John Barobs lives in Hopkins, offices in downtown Minneapolis and has been working a hybrid schedule since the pandemic. When he does go to the office, his favorite way to commute — especially during the warm months — is to haul his bike on the bus to downtown and then cycle back home.
“I’m in my 50s, and I don’t need to arrive at work all sweaty,” says Barobs, who likes to dress in “office wear” and bring shorts and a T-shirt for his ride home. It helps that a couple of breweries are on his route back, he jokes.
That is not so unlikely as it sounds. Unlike the 76 percent of U.S. commuters who use a car to get to and from work, Barobs often chooses not to drive — either for his commute or his nearby weekly errands. Car-Free MSP aims to shift more car owners into that category.
Through social media stories (#carfreemsp) and several weeks’ worth of events leading up to World Car-Free Day on Thursday, September 22, organizers hope to persuade drivers to try a day or two of getting around a different way. “Choose one trip that you’d usually take by car and go car-free,” says Theresa Nelson, a program manager at Move Minnesota, one of four transportation management organizations (including Metro Transit) that has joined Move Minneapolis for this year’s Car-Free MSP events.
“We’re not asking people who rely on transit as their means of transportation to go car-free,” explains Nelson, who keeps one bike in the office and another at home and reduces her own car use by combining all errands into one weekly trip. “We’re asking people who usually use a car to imagine going a day a week without one.”
In a season when Pakistan is drowning, California is overheating and the mainstream media are featuring climate change stories like never before, a car-free initiative that encompasses 1,500 cities and more than 40 countries could not be better timed.
Think Global, Act Local
Barobs launched Car-Free MSP a decade after World Car-Free Day began in Spain back in 1996. A co-worker read about the initiative, which had grown popular in Asia and Europe and in some U.S. and Canadian cities. Move Minneapolis (founded as Commuter Connections) decided to try it.
From what Barobs calls the program’s “modest beginnings” focusing on workers and employers in downtown Minneapolis, Car-Free MSP has blossomed this year into a five-partner initiative that includes St. Paul and several suburbs.
- Commuter Services, an outreach program of the I-494 Corridor Commission, is offering prizes to participants who pledge to do a car-free commute on any day between September 1–22.
- Commute Solutions in Anoka County is celebrating Car-Free MSP with a free “Ghost Walking Tour” of downtown Anoka the evening of September 20, two days before World Car-Free Day.
- Metro Transit is offering free ads inside buses and on bus sides, according to Max Singer, transportation demand management coordinator at Move Minnesota, a new and enthusiastic partner in the 2022 program.
“We’re working with organizations across the metro, from Anoka County to Bloomington,” Singer says. “It’s a really good push.” And it all leads to day-of celebrations on September 22 such as World Car-Free Day on Peavey Plaza in downtown Minneapolis, where commuters can get free coffee and breakfast treats from 8 to 10 a.m., and an opportunity to share stories and celebrate at Dual-Citizen Brewing in St. Paul from 5 to 7 p.m.
What You Can Do
At Move Minneapolis, originator of the local program, activities will include the usual “friendly competition” among employers to see which are the most successful in encouraging car-free commuting — including the “new ways to move” that Move Minneapolis advocates, such as e-bikes, car-sharing, walking and the Nice Ride for All program that makes bike-sharing and scooters more affordable.
Participation in the suburbs will look different from in the city, where options for walking, cycling and transit are much more plentiful, says Nelson of Move Minnesota. Penn Fest in Richfield on Sunday, September 18 will close portions of Penn Avenue for an afternoon of walking, biking, music, food vendors, dancing and more.
Maybe some residents will so enjoy experiencing a street without cars that they will re-examine their habits and drive a bit less. “Active transportation is easy and readily accessible to people in the Twin Cities,” says Barobs, noting the bike lane network and park system throughout the metro area. “We are really rich in that regard. This is one way to help people utilize that.”
Photo at top courtesy of Metro Transit