Midtown Greenway

I've mentioned the Midtown Greenway a few times, and it's worth talking about it because it's really quite an impressive facility. I did a bike count there, and my notes from that day say, "If you want to feel better about the future of the world, go sit on the Midtown Greenway for two hours." But context matters; its success isn't easy to duplicate.

North Minneapolis Greenway

North Minneapolis is a majority-minority district, with African-Americans (43%) being the predominant race. The typical hallmarks of disinvested ethnic districts are found there; decaying infrastructure, fewer trees, poorer schools, and higher crime rates than the rest of the city. Inspired by the best bike facility in town (the Midtown Greenway, an impressive rails-to-trails conversion of a multi-track trenched railroad), a number of groups have been working for five years to convert some of the low-traffic street infrastructure of North Minneapolis into a greenway. Unfortunately, skepticism among the neighbors and missteps during the outreach process have made the temporary installation acrimonious and disruptive.

Women on Bikes

There has been a fair amount of research done on the "gender gap" in cycling; men bike more then women, though because our data suck we don't know exactly how much. Different studies show gaps as low as 57-43% or as high as 75-25%. But everyone agrees that women are less likely to bike, and are more likely to be concerned about the safety of the roads they use. Biking uber-pundit Jennifer Dill (Portland State) did a great study on revealed route preferences of cyclists in Portland that showed significant gender differences in willingness to accept longer travel distances in exchange for a more pleasant (or perceptually safer) route.

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.

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