Bike Walk Ambassadors: engineering an effort

Shanai Matteson isn’t your typical sash-wearing ambassador. She prefers a bike helmet any day of the week.

Matteson, 26, is one of eight Bike Walk Ambassadors recently hired by the city to get more people to use their feet, rather than an engine, to get from A to B.

“It’s really just as simple as we want more people to bike and walk for transportation and drive less,” Matteson said. “We want people to have the tools they need to bike and walk safely and conveniently.”

The Whittier resident said she lives within walking distance of The Wedge Community Co-op, and doesn’t feel the need to own a car. As gas prices rise, city stuides suggest a growing number of residents are also opting for nonmotorized commutes.

The Midtown Greenway bike trail is more popular than it’s ever been, seeing a 30 percent spike in ridership from spring 2007–08. Downtown, there was a 51 percent increase in bike usage between 2003 and 2007.

The statistics go on and on, showing an increase in nonmotorized transit in Minneapolis on the streets and the sidewalk.

As it stands, fewer than 5,000 city residents regularly bike to work, said new Ambassador Shaun Murphy. However,  the number of those walking to work — at least 10,000 per day — is quite a bit higher, Murphy said. U.S. Census numbers due out in September are also expected to confirm the upward trend of Minneapolitans walking and biking to work.

The Ambassadors are funded for the next three years via the nonmotorized transit portion of a $21.5 million Transit For Livable Communities federal grant.

It took decades of work to procure the money, Matteson said, but the work has just begun.

“There are quite a few bike advocates in the city of Minneapolis,” Matteson said.

Why?

“We have lots of bike lanes, lots of bike paths, and we’re a flat city,” she said with a laugh. “I think [Southwest Minneapolis] is a very walkable, very bikeable community, and that’s one of the reasons I chose to live in the community.”

Matteson said the city’s elected officials have been strong and supportive advocates of biking. And despite the fact that the Ambassadors didn’t officially exist until an Aug. 17 kick-off party, they’re already popular, with some 40 volunteers. Matteson said many of the volunteers are drawn from already existing “bike communities.”

While they may not immediately stand out as anyone special, the Ambassadors’ message is simple, and their future service to the biking community could be invaluable.

 “We teach riders things such as how to carry things [on a bike] from the grocery store; if you work at an office job, how to bike and still look presentable; we work with kids and continually advocate for … a list of bike projects,” Matteson said. “And walking and biking are just great ways to get to know my neighbors.”

Get Involved

The new city Bike Walk Ambassadors consist of four full-time and four part-time Step-Up (or Youth) Bike Walk Ambassadors. To volunteer, checkout upcoming programs or for more information on the ambassadors, go to www.bikewalktwincities.org.