Proposed Keystone XL Bike Path Shows Disconnect Between Causes

It’s not, in fact, April Fools Day. It’s Halloween.

And it’s definitely a trick, not a treat, that the designers of the Keystone XL Pipeline — proposed to go through several states near to Minnesota, and a sign of things to come if it passes — have forwarded a “tongue-in-cheek” proposal to turn 5,000 miles of pipeline into 5,000 miles of bike path, too.

Ironic Keystone XL image

A bike path & cows… and a pretty big pipeline (Credit: SWA Group)

The group’s blog post, on the one hand, is very reasonable — pointing out that too many infrastructure projects focus on a single issue, to the exclusion of all other considerations. But it really represents a snarky co-op of urbanist (and reasonable person) ideas — that “people need space to ride bikes, walk, move” as well. They cite projects turning derelict freeways into art, restoring abandoned industrial facilities for current uses and similar as “inspiration” to consider how to take new public works and integrate them.

…sounds great, but, seriously? No. Beyond the intrinsic conflict between environmentalists and pipeline advocates, the idea that people will take a vacation to ride along a giant oil pipeline is ridiculous. This is not some sort of extended superhighway of bicycles, the Midtown Greenway writ large against a Dakotan landscape. It is not a trail as economic driver, as one finds in Lanesboro and Whalen, supporting a town and multiple pie shops. There has never been an argument for “tourism” as an economic effect of Keystone XL — and, if anything, there have been multiple security era concerns about access to the pipeline through remote regions allowing for terrorism. A bike path isn’t going to be a security feature. (Speaking of which, rather than the call to iconic Tour de France photos in the artist’s rendering, where are the obligatory drones?)

Perhaps the people at this architecture firm are sincere. Could be. But their writing and imagery is anything but, and displays disdain for urbanist principles, applied to a distinctly rural project. Undoubtedly, a bicycle path was chosen as the contrast to the pipeline because conservatives consider cycling to be hippy-dippy, and to provide a human contrast to the pipeline (versus past renderings of wildlife). There’s a not-precisely-sly dig at the idea that design should encompass multiple audiences.

This goes well beyond proposals to run the SWLRT alongside existing rail-trails. For one, while those corridors were redeveloped as trails, their original use was as rail corridors, and complex right-of-way issues remain. The Bruce Vento Trail has, for years, featured signs indicating it is still rail right-of-way (without rails) and could again be converted to transit use. No arguments for the SWLRT have been made based on remoteness — in fact, many have been made based on density, and many plans are similarly based on density.

Nonetheless, this is where we see a divide between urbanists and others, particularly those set on preserving a fossil-fuel economy. Attempts to co-opt traditional values of urbanists to support ridiculous projects cannot be considered sincere.

What do you think — looking forward to a jolly ride along an oil pipeline any time soon? is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

7 Responses to Proposed Keystone XL Bike Path Shows Disconnect Between Causes

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke October 31, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    well, it’s not a bad idea but bikes should be 0.0% of the conversation about Keystone.

    also, that is perhaps the worst rendering in the history of renderings?

  2. Nathaniel October 31, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    So, this is almost as crazy as the pipeline itself.

  3. Jeremy Mendelson
    Jeremy Mendelson October 31, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    It’s just an attempt to greenwash the project and detract attention from the horrific impacts. The hope is that people remember the happy images, and that some people will be so happy to have a bike trail (which won’t come without the whole project … sound familiar??) that they’ll support or at least not actively oppose the pipeline.

    • Julie Kosbab November 1, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

      The woman in front is wearing a shirt that signals “hippie,” followed closely by a mom on a bike. The heavy-handedness is heavy.

  4. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke October 31, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    my point was only that, if we’re going to have pipelines anyway, maybe it’s a good idea to use them for bike paths too. why not?

    granted, that’s a big ‘if’ and i am not a fan of this project for lots of reasons…

  5. Tom Wald November 1, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    Adding on a trail would be great. It would definitely be an asset.

    However, I agree that adding a trail can’t speak much to the separate concerns about the pipeline. Also, the renderings show images of people who aren’t just out for a casual 500-mile bike ride. Of course, rural trails are no urban Midtown Greenways.

  6. Jason Kushner November 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    This is an interesting debate. I agree that people probably won’t be jumping at the opportunity to ride their bikes along an oil pipeline, but then again, at least that space is being used for something. Check out this other article:

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