Minneapolis pedal power

Three passionate bicyclists discuss the future of biking in the city

By several measures, Minneapolis is already a fabulous city for bicyclists.

We have the second largest share of regular bicycle commuters, ranking just a hair behind Portland among 50 large cities studied by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2007. Last year, the League of American Bicyclists looked at our bike infrastructure and ridership, and awarded Minneapolis its Bicycle Friendly Community Award.

For many bicycle advocates, that’s good, but it’s not enough.

To mark Twin Cities Bike Walk Week May 10–16, the Southwest Journal convened a roundtable of three passionate cyclists to answer this question: What can we do to be an even better bike city?

The three experts who pedaled to the Southwest Journal offices in April were: Shaun Murphy, Minneapolis Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program coordinator; Fred Mayer, a serious recreational rider who lives in Southwest and is a frequent Journal contributor; and Gene Oberpriller, owner of One on One Bicycle Studio in downtown.


Southwest Journal: Why do so many people in Minneapolis ride their bicycles? In what ways is the city doing a good job at promoting bicycle riding?

Gene Oberpriller:
We’ve had that infrastructure here for almost 100 years.

Having a lot of green space, it kind of fosters that [attitude of] get out and either walk or ride. It’s in the city’s DNA, I think, because of the Park Board and the park system that we have.

It’s mostly recreational, but now it’s being used for much more than that.

Shaun Murphy:
We’ve calculated the miles, and it’s something like we have 120 miles, total, of bikeways in the city — actual bike paths or bike lanes painted on the street. I think at least 50 or 60 [miles] of it is the Grand Rounds off-street bike paths.

We have these other great [bikeways] that have come into being recently, but without [the Grand Rounds] we would look pretty bad.

Fred Mayer: I moved here from Michigan about 12 years ago, and that was the first thing we noticed. … For the first winter, I couldn’t believe how quickly they got out and plowed the bike paths around the lake – they did before they plowed our street. …

I was so excited to see that, because that commitment by the city to the public space is so amazing. I agree with Gene; that’s a great tradition that we need to continue.

Oberpriller: Everything that was old is new again.

Cycling was a main mode of transportation 100 years ago. Minneapolis, I think, was one of those cities where we just never quite let go of it.


What kinds of changes in bicycle policy or infrastructure — or in any other area — do you feel would do the most to promote bike riding?

We’re not licensed. We’re not regulated.

The vehicle doesn’t have a license and the driver doesn’t have a license. With everything else transportation related all those things are covered. Except in cycling, it’s not. …

Is that the next step?

It brings more money to the system, because with licensing and registration, it all adds up in the end.

But then how do you do that without making that a kind of bottleneck or a hurdle for people?

Even though I think we have good infrastructure, I would say … the infrastructure that we do have that’s really good is the off-street infrastructure. The on-street infrastructure is another story.

Oberpriller: It’s a work in progress.

It’s definitely a work in progress. …

We’ve got 2,000 miles of streets in Minneapolis and 40 miles of those streets have on-street bike lanes. If you throw out all the residential roads, and you just look at the arterials, the busy roads, it’s 11 percent of those busy roads that we have bike lanes on. …

It takes a lot of work, but I think that’s one of the hugest barriers that people have to actually doing more of the functional trips. They work on the busy streets, they shop on the busy streets and they go out to eat on those busy streets. And so how do they get to those busy streets?

We certainly have a really good backbone and spine, which has propelled us forward, but we really don’t have all the fingers that reach into the heart of the city.

Education is a key thing.

If you look at a current State of Minnesota drivers’ manual, cycling is — I’ll just come out and say it — it’s just a footnote. It’s in there, but it hasn’t changed much in probably 25 to 30 years. …

The Minneapolis Police Department used to put out a bike safety manual, and it’s awesome. It really lays out everything for kids.

They don’t do that anymore. Now, there’s certain schools you can’t even ride a bike to; they say, No bikes.

Mayer: Our oldest child is 9, now, and he was the one kid to ride his bike through the winter to school.

More and more kids do come out, though. He goes to Lake Harriet Community School and his third-grade teacher is a cyclist, himself, who runs a really cool program there. They have a bike club and I think they get up to … 30 to 50 kids out once a week.

Examples like that, of your kid’s school, we have to use those as models. We obviously have some energy here; it’s just not widespread.


SWJ: What do you do, personally, to encourage other people to ride their bicycles more?

A coworker recently bought a new bike, and I told him, “… Some day on a Friday, when things are a little more casual in the office, I’ll ride over to your house and we’ll bike into work.”

He’s nowhere near on the way for me, but I don’t care. I’d love to ride over and just have him commute one day with me just to see how easy it is.

[When I ride in the winter] people ask me: Isn’t it cold out? And I say, ‘We live in Minnesota; there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.’

Murphy: I always just try to encourage people: Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew.

There are so many small trips we take in our lives that are two or three miles — they’re so perfect for the bicycle.

It’s not the 10-mile ride for the starters that’s the perfect trip, it’s the small ones.