Word on the Streets

Bicycle Friendly Businesses: the Birchwood Cafe

This is the first in what I hope is an ongoing series on bicycle friendly businesses in Minneapolis. Some businesses go out of their way to make themselves open, welcoming places for bicyclists.  They deserve our praise - and our business.

First up: the Birchwood Cafe.

In addition to serving local, sustainable and very tasty food, the Birchwood has embraced bicycling like few non-bike-related businesses I've seen.  There's a Birchwood Bike Team.  And where too many businesses treat bicycle parking as an afterthought, bike racks are right out front at the Birchwood.  And when they outgrew the racks they had installed in the boulevard, they pushed for the city's first-ever on-street bicycle parking.

What was once a parking space for one solitary car now holds more than a dozen bikes.  And not only did the Birchwood have to pay for this installation - and pay to have it removed every winter, so that it isn't destroyed by snow plows - they had to fight pretty tenaciously to convince the City to allow it.

Now that this has been tried somewhere in the city, it will be much easier for the next business that wants to surrender an auto parking space to create new spaces for bikes.  That sort of trailblazing is absolutely essential - someone has to volunteer to work out those first-time kinks.

As if that wasn't enough, the Birchwood sought - and helped pay for - a Nice Ride kiosk, also on-street.  

This spot wasn't on Nice Ride's list of locations for the first year.  This kiosk is only here because the Birchwood made it happen.  As someone who lives around here, I can tell you that this isn't just an amenity for the Birchwood, and its staff and customers.  When I take transit to work because it's raining in the morning, I know that I can hop a Nice Ride to get within easy walking distance of my house, all thanks to a certain bike friendly neighborhood business.

So - what about you?  Any bike friendly businesses is your neighborhood?

Observations From A Recent Visit to San Francisco

I recently spent 4 days in San Francisco where I had not been for the past 5 years. While others in my group admired the architecture and other amenities of the city, I was looking for bicyclists, bicycle lanes, and how bicycles were interacting with cars.

I immediately noticed an explosion of bicyclists from my last visit. On the Saturday afternoon I was there, I would characterize the bicycle activity as rush hour Midtown Greenway density spread out into the city streets in most of the flat and moderately hilly neighborhoods. I noticed a number of regular stripe and green stripe bike lanes, sharrows, bike boxes, and even sharrows and bike lanes on the same block. The percentage of helmet wearers appeared higher than Minneapolis but the use of night time lights was substantially less.

The bicycle controversy at the time was a police campaign to ticket bicyclists who run red lights. Apparently, there had been a recent spate of pedestrians struck by bicyclists and there had been at least one incident where a pedestrian was struck and killed by a cyclist running a red light.

I was able to visit the offices of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. They were very busy and I was not able to spend a lot of time with them. They are in raw commercial space on the 10th floor of an old downtown office building. Right off the elevators were vertical wall bike racks where the staff and volunteers store their bikes. There were a number of 4 foot by 6 foot maps, graphs and artist renditions on the walls. SFBC has 4 paid staff and a number of volunteers and interns. Their goals are similar to those of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition: to make the city a safe and comfortable place for bicyclists of all ages and abilities.

The city is half way through its bike plan and it looks like the advocates are well on their way to making San Francisco a first class bicycling city comparable to many European venues.

Bill D


One of the ways to tell how seriously bicycling is being taken is how various units of government approach those difficult but unavoidable times when bike facilities have to be temporarily closed. I know that there are a lot of examples of poor or nonexistent bicycle detours on City, County, Park Board and MnDOT projects, but I wanted to share what I consider a success story: the just-installed detour of the Hiawatha LRT Trail between the West Bank and downtown.

The Hiawatha LRT trail is a heavily-used bike highway from the whole southeast quandrant of Minneapolis into downtown. It's owned by the Met Council, one of the only (if not the only) bike trails they own. The section between the West Bank and downtown is going to be torn up and reconstructed as part of the Central Corridor LRT project, because it's where the CCLRT will interline with the Hiawatha line. The trail will move to the north side of the tracks, crossing the new CCLRT line just before it meets up with Hiawatha.

The upshot is that this trail, used by hundreds of bicyclists and pedestrians every day, will be out of commission for about 18 months. Yikes!

 The City took this closure seriously, and had multiple conversations with the Central Corridor Project Office about it, both at the old Bicycle Advisory Committee and out on-site. Everyone who looked at the problem came to the same conclusion: the only sensible detour was along the old sidewalk on the north side of the 5th Street ramp from I-94 into downtown. On the West Bank end, it's pretty close to the trail - just on the other side of the LRT tracks. On the downtown side, it's about a block from the LRT trail's terminus (and the start of the trail extension onto 3rd St that's still under construction), but it connects via the bike lanes on 11th.

But there were some issues with this route as well. For one thing, it wasn't very wide. This was especially true on the bridge over I-35, which was about 5 feet wide - almost impossible to allow two bikes to get past each other.

Rather than just shrugging and telling bicyclists to make due, the agencies made some physical changes to make the route functional. They widened the path with a new asphalt extension on both sides of the bridge.

Even better, the Met Council worked with MnDOT to temporarily shrink the width of the freeway ramp so that they could separate east- and westbound bicyclists.

And then there's the communication. Not only are there good signs directing people to the detour (for the record, those weren't up on the morning of the closure, but after I made contact with the Central Corridor Project Office they were put up within a few hours), but there were signs up for at least a week beforehand informing trail users of the impending closure. The City was also able to get news of the closure out through its email alert system.

In my experience, this is an unprecedented level of quality for a bicycle detour. What accounts for how well it worked? I think there are a few key factors that we can try to replicate in other places. The City/TLC bike counts provide hard evidence that this trail is used by hundreds of cyclists per day. The Central Corridor Project Office started the conversation early. City staff - including Public Works and staff to both the Mayor and one of the Council Members for the area (me) - pushed for good accommodations, to the point of walking the proposed detour with CCLRT staff.

This detour demonstrates an understanding that bicyclists don't just go away when there's a closure; it gives the same level of service that drivers have come to expect.  All bike facility detours should strive to be this good.

© Copyright 2023 Our Streets Minneapolis. All rights reserved.