Bicycles need streets as much as cars

The question “What is the ideal form of transportation?” would elicit different responses from different people.
Many would misinterpret the question and answer with specific makes or models of cars. The undereducated might suggest the Porsche Boxster or some model of BMW. The most obviously incorrect response would come from those suggesting the new Volkswagen Beetle, which demonstrates only a lack of judgement and taste on the part of its owner. No expensive, mass-produced replica of anything could be considered cool. The new Beetle is what Zone 105 or The Point would sell if either began producing cars.
The cognoscenti would suggest responses that are closer to being correct than others. While the Aston Martin DB4, a Mercedes 250 from the early 1970s or my ’68 MG are among the most desirable cars ever produced, they are not the ideal form of transportation.
Neither are most types of mass transportation. The bus system is efficient, but quite slow. Subways and light rail are very efficient, but offer only a limited amount of destinations.
And motorcycles, skateboards, Rollerblades, horses, mules, dogsleds and snowmobiles all have fundamental flaws.
The ideal form of transportation is simply the most efficient manner of transporting people among destinations.
Bicycles, by offering speeds closer to cars than walking, and by requiring energy closer to walking than cars, are the ideal.
Transportation, however, is about providing options for different times, needs and people. While cars, buses and subways are important components of a city’s transportation options, so, too, are bikes. But few cities make any effort to accommodate them.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area is often considered to have more progressive attitudes than many other cities. But bicycle transportation is not just neglected, it is often discouraged by the infrastructure’s design.
Narrow bike lanes run between delivery trucks and 18-wheelers on one side and parked cars with intermittently opening doors on the other. Some paths connect no important destinations. And hostile motorists yell at bicyclists as if their lives are endangered. These are anathema to a safe and convenient bike transportation network.
Simple and inexpensive solutions do exist; solutions that would provide Minneapolis with one of the most comprehensive and innovative transportation systems of any city, while recognizing that bikes have importance equal with other transportation options.
Minneapolis should convert a few streets to bike-only traffic. The city has about 90 north-south and 100 east-west streets, only a few of which are important arteries. Even if five to 10 of the most under-used residential streets were designated for bikes only, substantial increases in bike and car transportation and convenience would result.
Bike-only thoroughfares would offer many benefits and few disadvantages. Bikes would be able to travel on wide streets without competition from cars and buses, which are dangerous and threatening to bicyclists. The compensating reduction of bike traffic on busy streets would increase traffic efficiency and allay the frustration of the selfless, screaming motorists so concerned with bicyclists’ safety. These streets would also require only a small portion of the maintenance of traditional automobile-oriented streets.
The only disadvantage would be the loss of residential parking on these streets. But when these streets more closely resemble parks than interstates, that loss would be insignificant. Noise, pollution and car alarms would be substituted with happy, singing bicyclists.
Another inexpensive option would be to realize the full potential of the area’s many bike paths. Simply connecting the existing segments would provide the metro area with the most thorough bike and recreation path system of any city. Residential areas integrated with paths would combine the convenience of cities with the serenity of state parks.
Four important connections should be made:
ù Connect the chain of lakes and the Cedar Trail with the Mississippi River through downtown. This connection would create a full circle around south Minneapolis and several commuting arteries into and through downtown.
ù Complete Minneapolis’ Grand Rounds design by extending Stinson Boulevard through 18th Avenue Southeast and crossing the industrial section to connect with Oak Streets Southeast. This short extension would create a circle of paths around the entire city of Minneapolis and generate another artery for University and sports event traffic. It would also connect with the bike paths on the Transitway.
ù Connect Como Park’s paths with the St. Paul campus and the Transitway. This connection, while about a half-mile long, would connect St. Paul’s and Minneapolis’ paths.
ù Connect Como Lake’s and Phalen Lake’s paths through Wheelock Parkway. Wheelock would be an ideal street for bike paths because of its rolling and winding topography.
Bikes do have some flaws, however. They cannot carry many people or packages and are less practical for longer-distance travel. But bikes can even be ridden during Minnesota winters, as paths can be cleared of snow as easily as streets, and the only problem is the cold, which can be alleviated with proper clothing.
Good transportation systems provide options because different means are appropriate for different occasions. Bikes are the most under-recognized option, but they can be more thoroughly integrated with considerate urban planning.
Dan Maruska’s column appears on alternate Fridays. He welcomes compliments to [email protected]