Joy. Pure joy. Community. Safety. Relaxation. Riding down the middle of Hennepin Ave S, surrounded by 100 of my closest and/or newest friends. All ages, abilities, and an incredible array of bike types. We even had the first zero emission E Line bus join us on a bike trailer! Honestly, I haven’t felt this outside of Open Streets. Yet, on a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon on a waning summer day in Minneapolis, I cruised up and down Hennepin Ave S with a “Bike Jams” playlist blaring out of speakers that had been zip tied to my trailer, dressed like Waldo (with several people yelling “I found him! I found Waldo!”), and advocating for a more permanent safe passage down this hellish street.
This was my first mass bike ride. I had read about the excitement, passion, and community of the Critical Mass rides, but I had never managed to take part. Now, I found myself not only being part of a mass ride but leading one as an official part of the Greenway Glow at the Hennepin For People Mass Fun Ride, taking over Hennepin Ave for 1.5 miles each way on our loop! Honestly, I was happy to be wearing a Waldo costume, because putting on another persona always helps me step out of any of my own fears or worries and into that character.
Why were we taking over Hennepin Ave S on a Saturday afternoon? We were there advocating for a better, safer, more accessible future in Minneapolis.
Safe, accessible streets matter. They matter for the pedestrian crossing the street to the hair salon worried about a car not looking as its driver turns right on a red light while only looking left. They matter for the biker on her way to the library simultaneously hoping not to get doored by someone getting out of a parked car and run off the street by the car that thinks it can just sneak on by safely (Ope!). They matter for the family getting off the bus to shop at their local grocery store. And perhaps an underappreciated aspect, they matter for the driver wanting to get to their destination without cars veering out of turn lanes or blasting through a red light in a hurry.
As if to illustrate my last point, our merry band of riders crossed a major car crash at the intersection of Hennepin and W 26th Street where it appeared that one car had run a red light and struck a car coming from the next cycle (this is just my guess based on the damage locations). Luckily, neither of the drivers appeared to be seriously hurt. Twice our group navigated the scene with nimble tires and careful avoidance of debris.
Hennepin Ave S is not a safe or accessible street for anyone. That has been true for years, perhaps even as far back as 1957 when it was last reconstructed. More importantly, though, Hennepin is one of many streets in Minneapolis that is neither safe nor accessible. So, on this glorious Saturday, we took over the street to raise awareness and support for dedicated bus lanes, protected bike lanes, and better sidewalks. And even for a short time, we rode freely and safely.
Hennepin For People formed as a first step in making sure that City controlled streets in Minneapolis actually follow City guidelines to prioritize pedestrians, rollers, and transit users before cars. The City has all of the tools in its toolbox that it needs to make this happen (Complete Streets policy, Transportation Action Plan, Climate Emergency Declaration, Bicycle Master Plan, etc.), but until it stops capitulating to parking concerns and actually implements those policies, they are for naught. And so we ride. We ride to remind them of their commitment to a better future. We ride to show them that we exist and that there are more of us just waiting to be given safe infrastructure. And we ride to make sure that Minneapolis Public Works does its job and brings forward a design for approval that does the right thing for the safety of its residents and the betterment of its infrastructure.
Our coalition is growing. At the start of this ride, we heard from local politicians, political candidates, local nonprofits, and even the Chair of the Metropolitan Council, Charlie Zelle! With Bus Rapid Transit funding approved for the E line, the Hennepin reconstruction will have a profound impact on the success of the new line. As Charlie said, “he’s a bus guy!” And as Move Minnesota’s Executive Director Sam Rockwell said, we have the opportunity to make this street a good street or a great street. A good street has a BRT line on it. A great street has a BRT line in a 24/7 dedicated bus lane.
I can’t begin to express my thanks for the people who showed up to be part of this movement. Look at the pictures from this event and see the joy on the faces of the riders (check out @HennepinForPeople for more pictures and check out this cool timelapse and this aerial video). Support our efforts! We still need your help. Sign our petition to add your voice to our call for safer, more accessible streets. Maybe even come lead the next ride with us and feel the joy and freedom that I got to experience for those couple of hours on that sunny Saturday.