Among the many events taking place during Twin Cities Bike Walk Week, which begins today and runs through June 8, will be a national unveiling of a new bicycling "forever" postage stamp.
That's fitting. Twin Cities cyclists have put their own stamp on the nation's burgeoning bicycle culture. Bikescore.com ranks Minneapolis as the nation's most bikeable city. And we seem to trade off bicycle bragging rights with Portland, Ore., in the annual Bicycling Magazine rankings.
Of course, there's more than civic pride at stake: A recent Brookings Institution study said that real-estate values significantly increase for neighborhoods that have easier access to walking, biking or transit.
While Bike Walk Week begins on a Saturday, the real focus is on Monday through Friday. The city of Minneapolis has a goal of 7 percent of commuters biking to work by 2014, double the current estimate of 3.5 percent. That figure is far higher than most metro areas, but well behind Portland's leading 6 percent.
To reach this aggressive goal, the city has been building bike infrastructure. Just last year, according to the city's 2011 annual report on bicycling, 600 new durable bike symbols were put on city streets; four bicycle boulevards were added, and there was a 75 percent increase from 2010 in the number of miles of on-street bikeways. The last segment of the Cedar Lake Trail through downtown was finally finished, and the Hiawatha LRT Trail connection was completed near the Metrodome. Overall, there are 167 miles of bikeways on Minneapolis streets, which is just 11 miles short of the goal set for 2015. The city has also adopted its first Bicycle Master Plan and has hired a full-time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator to lead its efforts. This page questioned the wisdom of that hire at the time, given other budget demands. Nonetheless, it demonstrates the city's commitment.
The Nice Ride bike share system, run as a nonprofit, has been doing brisk business as well. With its extensive expansion in St. Paul, there are now 146 stations, compared with 65 in 2010, and there are now 1,328 green bikes available, compared with 700 in 2010. Data is not yet available for 2012 ridership, but between 2010 to 2011, trips more than doubled, from 100,800 to 217,530.
The infrastructure increase has meant more riders: From 2007 to 2011, there was a 47 percent jump in bicyclists counted annually, according to the city. And, notably, 37 percent of bike commuters are women, compared with 26 percent nationwide. To keep all of these numbers growing, the city will need to emphasize bike safety, and not just curtailing crashes: Infrequent incidents of disturbing violence have been reported on some trails.
The benefits are realized by riders and nonriders alike. Unclogged arteries, whether streets or veins, lower congestion and health care costs. And pollution is reduced. But to match Portland's percentage of bike commuters, and to aspire to the third or more residents who ride to work in major European cities, it will increasingly be up to workplaces and workers, not just city planners. More companies should emulate Colle+McVoy, the ad agency that promotes bike commuting with no-interest bike loans, loaner bikes, lock-up areas, and lockers and showers, among other bike benefits.
But ultimately, realizing the benefits of bike commuting will be up to Twin Cities residents themselves. Bikers, sure. But also drivers, who contribute to this cycling success story by safely sharing the road.
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