Surly Bikes

I got to meet with John Fleck from Surly Bikes while I was in town. Surly is a Minneapolis bike company that has long been connected with bike messenger culture and urban cycling. Their Long Haul Trucker touring bike and Cross Check cyclocross-inspired bike are extremely popular with utility cyclists, because they're solid, generally steel-framed bikes which are great platforms for customization. The marketing materials that Surly puts out still reflect a counter-cultural urban aesthetic, and they've had great success contributing to and benefitting from the increase in utility cycling in places like Minneapolis.

Alleycat races

I am fortunate to have a few Minneapolis friends in the cycling scene. Max has been cycling and tinkering with bikes in the Twin Cities for as long as I've known him. He loaned me a sweet Surly Long Haul Trucker for my survey rides, and led me on a number of rides through different areas of the city. His latest passion has been alleycat races, a race form that grew out of bike messenger culture. Despite the fact that the profession of bike messenging itself has declined precipitously, the culture it spawned continues to effect urban cycling across the country.

Keep Saint Paul Boring

A cool side effect of having chosen Minneapolis as one of the study cities is that Saint Paul is right next door. Because of the way the two cities were originally founded, and how they've grown over the decades, they have very different administrative structures, infrastructure, and politics. Saint Paul is more Garrison Keillor than Sleater-Kinney, and that's part of why there isn't as much support for bike facilities and bicycling in the smaller of the Twin Cities.

University of Minnesota bike programs

My first meeting in Minneapolis was with Steve Sanders, director of their bike and pedestrian programs. Steve has been around UMN for a long time, and has done a lot to encourage cycling during his time there. Partly as a result of his work, the Washington Avenue Bridge, which is the main bike link between downtown Minneapolis and the main campus (which are on opposite sides of the river) sees 7,000 cyclists a day during the school year. Steve also runs the Dero ZAP bike commuting program. Participants get an RFID chip to attach to their spokes, and readers on the Washington Avenue Bridge and other locations record their trips to campus.

Bike infrastructure and identity politics

Arriving back in Oakland, I got stuck in traffic when #BlackLivesMatter closed down the freeway. It highlighted for me that the most interesting things I've found on these research trips have been related to identity politics. From the exclusions of the Southern Walnut Creek bike path in Austin, to the controversy over the North Minneapolis Greenway (more on that later), to the lack of east-west connections in Columbus (more on that also), I keep coming across interesting social issues which play out in cycle infrastructure. It feels like a rich and timely topic.

Minneapolis neighborhoods

On my first morning in Minneapolis, the first thing I saw was a woman on a bike. The street grid where I was staying is almost entirely natural bikeway. The residential streets are relatively narrow and tree-lined. Driveways are mostly in alleyways behind the houses, so the streetscape is continuous and human-friendly. Various cues like the lack of pavement markings signal to drivers that these are low-speed neighborhood streets.

Wrapping up Austin

We covered a lot of ground in Austin; 222km, over double what I did in Charlotte. It's unfortunate that UT Austin (more or less in the center of this map) was not in session; you can see how much of the network is oriented towards the university. That's a fairly fundamental problem for a summer research project on bike transportation–UMN and Ohio State will also be out of session when I visit Minneapolis and Columbus. I'll have to see if I can manage to get back when the students are around.

Exclusions and “invisible cyclists”

The most interesting finding of my first field trip came as I was riding through East Austin. The Southern Walnut Creek path is a freeway-style recreation path which bisected the neighborhood without connecting to it or addressing the issues of the residents. I believe that bike advocacy often takes a narrow and hegemonic view of what good streets look like, and that much advocacy work loses sight of the core goals of street projects (increasing safety and reducing car trips) in favor of projects which symbolically reassert cyclist privilege.

Achievable mode shares. From 2014 City of Austin Bike Plan

Austin Transportation Department

I met with folks from the Active Transportation department of the City of Austin, and they were super-helpful. One of the more interesting points they raised is the concept of "attainable mode share." Bikes will never carry a large percentage of long trips, but for intermediate trips of 1-2 miles, the bike can be the preferred option. Also, a new flaw with the ACS mode share data: City boundaries change.

Columbus as “Smart City”

My Facebook feed is atwitter with urbanist friends congratulating Columbus for winning the USDOT's Smart City Challenge, getting $50M in federal funds for so-called "smart" transportation. My take: No thanks.

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