Build It Properly For Isabella

People for Bikes and The Green Lane Project have introduced a new promotional tool—Build It For Isabella.


I think that as a promotional and messaging platform Isabella is a great idea. Isabella gets the basic point across in a good and simple way when we’re talking about what kind of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure we should have.


I have three concerns with Isabella though:

  • Isabella is 12 years old. That’s fine, but our bikeways should also be designed for 8 year olds, 80 year olds, and a lot of us in between. There is a vast difference in an 8 and 12 year old. A 12 year old can handle a much more complicated world than an 8 year old (or me). Our bikeway system needs to be simple and safe enough for everyone, not just a 12 year old. The Dutch have largely achieved this where it is clear where the bicycle path is and importantly, thanks to sharks teeth, who has right-of-way. Signs and directions are simple and understandable.
  • If our bikeways are built for Isabella, why does she need a helmet? I am not anti-helmet but I am against promoting the need for helmets, especially in this context where it implies that even after we’ve built it for Isabella that it will be so dangerous that she needs to wear a helmet. If we build it properly for Isabella then she should have no more need of a helmet than children in The Netherlands.
  • Our bikeways should also be built for those wanting to travel (safely) at higher speeds of 15-20 mph and they should be built for disabled folk using mobility scooters or handcycles. Bikeway design should allow for all of these folks and Isabella and her friends to safely share and pass when necessary.


The first two can be solved quite easily by making Isabella 8 or 9 years old and chucking the helmet.


On the last we need to always keep in mind and make sure that it is always abundantly clear to every traffic engineer, planner, politician, and others that our bikeways also need to work for Isabella the attorney riding fast in to work and Isabella the architect who writes for and uses a mobility scooter. In short, we need to stop trying to build triangular, square, and octagon wheels that have proven elsewhere not to work and adopt the Dutch CROW Manual for Bicycle Design that provides for a safe and robust system for all users.


Now let’s begin—Is the new bike lane on Marshall Avenue in St. Paul good enough for Isabella to ride to school by herself?

Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN

6 thoughts on “Build It Properly For Isabella

  1. Mike Sonnmikesonn

    “We support Isabella getting to school safely, but where are we suppose to park? Sorry, we can’t back this project as it is currently laid out.”

  2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I don’t understand why you make such frequent references to motorized wheelchairs using bikeways, Walker. Since our sidewalks are built to very stringent standards for accessibility, and since mobility scooter are legally treated as pedestrians (and go about that speed), why would those users not be on the sidewalk?

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      You need only spend a little time in The Netherlands watching disabled folk and talking to them to realize how poorly we provide for disabled in the U.S.

      A disabled person on a mobility scooter can usually go 15 – 20 mph and a handcycle 10 or so. They are both much more compatible with bicycle riders than pedestrians so it’s safer for all to have them with bicycle riders. This also allows them to get where they are going much faster and in many cases to avoid using multiple modes of transportation which can be a PITA and eat up a lot of time.

      Our sidewalks are often quite bumpy, have potholes that are dangerous, are sloped, and have numerous impediments that cause problems, especially if the disable person is also having to navigate among a bunch of pedestrians. A well designed bicycle/disabled network eliminates all or most of these. On top of this is the comparison between having zero curb cuts and our ADA compliant cuts with inverted domes that can be a problem for many mobility scooters.

      A well designed bicycle/disabled network is much easier to keep clear of snow in winter and provides a much safer option than trying to navigate among piles of snow at intersections.

    2. Nicole

      Have you ever seen a person in a wheelchair try to move along the sidewalks in winter around here? It’s depressing and awful to watch, I can’t imagine what it’s like to actually have to navigate it! I regularly see folks in motorized chairs out in the street during winter because the sidewalks become completely inaccessible.

  3. Monte Castleman

    The Portland Ave reconstruction is a good example of provisions for all kinds of cyclists as well as motorized traffic. Volumes are such that 3 substandard lanes are enough for cars. Hennepin county likes to have shoulders for disabled vehicles to get out of the traffic lane, so this space doubles as bicycle lanes for hardcore commuter cyclists. Isabella probably doesn’t want to ride on the road bicycle lanes or no, so there’s an 8 foot recreational trail for her. Normally she’d probably ride on the sidewalk which is somewhat OK in Richfield where there aren’t that many bicycles or pedestrians compared to say Uptown Minneapolis, but it’s far from idea.

    I agree with ditching the helmet. I know Isabella is technically safer with one, but casual bicycling isn’t that dangerous. Isabella’s friend sees her always wearing a helmet and equates bicycling with motorcycles or racecar driving, and figures it’s too dangerous, or not worth it if he’d have to put a hot, uncomfortable foam picnic cooler on his head. But all sorts of people, many of which don’t actually ride bicycles, would flip out if they saw the picture without a helmet.

    As for the Marshall lane, I’d say no, but remember unless a street is reconstructed there’s only so much you can do with paint, and something is probably better than nothing, and it at least is OK for Isabella’s uncle, who’se a hardcore spandex-and-helmet daily commuter.

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