of University Ave, into on-street parking and a protected bike lane. New on-street parking spots would help meet the needs the businesses along the corridor lost when the Green Line was built. Additionally, protected bike lanes along this corridor would aid in the development of additional bike lanes on major roads.

Another promising development, is that on Feb. 10, the first Hennepin County Bike-Pedestrian Coordinator, Kelly Yemen, will take office. She comes from NYC DOT which was renowned during the Bloomberg Administration for innovation in street design and the proliferation of bike infrastructure in our nation’s largest city. Hiring someone from NYC DOT more than anything indicates the course Hennepin County will take when it comes to the future of biking.

So where are we going? It is clear that Minneapolis-St. Paul will continue growing its biking infrastructure. But the lingering question is: what role will biking play in our daily lives? If we continue course without increased funding and advocacy, we won’t achieve the dream of having biking play a fundamental role in our commutes. But if we choose to embrace biking completely, and fund it at an appropriate level, we can again lead America in the biking realm again.