The last time a delegation from the Charlotte, N.C. chamber of commerce visited Minneapolis, the big buzz was over the newly christened Mall of America in Bloomington. Eighteen years later, it’s the city’s bike amenities that are grabbing their attention.
On Wednesday, about 100 business leaders and public officials embarked on a bike tour (with a couple Segways) through different segments of the city. It was one leg of their three-day visit, which features sessions on transit, education, professional sports, downtown retail and corporate philanthropy.
Bob Morgan, president and CEO of the Charlotte Chamber, said it will be “hard to top” the bike ride, however.
“To see from a bicycle the beauty of the Minneapolis skyline and to see it from the perspective of both sides of the river was unique,” Morgan said.
The theme of this year’s trip is Healthy Charlotte, with a key focus on why Minneapolis consistently ranks as one of the healthiest cities in the country. Charlotte recently moved from 35th to 27th, Morgan said, with goals to surpass the top 10 in the next five years.
Biking was a large factor in Minneapolis’ ranking. Charlotte has a modest number of bike lanes, Morgan said, but “it is not prevalent. And it’s not a preferred mode of transportation for a large number of people.”
“There are questions about, culturally being a southern city with a little bit warmer climate, is biking something that can ever take on in Charlotte the way it can in a place like Minneapolis,” Morgan said of participants; comments after the bike tour.
Responding to a push in Minneapolis to install bike lanes on more roads, Charlotte city council member Claire Fallon was quoted in the Charlotte Observer saying, “If we did that here, they'd hang us,” a reference to Charlotte voters.
Another distinction between the two cities is the Mississippi River.
“Charlotte does not have a river that runs through the central business district,” Morgan said. “And we don’t have any kind of significant geographic features that help to define the city. So that’s a bit unique.”
Charlotte is a vast city, spanning 297 square miles compared to Minneapolis’ 58. Minneapolis and St. Paul combined come about 100,000 people short of Charlotte’s 792,000 population, yet comprise only about 39 percent of the land area.
On transit, Morgan said that Minneapolis is “a decade or so ahead of us.” Charlotte’s vision includes light rail, commuter rail and bus rapid transit. “We have light rail up and running,” Morgan said. “We’re talking about the other two modes. You of course are doing all three.”
The Charlotte Lynx light rail opened in 2007 and now services one, 9.6-mile line – an extension that will double the length is under construction. Charlotte is also building a 1.5-mile streetcar line, with possible extensions under consideration.
So what can Minneapolis learn from Charlotte? Morgan pointed to public education.
Minneapolis has one of the worst achievement gaps in the country, a likely topic of discussion at tomorrow’s forum about public education. Morgan said that one of the trip participants is a leader of Project L.I.F.T., a $50 million public/private partnership focused on improving outcomes at several targeted schools.
“So we think there may be some lessons learned for Minneapolis in what we’re doing in Project L.I.F.T.” Morgan said.
Photo: The bike tour on Nicollet Island on Wednesday (from Bob Morgan's Twitter feed)