Lake Harriet/Calhoun Bike Path Discussions Show How Far We Have to Go

The suggestion of making the bike paths around Lake Harriet and Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun) two-ways was quickly shot down by a community advisory committee this week. The hyperbolic narrative and complete lack of recognition of automobile domination is troubling, especially in discussions around a park. 

Case in point...

  • The proposal was called by one advisory committee member an "ecological disaster" because expanding the bike trail by a few feet would apparently add 1.7 acres of paved space and cost 146 trees. Meanwhile, 15 feet away from those paths, two-way car traffic releases pollution while using a roughly 25-foot wide paved space (far more than the bike path--and even more where there is parking) without a mention. 
  • "Members of the advisory committee argued that the bike paths should instead be oriented toward recreational use." Meanwhile, 15 feet away no one suggests that the roadway should be converted to one-way traffic and reduced to 10 mile-per-hour speed limit to reduce non-recreational driving.
  • A person commenting on the article said with perfect well meaning: "I'm surprised the article did not mention accidents. Two bicyclists hitting head on at speed is not pretty." Meanwhile, 15 feet away, cars go two way at higher speeds and nationally more than 30,000 people are killed each year driving. 
  • Several other commenters offered things like "How dare the Park Board make that poor soul bike an extra 1.5 miles." Meanwhile, removing a parking space that might lead to a slightly longer walk from a car is regularly criticized.

If we really want to improve the ecology, recreation, and safety of Harriet/Bde Maka Ska, we really should be looking at making the parkways one-way for cars and putting the other bike direction and green space in the freed up car space.

But the reality is that most of these comments come from people for whom regular bicycling, much less bicycle commuting, is foreign, but driving is totally normal. As one of our volunteers and Harriet-Calhoun Community Advisory Committee member, Ben, noted in an August blog about the possibilities of this project: 

"Will any of this [forward-looking improvements including for biking and walking] happen?

I don’t know. For one thing, many of the same struggles related to parking, density, and anxiety about cultural change that we routinely see in other planning processes will play out here."

We've social engineered an environment where the automobile is normal and assumed to be a essential while a desire to bike, especially to go somewhere, is other or weird. This is true even in the most heavily biked areas--like the west side of Bde Maka Ska where more than 1,500 people bike everyday (only half as many as who are driving northbound). We are making strides to change that mindset, but we have a long way to go and we need many more people to bicycle--or know someone who does regularly--to change that. Until we do, nature lovers will periodically bemoan bikeways while ignoring the bulldozer next door. Let's all keep inspiring new bicyclists and opening more minds.

Pictures from Minneapolis Park Board