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A Minneapolis bicycling center had found itself on a list of "the year's most outrageous federal spending" -- in the same category as a census of Vermont barns and a mermaid mural in Racine, Wis.
The report, released Friday by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., prompted more than a few thoughts from Minnesota's bike advocates.
"The senator from Oklahoma doesn't know reality in Minneapolis, where the opening of the bike station has created a literal traffic jam of bike commuters," said Mayor R.T. Rybak, who attended the grand opening of the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center in May.
"It's a good thing we don't have Oklahoma senators figure out what projects Minnesota needs to do," said John Schadl, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, who is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and, like Rybak, a bicycle-riding DFLer.
The bike center, which includes a repair shop, a cafe, bike storage, and showers for bicycles and people, received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a federal grant, as well as city money, private donations and an investment from the operator of the shop. The total cost was more than $800,000.
The report took particular note of the cafe and the bike shower. "Does anyone in their right mind really think that should be a top priority of the federal government?" John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, asked Friday.
"This is an example of something that tells a broader story, that Congress is dysfunctional and not capable of making common-sense decisions about funding priorities," Hart said. (No Oklahoma projects appear in the 49-page report.)
"Every dollar that goes to projects like this is a dollar that's borrowed against programs like Social Security and Medicare," he said, adding that bridge repairs and support for overseas troops were more worthy of funding. "Would any of these cyclists really feel comfortable knowing that the real cost of this is a lower standard of living for their kids?"
To Freewheel owner Kevin Ishaug, providing services for bicyclists is no different from funding a highway rest area, especially when bike commuting improves health and the environment, reduces the strain on roads and bridges, cuts petroleum dependence and helps lower-income residents get around.
He said that the center had provided classes on bike commuting to hundreds of people and noted that the Census Bureau ranks Minneapolis as No. 2 on its list of cities where residents get to work via bicycle.
Ishaug also said the federal contribution to the bike center -- a number that was in some dispute Friday -- was a pittance in comparison with expenditures such as the Iraq war.
Efforts to encourage commuters to get out of their cars deserve federal support, Schadl said. "It's in the national interest to develop alternative means of transportation," he said.
Jim Foti • 612-673-4491