The Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota is the largest and most prominent bicycling advocacy organization in Minnesota and the only one I am aware of focusing on the entire state rather than a single city or the Twin Cities metro.
As a result, the Bike Alliance is in the perfect position to make Minnesota one of the greatest places in the U.S. to ride a bicycle. Their vision and mission say this is what they’d like to do and I agree.
The Bike Alliance is busy setting their agenda and priorities for 2016; perhaps we should weigh in.
In years past, the Alliance has focused primarily on initiatives to make it safer and more convenient to drive your bicycle on the road with cars, along with other efforts such as recreational and commuter trails. They have also promoted Safe Routes To School. These efforts are OK but mostly benefit only a small minority of people. Only about 5% of people, the Strong & Fearless and a few Enthused & Confident, are likely to ever want themselves or their children to ride, or drive, their bicycle on roads with a lot of fast and deadly motor traffic.
Trails get a bit wider use, but even these are used by only a tiny minority of our population. I love and support our trails, but they mostly don’t go anywhere that people want to go. In fact, many or most people who want to ride their bikes on these trails get there by car, hauling their bicycles to these trails because the roads are too dangerous.
Lunch may be only a half mile away but if 1/4 mile of that is on a scary county road then people will drive their car instead of ride their bicycle.
I would guess that the bulk of BikeMN’s membership (and funding) are part of the 5% (or likely 1%) and so it is understandable that their focus has historically been on making it safer and more convenient to ride on the road with cars. I am part of the Strong & Fearless myself and do appreciate much of what they’ve done in this area. Is it time for BikeMN to vastly broaden their scope?
My Vision For Minnesota
1) I’d like to see everyone in Minnesota, regardless of age, gender, or ability, be able to safely, comfortably, and without fear ride bicycles, handcycles, or mobility scooters for all trips of up to 3 miles each way; to school, grocery, pharmacy, brunch, work, dinner, or wherever they would like to go.
Our current situation is perhaps best summed up as ‘you can’t get there from here’. At least not without venturing on to county and other roads that not only feel dangerous and uncomfortable to ride a bicycle on, but are dangerous. This has resulted in what is often called “MAMIL culture” (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) because these are largely the only people adventurous enough to venture out on our roads.
Things are even worse during winter. Not only are roadways more dangerous but painted bike lanes become largely unusable. Even MAMILs stay in hibernation. Annie Van Cleve, co-chair of the Winter Cycling Congress 2016, to be held here in February, wrote a great piece at People For Bikes about this.
I don’t think that Bicycle Driving Education (formerly Vehicular Cycling) and 3-foot laws will get us there. Nor will most of the new NACTO and AASHTO standards that appear largely to be designs discarded by Dutch traffic engineers as too dangerous. Painted bike lanes won’t do it. More: Do We Really Want Bike Lanes?
Experience abroad in The Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, and other countries as well as here in Minneapolis, Davis, Portland, and New York City tell us that the key to more people being able to ride is protected bikeways. And lots of them. And the more protected from motor vehicles the better. And protected through junctions and intersections, not just between them.
Locally, the success of Nice Ride in Minneapolis versus its poor performance in St Paul highlights the importance of protected infrastructure. As well, while St Paul’s painted bike lanes are empty all winter, Shoreview’s protected bikeways are still used; by kids going to school, people going for their morning coffee, and recreational riders.
2) I’d like for bicycling to be viewed positively rather than negatively.
Cyclists are not viewed favorably in the U.S. The number one complaint that I hear is that cyclists block traffic lanes. Second is running red lights and stop signs; the third is related to these–cyclists catching up to and passing cars queued at red lights and then blocking them again (leap-frog).
This is somewhat a natural consequence of highly maneuverable 11 mph bicycle riders trying to share space with low maneuverable cars capable of and desiring (often very strongly) much higher speeds. These two modes, bicycles and motor vehicles, are not compatible and this is behind a key element of sustainable safety—homogeneity of mass, speed, and direction.
This is exacerbated by cyclists trying to fit into a rule system appropriate for motor vehicles but often inappropriate for bicycle riders. Perhaps topping this for me is that motor vehicles need highly controlled junctions to keep from hitting each other (and others), but bicycle riders do not.
This all creates considerable conflict between motorists and bicycle riders and this conflict will only get worse with higher numbers of bicycle riders becoming increasingly common and rage-inducing obstacles to motorists.
A Solution vs Stop-Gap Measures
Measures like 3 Foot Rules and Vulnerable User Laws
and being able to ride three abreast and not having to ride as far right as practicable and teaching people Bicycle Driving are mostly okay.
They are, however, perhaps like pouring a quart of oil into your car every day and then advocating for rules that make it okay to drip oil on to the pavement rather than fixing the problem. All of those things are good stop-gaps. And I practice most of these myself when I must share the road with cars. But that is all they are, a stop-gap. They are not a permanent solution.
It’s time for a permanent, sustainable, long-term solution. A solution that works for everyone and all year.
With that in mind, I would like to see BikeMN put its resources and skill behind efforts toward a sustainable solution that will serve all people of all abilities:
- Inclusion of Protected Bikeways and junctions on Every County Road within 3 miles of any built up area. These should be built to CROW standards and not NACTO or AASHTO standards, so that they function equally well for young children, fast athletes, and those with disabilities and do so all year long. More: Bikeway Fundamentals: Safety, Momentum, and Comfort
- 20 mph speed limits on residential and some other streets that do not need protected bicycle infrastructure.
- Require that 10% of all parking minimums be for bicycles and located either in a safe, secure space near the building entrance or ride-in/out inside the building.
- Require new residential buildings to include ride-in/out secure indoor bicycle parking for at least 20% of residents.
We Can Do This
The best part is that we can do this. It may not be easy, but we can do it. Roads only last so long. If, when these are rebuilt or resurfaced, safe, protected bikeways and sidewalks and junctions are always included, then we’ll get there in about 25 years. And these should be popular with motorists because they get bicycle riders out of the way.
Shoreview has mostly done it. Minneapolis is well on it’s way. Others can too. And if BikeMN will take a leadership role then we’ll not only achieve this faster but we’ll have better infrastructure and infrastructure that serves everyone. If we do it right, we can have infrastructure like The Netherlands that is better than roadways for faster riders and MAMILs. There’s a reason that moped riders prefer the Dutch bikeways to the roadways.
If we’d begun an Every Roads for Every Person initiative just five years ago we’d be well on our way today. In Ramsey County alone we’d already have over 75 miles of protected infrastructure, not including all of that in Shoreview. The Netherlands did it, we can too. For some good before and after click here.
We know this will work not just because of how well it’s worked elsewhere but because of how many Minnesotan’s load their bicycles in cars and haul them to trails like the Gateway State Trail to ride. Imagine how many more people will ride if they can do so from their home and also have an enticing destination.
This is what I would like to see from our preeminent bicycling advocacy organization. What would you like to see?
Disclaimer: I am not a member of nor do I pay dues or contribute financially to BikeMN. I would like to be able to change this.
2015.11.02 Author Note: Dorian Grilley of BikeMN informed me that they have not advocated for changes to allow more than two bicycle riders abreast. I was mistaken on that and have crossed it out.
 What is a built-up area? Anywhere with some significant number of people or a population center. Perhaps 250 per square mile.
 Alternately on every road with a speed limit of greater than 30 mph or traffic volume in excess of 1500.
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