Happy World Car-Free Day, to those who celebrate.
On Friday, Minneapolis is hoping some of its 160,000 downtown workers find a new route to work. A way that doesn’t involve one person in one car, white-knuckling through miles of gridlock and construction detours, then fighting for a parking spot.
Urban planners don’t care how you get here. Hop on a bike or a bus or light rail or one of those hilarious rental scooters. Carpool or telecommute from home. They just want you out of your car for one workday, just to see how it feels.
Sixty percent of the people who drive into downtown Minneapolis to work drive alone, said John Barobs, spokesman for Move Minneapolis, the nonprofit that’s organizing the Car-Free celebration. You can visit moveminneapolis.org to learn more about the event and the various bribes the city is offering to get you to take part, including free bus passes and raffles for free bikes.
“We’re going after that 60 percent,” Barobs said. “Because we realize many of them are probably really frustrated, especially with the [yearslong] I-35W project. It’s just getting more difficult to get into work, and it’s getting more expensive. A lot of surface lots have gone away ... people are building on those former parking lots.”
The city has big plans for a more car-free future. The 2040 plan calls for neighborhood retail hubs so people don’t have to drive every time they want to buy groceries or toilet paper. Over the next two decades, the city hopes to reduce car trips, and the pollution they generate, by 37 percent.
At this point, I’m just going to type some random gibberish — Spaghetti! Pinochle! Fahrvergnügen! — because half of you are already heading to the comment section to yell about bike lanes.
I’m not saying you have to bike or bus to work. Not everyone can, not everyone needs to. But if you wanted to give it a try, it’s not as inconvenient and sweaty as it seems when you’re cruising along behind the wheel of a car.
Take it from me, the laziest multimodal commuter you will ever meet. You’re talking to someone who used to live half a mile from a Target store and who drove there every single time, just in case she happened to impulse-buy a watermelon that was too heavy to carry home. This is the person who’s telling you she now bikes to work every day.
I haven’t been a regular car commuter since 2015, when they demolished the old Star Tribune building and built a park on top of our parking lot. After I watered the grass of The Commons with my tears, I set about finding another route to work.
“You’re welcome, Earth!” I yell these days as I wobble through downtown on my bike.
Before those green-thumbed maniacs turned my sweet asphalt parking lot into flower gardens and green space, I’d never once set foot on the light-rail platform two blocks from my house or the bike path that ran past my door into downtown.
Mass transit always seemed like way too much work. At least until I was forced to choose between buying a Metro Transit pass or paying for downtown parking. Would I freeze to death waiting around for a train in the middle of winter? Would I squelch into the office dripping sweat if I biked to work in the middle of summer? Would I ever buy watermelons again?
Choiceless and late for work, I gave the rails and trails a try.
And it was fine. I didn’t freeze. I didn’t melt. I didn’t pour all my money into parking ramp fees. My commute took about five minutes longer than my old drive time. I now live so close to downtown, I sometimes go weeks without moving my car.
The worst part of my new commute was figuring out how to commute. It took me an embarrassingly long time to map out a bike route and figure out the transit timetables. The first time I had to make a left turn from a bike lane on the right side of the street, I gave up, bailed off the bike and walked it across the crosswalk.
Don’t be like me. Be better than me. If you reach out to Move Minneapolis, they can help you plan your ride and find your bus routes and connect you with carpool buddies.
Transit is a fraught topic in this town. People yell at each other about bike lanes and bus stops and parking spaces, as if carving out space for some — bikes or buses or pedestrians — takes away from everyone else. Drivers begrudge the cyclists their bike lanes. Cyclists begrudge the buses the time it takes to pull over into a bike lane to pick up new passengers. Pedestrians just hope none of those wheeled lunatics squash them while they’re trying to cross the street.
Car-Free Day is your chance to be the cyclist, teetering in a blocked bike lane with cars zooming inches away. Or the bus rider surfing the free Wi-Fi while the bus driver barrels along the highway shoulder. Or the pedestrian, exploring the city and dodging the traffic.
This is a big city. I bet if we tried, we could find space for us all.