Matthew Dyrdahl arrived at The Wedge Table Wednesday morning dressed in a gray suit, but with a folding bike in tow. And he wore a helmet.
It was subtle reminder that a winter commuter can dress for work, yet commute without hands on a steering wheel. Dyrdahl took a bus and then biked from his northeast Minneapolis home to the event in Whittier.
Dyrdahl spoke at an early-morning event arranged by Council Member Lisa Bender that drew about 25 people to the new Eat Street eatery. He’s the city’s new bike-walk coordinator. His job within the Department of Public Works involves integrating walking and biking friendly features into city streets. He’s also car free, living in northeast Minneapolis and getting around by bus, bike and foot.
Bikers and walkers were curious to know how he felt about the various problems they perceive as holding back more active transportation by city residents, but Dyrdahl also got an earful of free advice.
Dyrdahl comes to the job with five years of experience helping to promote active living in Bemidji. “It was really great to see the progress cities can make when you invest in biking and walking,” he said. His ambition is to make Minneapolis rival European cities in 10 years when it comes to walkable, bikeable streets.
Part of that will be eliminating the fear factor felt by some more timid commuters. “I don’t think that biking and walking is the easy choice right now,” he said. One of his goals is creating spaces that are inviting places to walk or bike. The city goal of 30 miles of protected bike lanes by 2020 will be key in that effort, he said.
Some still regard winter biking as a mountain too tall to climb. Janne Flisrand told Dyrdahl and Bender that co-workers regard her biking 2.5 miles to work as something of a superhuman feat. Bender interjected that bikers need more consistent maintenance for winter bike lanes so they have routes on which they can rely. “It shouldn’t be this major conquest to bike to work,” Dyrdahl added. Tony Desnick said his sampling on social media of about 300 bikers, mostly from the Twin Cities, but also from around the world, found about three times as many were likely to be deterred by poor maintenance of roads as by extreme cold.
One suggestion for getting Minneapolitans to consider winter bike commuting came from Michael Peterson, who would like to see a winter Open Streets events with food trucks and people to answer questions about cold-weather commuting. Open Streets are a creation of Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, which works with city officials to close major arteries temporarily to motor traffic. Minneapolis and St. Paul will host the fourth annual International Winter Cycling Congress in 2016.
Dyrdahl urged one questioner reluctant to invest in cold-weather biking gear because of the cost to weigh that against the cost of operating a car. He also urged people to make the transition from driving to bus, bike or walking gradually.
“Don’t start by getting rid of your car. End by getting rid of your car.”