The Oct. 22 article “Bike lanes divide cities” was grossly unfair and left out several important points. The rallying cry of Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Bender and her bicycle coalition is “bikes and density,” two goals that in theory sound great but that have long-term negative ramifications for neighborhoods and residents. Bikes and density, according to Bender, go hand in hand, the plan being that if driving becomes too uncomfortable, people will start bicycling, walking or taking buses. However, these are separate, complicated issues, and they should not be merged.
“High density” has come to be code for “housing for all.” But that is not the case in neighborhoods near the city’s lakes. Those who benefit are not the poor, and they never will be because real estate is already too inflated near the lakes and Uptown. The same is true in Linden Hills, Marcy-Holmes and neighborhoods near the Mississippi River. So why higher density in areas formerly built of old houses or three- to four-story red-brick apartments? Why build up in old neighborhoods where the architecture and character (a village “feel”) is what separates it from downtown and the Midtown Greenway? Who ultimately will benefit from whittling away at the shoreline ordinances and height ordinances that are there to support the aesthetic integrity of city neighborhoods and the ecology of the lakes?
One answer: developers. They will always be there shoving their plans across the table — for higher, bigger and, recently, with fewer parking spots — to make more money, and the only way to protect neighborhoods is to push back. (Elections coming up!) I spent years going to local meetings, talking about the Hennepin overlay plan, the Uptown overlay plan, the shoreline ordinance. There were committees that were intended to represent local residents and businesses. None of those plans has been respected by recent planning commissions.
The second issue of bicycle lanes shouldn’t even be an issue, except that the current plans have been shoved down residents’ throats with no attempt to listen, build consensus and try to find ways to accommodate all parties. Most people I know who have spoken out against the current bike lanes are not against a more bicycle-friendly city. In fact, many of us (I put myself in this camp) bike whenever we can, and we appreciate those who choose to bicycle to work instead of driving. But when bicycle lanes are proposed along Hennepin — depleting yet more of the parking, making it difficult for local businesses to survive (Lucia’s, gone!) — why isn’t there any discussion about putting the bike lane one block over, instead of running it right alongside the bus lane on the city’s busiest street? We’ve lost one small business after another in Uptown. How many chains and cowboy bars will it take before those in power realize the neighborhood has missed its chance to retain its former character?
Last, there are several reasons why most people will never give up a car. The first is safety. I know women who have been assaulted walking home from bus stops at night, and I know many men and women who do not feel safe biking or walking after dark. The second is winter — rain, ice, snow, more ice. I applaud those young people on their fat-tire bikes, wearing heavy gear as they pedal in front of my house every morning. I find them brave and cheer them on, thanking them silently for not polluting. But my husband is 80 and sometimes has trouble walking more than a block. I have two friends who have fallen on ice and suffered concussions. For those of us over 60, or those of us afraid of falling on ice, or those of us with injuries or physical challenges, we need to drive to doctors’ appointments, jobs and visits to family outside of Minneapolis. It’s not as easy as saying, “Give up your car.” The best we can do is drive less, buy hybrids or electric, and walk or bike, weather permitting.
We’ve become a Twitterized culture, sound bites instead of debate. The underlying issues hardly get discussed, and yet they pit one constituency against another — old against young, green against greener — when most of us are on the same side. We worry about climate change, racial injustice, affordable housing, but we also care about our neighborhoods, and we want to preserve a sense of community and neighborhood while we still can.
Carol Dines, of Minneapolis, is a writer and a yoga teacher.