Quick Take: Bike+Walk MN Conference

Last week was the inaugural Bike+Walk MN conference in Rochester, MN. I heard about the conference here on Streets.MN and so I wanted to circle back and share just a couple of highlights. Hopefully others who have been more deeply involved in the conference will also chime in, as I think it was a great gathering.

After an easy bike commute from a local homestay on pristine bike paths up the Zumbro River, we were off to an early morning start on Monday with a 7:30am keynote address by Gil Penalosa of 8 80 Cities (so named for their vision that if everything in our public spaces is great for an 8 year old and an 80 year old, then it will be great for all people).

An inspiring and high energy presentation (you can see videos of other keynotes he has done here), the part that stuck with me the most was his opening segment that tackled head on the central objection to broader support for walking and biking in Minnesota: winter. As Gil works in Toronto, he is not unfamiliar with winter, but I thought it was a very persuasive approach to tackle the “big” obstacle right out of the gates. As he put it – if we design our cities around having 20 horrible weather days a year and maybe another 60 days that aren’t so great, we will get a bad city 365 days a year.

Then we were off to a wide selection of smaller, topical sessions you could choose from. I learned a lot at these: from the upcoming completion of a major link between two Three Rivers Regional Trails in Hopkins, MN called The Artery (grand opening coming up June 2 – go check it out!) to the super cool ZAP Program that incentivizes more active transportation by installing RFID trackers and gamifying biking and walking trips (awesome data there too!). I also learned about some of the great initiatives in to connect small businesses with increased biking and walkability (bikes, biz and beer – who knew?!) and got to meet some cool people from the MN Department of Public Health and MNDOT all working on active transportation.

The lunchtime keynote by Cheri C. Wilson, a nationally recognized expert on diversity and inclusion, cultural and linguistic competence, and health equity was fantastic – a great opportunity to build a stronger dialogue between the biking community and health and equity advocates.

I had the opportunity to co-present a workshop myself on ways to use strategic communications to shift the dialogue around complete streets to build broader coalitions, but maybe that’s a post for another time. Unfortunately, I had a conflict for the second day of the conference so wasn’t able to attend additional sessions on Tuesday. Anyone else out there want to share their own conference highlights?

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