Bike town or second-class city?

It was, by all honest accounts, a pretty motley assemblage that turned out to the Bicycle Master Plan Open House at City Hall June 18. Among the standing-room-only audience was your multiply pierced crowd of younger people; your aging hippies and Earth mothers; bearded guys who had ridden in on their recumbents; the wiry bike messenger contingent; and a few sheepish, nerdy types like me taking notes.

There was even the guy who leapt up at the beginning of the discussion period to promote what he’s calling the “Sky-Bi” — an enclosed, elevated skyway system dedicated to bikes and Segways.

But rather than coming away with a sense of a fragmented bike community, I felt connected — and energized. Here were people linked by their passion for cycling. It was actually heartwarming and promising for the future of cycling in our city.

You may have heard that Minneapolis received another “Runner-Up” award this spring from Bicycling magazine. Or that the League of American Bicyclists recently honored us with its “Silver” status as a Bicycle-Friendly Community.

Our city is second only to Portland, Ore. in the percentage of people who bike to work — 2.4 percent compared with Portland’s 3.5 percent, according to U.S. census data.

We’re home to the recently opened Freewheel Midtown Bike Center — one of just a handful of such facilities nationally — with a bike store, café, indoor bike storage and bike valet, even showers for commuters.

We have a host of nonprofit organizations working hard to promote biking as a viable transportation choice and a mayor who likes to race cars and buses on his bike.

So, what do we have to do, besides somehow relocating the city closer to the equator, to get a little respect? Are we destined to remain a second-class bike town?

“We were very close to reaching ‘Gold’ status,” said Don Pflaum, the unflappable city bike coordinator who presented a framework for the Master Plan before taking questions and navigating some criticism.

Smartly dressed (unlike most of us) in a suit and tie, Pflaum patiently took questions and listened to comments. “We’re pretty good at infrastructure,” he said. “We just need to be more balanced.”

He discussed what the League of American Bicyclists calls the Five E’s: Education, engineering, enforcement, encouragement and evaluation. We’ve got engineers. Pflaum himself is one of them. But we need work in these other areas.

Bicycling magazine said as much in the measly two paragraphs about our “Most-Improved — Runner-Up” designation. Quoting Gary Sjoquist, advocacy director for Bloomington-based Quality Bicycle Products, they offered: Minneapolis is “really good at spending money to build things, but there’s almost no money to tell people how to use a facility or even that the facility exists.”

At first I was kind of offended. I mean, I know about our facilities and how to use them. Many of my friends do, too. But it’s true, not enough people realize how good we have it and how to take advantage of it.

Fortunately this is changing, which is why I think we’re on the verge of breaking into the ranks of the Seattles, Chicagos and Portlands of the biking world.

As one of only four pilot communities to receive funding from the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTP), we’ve created new roles for city Bike/Walk Ambassadors, who will be educating young people and adults in an effort to increase rates of bicycling and walking and reduce driving.

It’s early, but our new bike center appears to be a big success, and other public-private partnerships are likely to follow.

And, of course, gas prices continue to rise. All signs point to more cycling in our future.

Yes, we bikers are a motley crew. And that’s a good thing because it will take every type of cyclist to reach the next level. Even the “sky-bi” guy. Perhaps particularly him. We need creative thinkers. Dreamers even.

I would love to live somewhere forward enough thinking to develop such a new form of infrastructure. And why not Minneapolis? After all, our park system must have seemed a crackpot idea in Theo Wirth’s time. A city buying up all the land around lakes and waterways for parks and trails for the benefit of all residents? It’s just as revolutionary an idea now as it must have been then.

And it’s what makes our city great. This kind of thinking and dreaming — followed by sound planning and execution — will make Minneapolis one of the premiere bike cities in the country.

Looking around the room after Pflaum’s talk, hearing the cacophony of discussion, observing the poster boards ringing the room papered with comments, there was a sense of purpose and energy.

There won’t soon be dedicated skyways or bike highways (as in Europe) but we can continue to make this city a great place to get out, and stay out, of your car.

So, if you like to bike, help celebrate what we’ve got going here. And bring a few formerly nonbiking friends along for the ride. It’ll take all types to help us capture the gold.

Fred Mayer lives in Linden Hills. Check out his blog at shiftyguy.blogspot.com.