Minnehaha Joy Ride Stays Joyful Despite Bad News

A pack of more than 40 cyclists making its way through Minneapolis can create quite the impression with motorists.

Bike lanes--formerly little more than de facto passing lanes, right turn lanes, or overflow parking--suddenly become inviolable. A few motorists actually had to slow down. A few chose to stop entirely to enjoy the traffic anomaly of a block-long line of cyclists snaking around turns.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition (MBC) hopes the city’s future bike facilities feel more like they did briefly Thursday: more bustling with cyclists and more respected by motorists. The MBC planned Thursday’s Joy Ride Series event titled “The Shape of Minnehaha To Come” to promote just this kind of future.

If only garnering attention with transportation policymakers was as easy as garnering motorists’ attention was for a procession of 40 cyclists.

MBC executive director Ethan Fawley informed Joy Ride attendants that Hennepin County had decided to rule out cycle tracks in the upcoming the Minnehaha reconstruction, despite the MBC’s determined advocacy.

Fawley said the Hennepin County Board received 946 emails and more than 900 postcards in support of a cycle track on Minnehaha.

Ultimately the board settled instead on an improved bike lane with a two-foot painted buffer and green paint at intersections.

“It feels like a single when we should have hit a homerun,” Fawley said.

Fawley explained that the MBC wants bicycle facilities that everyone can comfortably use, not just experienced bicyclists. He pointed out that kids feel much safer on cycle tracks than riding next to traffic unprotected in a bike lane. Moreover, Fawley said the evidence shows that cycle tracks attract new bicyclists, whereas bike lanes do not.

While the news is disappointing, Fawley said cycle track supporters need to express their disappointment to the Hennepin County Board and stay engaged to continue raising awareness. 

“We need to let them know we care,” Fawley said.

Although Minnehaha won’t have a cycle track, Fawley said the campaign made the county much more aware of the demand for bike infrastructure.

On other streets the campaign for better bike infrastructure continues and Thursday’s ride also stopped near another avenue where cycle tracks are still a possibility in the near future: Washington Avenue.

During a stop at Gold Medal Park, Rose Ryan, who recently became Hennepin County’s first Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, told joy riders that cycle tracks are the locally preferred option for Washington Avenue and the option Hennepin County staff is recommending to the board (which by no means guarantees its passage but is a huge step in the right direction).

Ryan said some have concerns removing a lane to add a cycle track will increase commute times, but a comprehensive study by traffic engineers showed improved signal timing should allow two lanes to carry just as much traffic just as quickly as the three lanes do presently.

Fawley explained how far bicycle advocates had come. When the MBC was founded in 2009, the Minneapolis City Council had to overrule City staff recommendations for Washington Avenue in the bike plan just so that it would include biking at all. Four years later, a cycle track is a very real possibility along what used to be an officially declared dead zone for bicyclists.

On a lighter note, the joy ride included bike limbo and free subs at Father Hennepin Park (where the ride began) and included stops at Harriet Brewery and Sea Salt Eatery for further refreshments. Participants seemed to enjoy themselves despite some not so good news on Minnehaha.

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