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?

About Julie Kosbab

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005, and is no longer lonely in that calling. A past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association, she has 2 children and a garage full of bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations, or read her (seldom updated) blog at Ride Boldly!