Opinions Vary

There was an article today in the Star Tribune by Steve Brandt (he of “the bike lobby wants to lower the speed limit“) asking whether Minneapolis has enough bike lanes already. Aside from saying, no, we don’t have enough and yes, we need more, I’ll leave it to those who are more plugged-in to local bike advocacy and infrastructure planning to respond to the substance. I want to focus on something else.

Are these all the bike lanes we need?

Are these all the bike lanes we need?

Brandt tells us that because we already have so many bike lanes, “some are wondering, how much is enough?”

Huh. Who are these some? The article doesn’t directly say. Let’s look for clues in the rest of the article.

Brandt quotes Council President Barbara Johnson:

“Are we going to have a protected bike lane on every street?” asked City Council President Barbara Johnson, noting business concerns about plans to add barrier-protected bike lanes plus greenery to Third Avenue S. through downtown this summer.

Well, I guess she could be the “some.” I certainly hope she is, because that’s the obvious implication and I would hope her views aren’t being misrepresented. But she’s not quoted as wondering whether we have enough already, so we don’t really know.

Brandt goes through a bunch of numbers about how many lane miles we already have and how we stack up against other cities (although apparently only American cities, because I don’t think Minneapolis is actually way ahead of Copenhagen or Amsterdam among large cities with bike facilities). With all these details, maybe there’s an advocacy group or traffic planning expert who is the “some” that is the basis for this entire article. But if that’s the case, why isn’t it identified?

The only other theory I could come up with is that Brandt himself is the some. But that doesn’t make any sense either, because this is a news article not an opinion piece, and Brandt is a reporter not a columnist. And, of course, he doesn’t tell us it’s his opinion, he relies on the amorphous “some.”

Left unable to reach a conclusion from the article itself, I asked Brandt about it on Twitter. This was his response as to who the “some” are:

I want to be perfectly clear that I know nothing about how journalism is practiced or about its ethics, but nonetheless, this answer shocked me. “Some” isn’t the city council president (or the out-state legislator who is also inexplicably quoted on something way outside his jurisdiction). It’s not an organization or a group. It’s not even Brandt. It’s a few random unidentified people.

And worse, he doesn’t tell the reader that. Readers are given no context at all as to who or how many the “some” is and thus are left entirely in the dark about how much they should credit the opinion of the “some.”  Apparently it doesn’t matter, because Brandt (and/or his editor) has decided that these are opinions that need a broader airing and readers don’t need to know who holds them.

I have to wonder, would this even have been published if instead of “some” it said, “an unknown number of people who have sent me unsolicited emails and people who left comments on the online versions of my articles?” Sadly, I suppose it would have.

But there’s a lesson here for advocates. Apparently, all it takes to get a news article published about a purported trend is a few pings in a journalist’s inbox. I guess we’ve got some more addresses to add when we’re writing to our elected representatives.


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25 Responses to Opinions Vary

  1. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson March 11, 2016 at 9:58 am #

    “Rural Minnesotans wonder if Minneapolis has too many bike lanes” is as worth giving weight to as “Minneapolitans wonder if northern Minnesota has too many cabins”.

    • Zack March 11, 2016 at 10:05 am #

      As a rural Minnesotan (and cyclist) who visits Minneapolis often, I can resoundingly say I want there to be MORE bike lanes in Minneapolis. I love getting around by bike and seeing all the other folks doing the same. That’s why I’m a Minneapolis Bike Coalition member, despite living three hours away.

      • Adam Froehlig
        Adam Froehlig March 11, 2016 at 10:30 am #

        Make sure you tell Steve Brandt that (oh, and the City Council and Legislature too)…

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller March 11, 2016 at 11:17 am #

      I like that. Although I’m in favor of giving lots of weight to Zach’s opinion.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller March 11, 2016 at 11:17 am #

        Sorry, Zack, about misspelling your name.

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke March 11, 2016 at 1:28 pm #

          That’s OK Adem. It happens all the time.

      • Eric Anondson
        Eric Anondson March 11, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

        I mean, an uncharitable view is that it is regionalist concern trolling elevated into reporting. Going back and forth with a tit for tat could be fun! But unproductive. 😇

  2. Zack March 11, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    Also, does anyone know the total number of auto lane miles in Minneapolis? It would be interesting to compare that number to the % mode share of people cycling. I’d bet that people cycling have far fewer lane miles of “bike lanes” per % mode share than drivers.

    • Adam Froehlig
      Adam Froehlig March 11, 2016 at 10:35 am #

      Per MnDOT data, Minneapolis had just under 2600 lane miles in July, 2014. A number that likely hasn’t changed much.

      • Alex Cecchini
        Alex Cecchini March 11, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

        I wonder why that differs from the city’s claim of 3,200 lane miles here (plus 400 miles of alleys on top of that)? This number also likely doesn’t include space for on-street parking, which is counted as part of the curb-side lane, right? Finally, a lane-mile of a bike is different than a car lane mile; Assume average 11′ wide lanes for cars vs 5-6′ for bikes (though this calculus changes when you include buffers on the protected bikeways – it should be debated whether that space should be allocated to cars or bikes given the reason for their requirement in the first place).

        In any case, that makes the most conservative reading of bike lane share of total lane miles (auto lane miles + bike lane miles) to be about 8%. The 2,600 lane miles for cars includes interstates and highways, so it’s fair to include park trails and the Greenway IMO. Mode share data per this UMN study shows total annual bike mode share to be about 5% of all trips year round. So by that conservative measure, bike lane mile share outstrips usage.

        Of course, factoring share of roadway, cost of bike facilities relative to streets, public parking space, etc brings that cumber more in favor of bikes.

        • Walker Angell
          Walker Angell March 12, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

          3,200 includes county roads and 2,600 does not?

          How much is built should’t be based on how many there are but how many we want there to be. Somewhere there’s a study that shows how much more congestion is caused for each lane mile of motor vehicle lane built – induced demand. Do we want more congestion? Or would we like to see fewer people driving cars for shorter trips to free up space for those who need cars for longer trips?

          Do we want to continue to have the highest healthcare costs in the world (and yet the poorest health of almost all developed countries)? Or do we want Americans to be more active, healthier, and less costly to maintain?

          Do we want to continue cycles of people moving to get away from traffic danger, unpleasantness, noise, and pollution? Or make all of our neighborhoods more appealing by reducing car traffic?

        • Adam Froehlig
          Adam Froehlig March 13, 2016 at 8:11 am #

          MnDOT generally does not include turn lanes in its lane mile calculations. That may be why there’s a difference between city and MnDOT figures.

          Walker: MnDOT’s figures include ALL roads within Minneapolis, including county, state, and Interstate.

  3. Daniel Choma
    Daniel Choma March 11, 2016 at 10:20 am #

    Honestly, I struggle with the intersection of print journalism and the internet.

    Idealistically, print media is more expensive to create and one would presume that it would follow a higher ideal because it literally has an editorial board that has to ask “Is this worthy of spending money on?”

    Unfortunately, it seems that during my adult life, a great deal of print editors aren’t asking “Is this worth spending money on?” but rather “is this something that will create enough of a stir as to please my advertisers?” I understand the situation as readership is dwindling and papers are nervous that they will lose revenue, but I don’t think doing the print equivalent of “click bait” really is a sustainable way to save a newspaper.

    Furthermore, the way that writers are interacting with the world is increasingly influenced by social media and twitter. The immediacy, transparency, and gigantic dataset that twitter provides is a writers dream. But does it actually help the dialogue? Furthermore, if someone at the paper is being *paid* to be an editor, shouldn’t they edit and make sure that the dataset is valid and actually representative of reality as a whole?

    If that doesn’t happen, there is a huge risk that the two viewpoints a newspaper is offering the readership aren’t actually logical viewpoints at all but rather two Straw Man arguments propped up against each other. And sure, that might be entertaining for a while, but I don’t think our collective intellectual capacity should be made of straw.

    • Daniel Choma
      Daniel Choma March 11, 2016 at 10:23 am #

      Also, Editors should edit because some people just looove the word “Furthermore” and should be told when to stop. 😉

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman March 11, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

      Despite about a dozen articles about how some people think the name “Calhoun” isn’t politically correct enough, I don’t think clickbait is anything new. Remember how newspapers helped start the Spanish American war after the USS Maine blew up.

  4. Peter Bajurny March 11, 2016 at 11:44 am #

    I feel like there’s a whole mountain of bias in the “ordinary” part of “ordinary readers.” As if people who support biking in some way are abnormal.

    • Erik Ostrom March 12, 2016 at 9:29 am #

      When I read the Twitter thread, I had the impression he was contrasting “ordinary readers” with the politicians and lobbyists he quotes by name in the article, not with bike-loving freaks.

  5. Nick Magrino
    Nick Magrino March 11, 2016 at 11:55 am #

    Good examples of why I dislike “seems like” and “apparently” throughout this controversy

  6. Joe Scott
    Joe March 11, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

    Nice job pointing out garbage reporting by the strib. How ironic is it that he got paid and you didn’t?

  7. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke March 11, 2016 at 1:27 pm #

    Bike lanes might get noticed by Barb Johnson but when it comes to actual people not driving and riding bikes instead, Minneapolis has a long way to go. Another key thing missed here is that these projects don’t cost very much, and probably save the city money in the long run.

  8. helsinki March 11, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

    “Culturally alien bike-lane juggernaut steals scarce public land, Victimizes innocent motorists”.

    Quite a scoop, Mr. Brandt.

  9. Mark Snyder (@snyde043) March 11, 2016 at 3:27 pm #

    I’ve followed Brandt for a very long time on the Minneapolis Issues Forum. He comments there about running and biking in Minneapolis regularly enough that I feel confident that the “some” who are wondering how much is enough is not him.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke March 11, 2016 at 4:01 pm #

      His editors made him do it I am sure. They need to feed the trolls.

  10. Steve Brandt March 12, 2016 at 9:35 am #

    It’s always entertaining to review a discussion of one’s supposed motives.
    Adam seems to have an issue with the fact that I pay heed to a current of public opinion out there that runs counter to the prevailing Mpls orthodoxy.
    He doesn’t seem to quibble with me quoting Barb Johnson, who only a few years ago was calling for more lanes in north Mpls. He seems to have an issue with a legislator from Mazeppa because that person doesn’t live here. Although I’ve never been to Mazeppa, I’ve spent lots of time in rural MN in the 1980s as a farm reporter and I know the importance of farm-to-market roads there. He sits on the House Transportation Committee where policy questions about state transportation are shaped. Like it or not, a portion of funding for Mpls streets originates at the state level, although most is local.
    Adam seems shocked that I listen to ordinary readers who contact me because my name and phone number and e-mail are on every article I write. At times that can be a pain, and sometimes I do a little missionary work with them to help them see a different point of view. But they are real people, their opinions matter and having contact with them keeps me from being trapped in an echo chamber of only the pro-bike voices with whom I usually converse while reporting.
    I’ve written roughly 150 stories on biking over the last five years, mostly focused on Mpls. You can look them up. In fact, I’d encourage you to do so. As a reporter I try to apply the same evaluative standards to this reporting as I formerly did to reporting on schools and city government. It seems to me that some in the biking community are as thin-skinned as library and park officials, who are so used to wrapping themselves in the mantle of providing a popular public service that they can’t stand a story that examines what they are doing. Hell hath no fury like a bike advocate who feels above such scrutiny.
    I’ll stack my biking credentials up against anyone on this list. I logged 2,800 miles last year, commuted by bike far more than any other mode, rode solo to Thunder Bay, and most importantly, taught my six-year-old grandson to ride. All that at age 64. I’ve biked up Mount Ventoux, done multiple double centuries and gone even farther than that in 24 hours, and biked across Wisconsin on a 24-inch highway shoulder.
    But I’m not going to give bike investments a free pass any more than I’ll eschew giving the upcoming city park referendum critical examination.

    • Adam Froehlig
      Adam Froehlig March 12, 2016 at 11:41 am #

      I can’t speak for the other Adam (whom I presume you’re replying to here)…I for one don’t take issue with Rep. Drazkowski for where he lives, but instead for what he says. Assuming his quote in your article is correct, and given that many (most?) of these bike lanes in Minneapolis either involved nothing more than paint and a sign (5-digits of cost and not 7-digits) or were part of a normal resurfacing anyway, I could easily take what he said and turn it right back whenever Goodhue County repaves a lightly used road or whenever MnDOT does work on Highway 60 (fun fact: 15th St SE in Dinkytown sees twice as many bikes per day as Highway 60 in Drazkowski’s district sees vehicles).

      But I don’t. Just as what Goodhue County does with their CSAH funding allotment is their business, what Minneapolis does with their MSAS funding or Hennepin County and their CSAH allotment is their business. If they want to add bike lanes and the local public and local officials support the idea (and it’s pretty clear that the majority do), then they should be allowed to do so.