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Lions Roar : November 2011
Y OU NEVER FORGET how to ride a bike, but you might very easily forget that it’s an option for getting where you want to go. Last year, Bicycling magazine named Minneapolis the best city for bikes in America. It has 127 miles of bikeways, more bicycle parking per capita than any other city, the largest bike-share program in the country, and the second-highest (after Portland, Oregon) bike commuting rate—just under 4 percent. Since 2007, ridership has increased 20 percent. “Once you have the infrastructure, which city depart- ments are accustomed to providing, the hard work of outreach and education begins,” Gayle Prest, the city’s sustainability man- ager, told me. “You need to focus on a range of audiences and get to know who they are and what motivates them.” Like all cities, Minneapolis has a cadre of hardcore cyclists, but most people will never become spandex-wearing superbikers. You don’t need to be ready for the Tour de France to go downtown or to the grocery store, and bikes could be a transportation alterna- tive for lots of people, particularly as cities become denser. Lugging around tons of metal and burning gallons of gas to haul one per- son to work or on an errand would seem astoundingly impractical. Among the key audiences Prest focuses on right now are women, children (who need to get away from their screens every now and then), low-income groups, and recreational bikers. The majority of bicycle riders are men, and a number of women say that fear of getting into an accident has held them back. As well, a priority of parents is the safety of their children. So Minneapolis has bike safety classes, and makes cycling more inviting through programs like bike buddies for first-time com- muters and bike ambassadors who reach out to as many poten- tial riders as they can. “These volunteers,” Prest says, “can give someone the hands-on help they need to feel safe and competent to go biking in an urban environment.” Since sustainability includes equality, Prest says, inequality is unsustainable over the long run. Inequality makes it difficult for a community to pull together. If people with lower incomes feel bike culture is something that doesn’t include them, they’ll shy away, no matter how many arguments you make about its affordability. “One of the biggest challenges is not having people perceive bicycle riding as an ideological statement or part of an exclusive social structure,” she says. “Our promotional materials never show people in spandex. It’s not svelte people with high-tech gear on superbikes. We show regular people of all shapes and sizes on upright beater bikes. Some people aren’t in the best physical condition.” Minneapolis is blessed with lengthy bike trails that wend their The Midtown Greenway is a converted railway corridor that runs for 5.5 miles in south Minneapolis. PHOTOCOURTESYOFMIDTOWNGREENWAYCOALITION