Bicycle commuters unphased by snow

A Minneapolis online survey seeks ways to improve walking and biking resources.

Tiff Clements

Last week’s storms gave Garth Willis a chance to preach the plusses of two-wheeled transportation to motorists stuck in the snow.

“I bike up, push them out and advise that they use a bike next time,” said the international education doctoral student.

Willis, a long-time bicycle commuter, is part of a dedicated community of all-season riders that braves Minnesota’s elements to reach their daily destinations and experience the thrills a wintry ride has to offer.

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English junior Steve Mullaney said he prefers pedaling over other modes of transportation because he doesn’t have to operate on someone else’s schedule.

“To be able to zip around on a bike is the best way,” he said.

Mullaney said he enjoyed the most recent band of storms until the air turned cold.

“But when it was snowing with zero visibility it was a lot of fun,” he said.

Shaun Murphy, with the City of Minneapolis’ bicycle program, estimated 10,000 Twin Cities residents pedal their way to work and school on an average day. Of those daily commuters, he estimated 5,000 are bound for the University.

Murphy said Minneapolis is eligible for federal funding to improve its pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

The city is conducting an online survey of how residents would like to improve walking and biking resources.

“We would really value hearing from University staff and faculty,” Murphy said.

He said campus cyclists can air any concerns in the survey, including complaints about unplowed bike lanes.

According to Matthew Lang, community organizer with the Midtown Greenway Coalition, city cycling paths, such as the greenway, are plowed before many city streets.

He said city, county and Coalition trail traffic studies have shown that the Twin Cities campus is one of the top three destinations for riders.

“A lot of the traffic is headed to the University,” Lang said.

He said the likelihood of falls increases with snow and ice on the roads, but riding on city paths and trails offers riders some safety.

“If you were to have a spill, you don’t have to worry about being run over by a car or bus,” he said.

Lang added that snow provides a cushion for falls and covers up the gravel often responsible for road rash.

“The pain of the fall decreases significantly,” he said.

Senior global studies and political science student Meizani Irmadhiany said, in addition to layering her clothing, she tries to ride sensibly in frosty conditions.

“In places with high (motor vehicle) traffic, I try to walk my bike on the sidewalk,” she said.

Irmadhiany said her caution has paid off: She hasn’t fallen yet.

Steve Johnson, deputy chief of University police, said no major bicycle accidents were reported in the most recent wave of winter storms.

“I hope people aren’t riding their bikes until the roads are cleared,” he said.

Johnson himself was an all-season cyclist in college some 35 years ago, he said.

University alumnus and co-owner of the Hub Bicycle Co-Op Johnathan Van Zee said winter riding can be safe and fun with a bit of planning.

“If you’re accustomed to it, it isn’t that different than any other day,” he said.

Van Zee said cyclists should be sure to wear warm clothes, use lights and be careful when braking.

He said riders needn’t make too many modifications to their bicycles. Van Zee suggested steel-studded tires and good fenders to minimize street spray.

Mark Ambrose rode through campus on his way to the bank Friday afternoon. The bookkeeper at Freewheel Bike and former competitive cyclist said he tries to acknowledge fellow all-season riders on the street.

“I’ll ding my bell or say hello,” he said. “I love the fact that people are making an effort to do it for utilitarian reasons.”