What Happened to the Bike? The Lack of Diversity on the Midtown Greenway

Editor’s Note: One of the missing voices in bicycle planning in the Twin Cities is college students who belong to a generation much less likely than their parents to own vehicles. This series of posts written by Macalester students for the “Bicycling the Urban Landscape” course are one effort to include these voices.  This piece was contributed by Christian Adams.

Coming from a medium-sized city in Louisiana, I saw many different types of people riding bicycles in my neighborhood and in my city as a way of transportation and to socialize with friends and community members. There were African-Americans, whites, Latin-Americans, and people of all social and economic classes riding bicycles, such as mentally handicapped citizens, the poor, and the rich. This diversity of bicycle ridership made me believe that bicycling was for everybody. So, when I moved to Saint Paul for college, one of the first things I noticed when I started biking is that there is a lack of diversity between ages, social and economic classes, and races. I not only saw this in Saint Paul, but also in Minneapolis especially on the Midtown Greenway. In Minneapolis, their bike infrastructure is tenfold compared to Saint Paul’s bike infrastructure; places like the University of Minnesota and the Midtown Greenway are great examples of how cities should involve bicycles as a major mode of transportation for all.

During the Bicycling the Urban Landscape course I took this Spring, we rode around the Twin Cities. One of the places we biked to was the Midtown Greenway. This being the first time I was on the Greenway, I was ecstatic for the chance to ride on a trail made just for bicycles and pedestrians. While on the trail, I regained an eagerness and a joy for biking that I hadn’t felt since I was a young kid riding my bicycle through my neighborhood. My expectations for the Midtown Greenway were all met except for one thing: the lack of diversity amongst riders. It seemed to me that even though there was a great trail that allowed bikers to experience the open road without the fear of automobiles and a chance that an accident may occur, there was not a lot of diversity amongst the people who the city wants to bring into biking. Everyone should be able to access the Greenway but there were so few (if any) people of color. There were more middle-aged white people on the trail. This lack of diversity made the Midtown Greenway seem dull and boring after the first few miles or so.

Midtown Greenway

This lack of diversity amongst the biker population has made me think about my time riding in the Twin Cities. I have been thinking “How can such an accessible mode of transportation with great infrastructure not bring everyone together?” Not including the many worries or criticisms that first-timers or daily riders feel, there are examples that inhibit diversity on the Midtown Greenway. One major factor that seems overlooked into what causes lack of diversity is the redeveloped condominiums and apartment complexes that have been recently finished. These apartments are inhabited by mostly white citizens. I noticed this after the number of people who entered and left the apartment complex that we sat to rest at. All of the people were white and mostly male. These apartments are a part of an increasingly number of white citizens coming back into the city for cheaper and more accessible transportation compared to the suburbs. This gentrification continues to be seen on the Midtown Greenway.

As my tenure in the Twin Cities becomes longer, I will be interested to see how the Twin Cities can increase diversity amongst its bikers and increase equity for people of all races. I believe that the Midtown Greenway can become more accessible as long as there are people who can promote bicycle advocacy amongst non-white citizens and communities and let them know that there is infrastructure in place that allows people to be safe and have fun biking.


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15 Responses to What Happened to the Bike? The Lack of Diversity on the Midtown Greenway

  1. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller April 28, 2017 at 9:49 am #

    You’ll find more diversity on the Greenway east of say Bryant and west of Hiawatha. Or in other world as the surrounding neighborhoods get more diverse.

  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke April 28, 2017 at 9:55 am #

    I don’t know, I’d say that the Midtown Greenway does fairly well on attracting diverse users, especially when you compare it to other bike infrastructure around the city. During a nice day, especially on a weekend, you see all kinds of people using the space in different ways. Many folks in the more diverse parts of South Minneapolis use the greenway in different ways, walking dogs, sheltering under bridges, even harvesting plants or fruit from the margins of the space. There is a great variety of bicycles and bicyclists on display during these times. During less-nice times, though, I’d say that most of the more dedicated users fit your description. And the farther you get from Bloomington Avenue (say), the less diverse it becomes.

  3. Morgan Zehner April 28, 2017 at 1:59 pm #

    Hey!

    I am the President of the Midtown Greenway Coalition.

    First off, we do have survey evidence that states that “people of color don’t feel comfortable in the Greenway.” The organization is working hard to rectify this.

    Public Art

    We want non-white people to feel ownership of and use the greenway. One of the ways we are trying to accomplish this is through having public art help to tell the stories of communities along the Greeenway.

    We have two murals funded that will be completed in the Greenway this summer. One at 11th Ave and another at 13th Avenue. The 11th Avenue mural was funded by matching a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council commitment and will be completed by an artist of color. The artist has been selected by an inclusive process and it is Jordan Hamilton.

    Another mural will be located at 13th avenue and is a partnership between the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and Little Earth. We are very excited about this partnership.

    Working with Schools to get kids on bikes

    We have a partnership with Andersen Community School which is located in the Philips neighborhood. I am not 100% sure of the racial make up the school but it is majority minority and Latino. All 6th graders at Andersen will receive brand new bikes for free! About 130 kids!!!! The Greenway Coalition is also going to provide them with bicycle safety training as well.

    Getting kids on bikes is key. This is just me speaking from anecdotal experience but having a car, and a nice car at that, is aspirational for a lot of people. Getting people comfortable with riding bikes as children is the best way to get people to ride bikes as adults.

    Hiawatha Academies is going to have a new facility in Longfellow along the Greenway just west of Bracket Park. This charter school historically serves a large Latino population. We plan on working closely with the school to encourage kids to ride bikes to school along the Greenway. The Greenway Coalition successfully lobbied the City of Minneapolis to close the vehicular crossing at 29th Avenue making the Greenway even safer.

    If you have any questions let me know!

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller April 28, 2017 at 2:35 pm #

      Because I happened to be looking at minneapolischoolfinder.org yesterday, and it has demographic information, Anderson United Community school is 2% Asian, 32% Black, 57% Hispanic and 5% Native American.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke April 28, 2017 at 3:06 pm #

      Thanks for weighing in Morgan!

    • Rosa April 28, 2017 at 3:48 pm #

      you can see the evidence by riding off the Greenway too – up on 26th & 28th streets, and on Lake, there are a ton of riders on the sidewalks and most of them are people of color.

      Lots of families, including families of color, do use the area right around Bloomington (that’s my exit!) and I always think, when we head west toward uptown, that part of what things out the use is how fast so many of the commuting/training riders are, how careless they are of other users, and how often they’re riding side by side even when it’s very narrow. I wish we could get some of the fast traffic off the Greenway and up onto the streets, especially right around Nicollet where it’s briefly pretty narrow. He’s faster and more stable now, but when I was routinely riding with a young kid he wiped out a couple times because adults buzzed really close to him when passing us.

      • Tami Traeger May 4, 2017 at 1:56 pm #

        Rosa,

        Thank you for sharing this. Even as an adult I find myself startled by people whizzing by too fast and too close. The law is that you must announce your presence before passing on a trail, but many people seem to think that doesn’t apply to them.

        I think much of the difficulty with fast riders is the expectation that the space was made for them to ride without interruption, the Highway of Bike Trails. Unfortunately, much of the local and national praise for the Greenway has been about it’s convenience as a (fast) commuting route and it’s impact in developing nearby land into dense housing, without recognizing that neither of these concepts has been about serving the people and communities that already existed along the Greenway. The conversation around the value of the Greenway needs to change.

        So, how do those of us for whom “fast” is not a priority engage others in slowing down and following the rules meant to keep us all safe? Would signage around slowing down in narrow areas help? Signage about announcing before passing? Frequent group rides offered for slower riders so that slowing down for others becomes expected?

        More importantly, how do we raise up the voices of the people living along the Greenway who have not just moved in to one of those fancy, largely white apartment and condo buildings? How do we make sure that the Greenway is a resource for everyone, especially those living near it, not just developers that can sell expensive units to white hipsters who will continue to drown out the voices of communities that were there first.

        I sincerely hope that this kind of discussion, around whose neighborhood the infrastructure has been built within and who is comfortable using it, becomes a deliberate part of the original coursework that led to the ride and this post. Perhaps the course could invite and pay people of color to participate in the ride and lead the conversation. Tamales Y Bicicletas is based in Midtown on Lake Street.

        • Rosa May 13, 2017 at 12:13 am #

          I think the real solution to sharing between high speed and leisure users is just to have more separated paths (though I wish the fast trainer/commuter types would suck it up and ride in the street – be brave, people!) But the reason we have fast and slow streets is just that there are so many of them, they end up differentiated and not all smushed together.

          How white are the new buildings once you get out of Uptown? The node I’m most familiar with (around Hi Lake) doesn’t seem very white at all, compared to surrounding neighborhoods, except maybe the building with the Aldi in it. I have never seen humans around the apartment buildings south along the light rail so I have no idea who lives there.

          I really appreciate the work Tamales & Bicicletas has done, and also the Slow Rolls (what happened to Slow Roll, btw? I never once managed to make any of their rides last summer, though i saw them go by several times! And now they seem to have gone dormant). But I don’t know if there’s any way to address the segregation separately from addressing the Cities segregation as a whole. Signage would help – it’s gotten better the last few years but is still pretty terrible, which does not help our general tendency to stay in familiar areas.

          Your idea about the class addressing it is great, I hope the student who wrote this is reading the comments. Or it would be nice for the bike advocacy groups to hire people of color and multilingual people to stop people and ask them. Both the people on the bikeways and the people who are not using them – folks up on sidewalks on 26th/28th, or taking the west side sidewalk along 55 instead of the LRT/Sabo connection. People make the choices that seem rational to them – it would be nice to hear from folks who don’t think the bike infrastructure makes sense.

          It would also be great to have some counting at different times of day. Aside from reflecting the neighborhoods they go through, bikeways seem to be race segregated by time of day – I work weird hours in the summer, and I see more people of color commuting early in the morning, just like on the bus. But like the bus that’s just a reflection of how segregated jobs/shifts are.

          Because biking is so much more affordable than driving, good bike infrastructure ought to be an antipoverty tool and a force for desegregation. Even if it is, though, it’s going to look pretty white to someone from almost anywhere else, especially any southern city.

    • Paul Nelson April 30, 2017 at 12:59 am #

      Thank you, Morgan Zehner

  4. Bill Dooley May 1, 2017 at 8:23 am #

    The Midtown Greenway needs signage in Spanish and Somali. A little thing but will go a long way.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke May 1, 2017 at 10:50 am #

      That’s a great idea, Bill!

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell May 1, 2017 at 12:05 pm #

      A major hinderance for immigrants succeeding in MN is language skills. For instance, fast food and other retailers have said that they are having to put increasing focus on language skills in hiring decisions to reduce complaints from customers having a difficult time understanding non-english speakers and mistakes on orders.

      Will increasing numbers of multi-lingual signs, kiosks, and other things decrease immigrants advancement with learning english? Will fewer things in their native language encourage them to learn sooner?

      There had been an argument that multi-lingual signs helped because people could see their language and english together and make a connection. It seems they found that this wasn’t happening as people read their native language and ignored the local language.

      I don’t know the answer, just raising the issue.

      • Tami Traeger May 4, 2017 at 2:07 pm #

        Having lived for several months (not here, but in the US) as the minority race incapable of speaking the local language fluently, I think signage in your own language is incredibly helpful. Seeing signs in multiple languages encourages learning by all who are willing.

        Willingness by all to learn is important as I think the expectations around speaking the dominant language properly, clearly, intelligibly are also problematic. What burden lies on the dominant language speakers to make others feel welcome? What burden to accept and even learn other languages and cultures enough to communicate effectively rather than demanding everything done your way, to make you comfortable?

  5. Melody Hoffmann
    Melody May 1, 2017 at 10:02 am #

    (full disclosure: I was leading the bike ride with these students through the Greenway but had no knowledge of this being written).

    Thank you for sharing your perception of the Greenway!
    I am curious if a ride through the Greenway on the weekend may reveal a whole other set of riders (it was kind of quiet when we rode)

    BUT

    Without the city committing to doing bike counts that INCLUDE race/ethnicity (it is not impossible, I promise you) these observations will be all we have. I think it is important to acknowledge and respect people’s perceptions and perspectives. We can offer up other observations to complicate the discussion, of course. But what would be A+ is to have some real data to let you know who is biking. Otherwise, all we are doing is just guessing.

  6. Dan Choma May 2, 2017 at 10:38 am #

    I affirm Melody’s call for more data, and thanks to the hard work of people at the Midtown Greenway Coalition and Hiawatha Academies for working to implement the dream of a more inclusive Greenway.

    I had a big long preachy stupid comment all lined up then I closed my window accidentally. Nerds! I think it is worth noting that with cycling, we need to remember that the *Activity* of cycling is very diverse,

    https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2013/05/surprising-diversity-american-cycling-community/5737/

    yet the *sport* of cycling is overwhelmingly white and male.

    (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ethicallivingblog/2009/aug/10/cycling-white-sport)

    There are necessary improvements being made towards a more inclusive community in both areas (sports and urban riders) but in general I would like to affirm Melody’s call for more data. Whether in sport or design, we improve what we measure.

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