Minnesota has long been touted as a great place for bike riding, and more proof came last week when the League of American Bicyclists recognized three communities with Bicycle Friendly Awards and a fourth with honorable mention.
St. Paul achieved silver status while New Ulm, St. Cloud and Duluth picked up bronze. La Crescent received honorable mention, all for efforts to make bicycling safer and better. Now with 21 bike-friendly communities, 84 bike-friendly businesses and four bike-friendly universities, Minnesota ranks as the second most bicycle-friendly state in the country. (Look out Washington, we’re coming after you.)
The designations come as the league celebrates National Bike Month, something it has been doing every May since 1956. The goal is simple: get more people to hop on bikes and continue to use them as regular transportation. During National Bike to Work Week, the league highlights growing numbers of people who pedal to the office. Locally, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition has narrowed that down to Bike to Work Day on Friday.
The coalition is dangling $2,000 in prizes to those who pledge to ride to work, but there is a better incentive. As the Harvard Medical School says, biking is easy on the joints, provides an aerobic workout, builds muscle and bone density, and makes tasks such as walking, standing and climbing stairs easier. It might also keep you alive longer.
A study in last month’s British Medical Journal found that cycling to work was associated with decidedly lower mortality rates when compared to those who drove or took public transportation. The study followed more than 260,000 people over five years and found cycle commuters had a 46 percent lower risk of developing heart disease and a 52 percent lower risk of dying from it. They had a 40 percent lower risk of dying from cancer and a 45 percent lower risk of developing it at all.
Since 2000, Minneapolis has significantly improved its bicycling infrastructure, and the result has been a sharp increase in bicycle commuters, said Ralph Buehler of Virginia Tech University. He points to trails such as the Minneapolis Greenway, the growing network of on-street bike lanes, bike boulevards and amenities such as the new cycle track being built on Washington Avenue as a factor in catapulting Minneapolis into second place in the nation with 4.6 percent of commuters getting to work on a bike. St. Paul checks in at No. 18 with 1.5 percent, according to the league’s 2014 analysis of bike commuting in America.
“Having a bike infrastructure in place is key in getting people to cycle,” he said. “Where you have lots of infrastructure, you have lots of cyclists. Quality matters, and Minneapolis is one of the leaders in the country.”
The city has 129 miles of on-street bikeways and 97 miles of off-street bikeways at last count, with more on the way this summer. While we are talking bike lanes, let’s talk markings.
Bicycle lanes only are marked with solid lines and vehicles are prohibited from crossing into them. Where a bike lane is designated with a dotted line, vehicles can cross the lane to make a turn provided the drivers gives the cyclist the right of way. In places where no lane is indicated, the road may have the symbol of a bicycle with two arrows, or what is called a “sharrow.” That means both cars and bicyclists share the road.
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