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City Cycling

Minneapolis consistently ranks among the most bicycle-friendly cities in the United States, but simply because we’ve done well in the past does not mean that we can grow complacent and neglect our duties to the cause of healthy, sustainable (and, moreover, fun) transportation. The design and construction of bicycle paths, the care taken in determining routes and ensuring ease of use, are very much matters of social engineering. A properly implemented design program has the potential to make a significant and positive impact on the community. If the route is accessible, convenient, well maintained and generally well provided for, then people will be more inclined to take advantage of it. All of these positive features make evident a significant investment by the community. Further, if the community publicly and prominently promotes use of the resource, then people will recognize that it is a project in which the community has invested its faith and its resources and, given that people recognize their own vested interests, will again be more likely to use it.

For instance, Minneapolis recently opened the Midtown Greenway bike and pedestrian bridge, costing $5.1 million. The fact that the city made such a substantial investment, coupled with the print coverage (I’m getting this from the Star Tribune), leads people to believe that the city has a great deal of faith in the cause of bicycling and will continue to improve infrastructure. Of course, as I’ve said, Minneapolis is already pretty bicycle-friendly. The Grand Rounds, designated a national scenic byway, stretch for more than 50 miles through some of the cities most picturesque areas, and an abundance of bicycle paths run down the city’s most well traveled downtown avenues.

Still, we cannot simply be satisfied with the existing infrastructure, good as it may may. Many bicyclists feel disenfranchised, alienated, marginalized by a society that prizes automotive transportation and is always looking towards the bigger and “better.? The Critical Mass bicycle festival, which occurs on the last Friday of every month in major cities around the nation, encourages bicyclists to take back the streets by riding en masse through city streets. This promotes visibility but, if not conducted peacefully and within the law, has the potential to aggravate people and make cyclists seems like one of those rebellious, “nonconformist? fringe groups that are, well, irritating and don’t really do any service to their cause, however noble their cause may be. So bicycle advocacy must be taken up by the community at large and given a credible voice so that people will listen.