The newest cyclists’ city

Minneapolis was recently named America’s No. 1 city for cycling.

by Jenna H. Beyer

Loren Mooney, Editor in Chief of Bicycling Magazine, recently wrote that cyclists are an indicator species for a community. The more cyclists there are, posits Mooney, the safer and more active people are likely to be âÄî and presumably, the better off our community is overall. Minneapolis is doing well if MooneyâÄôs assertion is true. The Minnesota Legislature recently passed a law allowing cyclists to proceed through red lights in the absence of traffic. Announcements of the cityâÄôs first bike boulevard âÄî which will eventually connect neighborhoods in northeast and southeast Minneapolis âÄî along with construction plans for a new bike center on the East Bank also indicate the cycling movement here will explode. But what does that mean? According to Bicycling Magazine, it means Minneapolis is AmericaâÄôs most bike-friendly city âÄî surpassing last yearâÄôs winner Portland, Ore. The implication is that the sky is the limit for Minneapolitan cyclists. But I wonder how we can fulfill our two-wheeled civic potential and maintain that title. The new traffic law, entrusting cyclists to make decisions about their safety and that of the motorists buzzing past them, illustrates the essential civic conflict cyclists face: making choices in the spirit of progress without inconveniencing or endangering anybody. To be sure, the new law isnâÄôt exactly what many of us had in mind. It only applies when a signal sensor fails to âÄúnoticeâÄù a cyclist for an unreasonable amount of time. The cyclist must come to a complete stop, wait and then proceed if traffic is clear. The law is a definite step in the right direction. But it doesnâÄôt help me at 3 a.m. in a bad neighborhood full of lights and stop signs. The bike boulevard may be the most promising endeavor. It is a lane in the middle of the road separated from traffic by concrete barriers. It will be the first in the Minneapolis area, and it will send a message to the last few people in this city who still think bikers donâÄôt belong on the road. The bike center at the University of MinnesotaâÄôs East Bank will offer repairs and educational classes âÄî as well as storage and showers âÄî for cyclists. Though they seem like a no-brainer, cycling centers call into question how much luxury is really necessary, or appropriate, for a cyclistâÄôs lifestyle. Having to be professional (not sweaty) is one thing. Yet, could the average student fork out $80 annually for a membership? Should they? University student Stephanie Sibet regularly commutes one hour to and from campus on her bike. She agrees that attitude is key in the fight for biker rights. âÄúIf you want respect, you have to earn it, and you have to respect road rules,âÄù she said. Sibet acknowledges the challenges created by the fact that most streets arenâÄôt designed for cyclists âÄî one challenge embedded in the cyclistsâÄô essential conflict. When I ask her what keeps Minneapolis from being a perfect bike utopia, Sibet said, âÄúIf only there was a way to make bike laws more commonly known to the general public.âÄù She also lists accessibility as a prime issue, citing the high cost of quality bikes and a consumerist culture that keeps people ignorant about how bikes really work. âÄúBikes arenâÄôt as complicated as many people think,âÄù she said. âÄúDonâÄôt be afraid to try to put a bike together.âÄù âÄúPeople ask me, âÄòWhy donâÄôt you have a car?âÄô âÄù Sibet said. âÄúWhy do I have to have a car?âÄù This is a question that begs an answer from anyone who lives in AmericaâÄôs most bike-friendly city. Jenna H. Beyer welcomes comments at [email protected]