Revised map paves road for pedaling commuters

by Kane Loukas

In an ongoing campaign to boost bicycle commuting, three local organizations last week released an updated Twin Cities Bicycle Map and Commuter Guide.
Created by a joint effort of University staff members, the Metropolitan Council and biking organizations, the map provides cyclists with updated information on trail conditions and safety.
“We’re constantly trying to give people the same options that they have as bicycle commuters as automobile commuters,” said Steve Sanders, project manager for University Parking and Transportation Services. “When driving, you have signs that direct you to everything. … We’re trying to supply that same kind of information to bikers.”
Cynthia McArthur, director of the Minnesota Community Bicycle Safety Project and an associate professor for the University Extension Service, helped produce a bike-oriented road map in 1989 aimed specifically at University commuters. Subsequent widespread requests prompted an expanded Twin Cities Bicycle Map, released in May 1997. The map is for sale in bike shops and through the Metropolitan Council.
To ensure the accuracy of its path ratings, McArthur and her staff occasionally update the map with advice from bicyclists who call in to report improved or degraded cycle-ways.
“We went out and asked various people on bike boards, bike clubs and enthusiasts to check the map sights and ride the map area, rating them as they went along,” she said.
The map isn’t just about letting people know how to get from point A to point B, she said. It’s about getting them there in one piece.
The year before the first Twin Cities map was created, car-bicycle collisions claimed seven lives. In response, the bicycle map includes what McArthur called “a complete explanation of bicycling,” including safety tips, trail information and listings of bicycling organizations.
Only about 1 of 20 University students and staff uses pedal power to cruise the boulevard between home and school. The University spends about $100,000 a year on bike-related services, said Sanders. These services include painting bicycle lanes, installing new bike racks, maintaining paths and erecting bike security rental lockers.
University bicycling officials also expanded the number of bike racks on campus buses and are considering building sheltered bike parking.
Sanders makes the five-mile commute from his home in Roseville to the University every day, all year round. He said biking to work in 30-below against an Arctic wind isn’t that bad.
Bicycling to work is one way to make a daily chore a little more enjoyable. “It’s hard to get across to people how much fun it is,” he said. “It’s like when you were a kid.” He also estimates he saved more than $2,000 in parking and gasoline expenses in the last four years.
Minnesota Coalition of Bicyclists President Brian Rosenthal said most people have little reason to consider biking to school or work. Bicycling is much less popular in the United States than in other countries where cities were laid out long before the automobile was invented.
Another problem, in Rosenthal’s view, is that most bike-related advertising in this country is not aimed at everyday, non-Olympian commuters, but at “the Gonzo downhill-racing folks.” As a result, many would-be bicyclists are intimidated.
“People need the consistent reminder that they can do it,” said McArthur, another 10-mile-a-day cycle commuter.
With more than half of the University’s students and staff commuting from a distance of five miles or less, she said, “the University can be a gateway and an example for the metropolitan area for bike commuting.”