As Our Streets Minneapolis celebrates our 10th anniversary, we're taking a look back at some of the volunteers and groups that helped us get where we are today. As a community driven organization, we depend on local folks lending their skills and time to our movement.
Lesley Schack became a core volunteer with our organization when it was just a group of passionate folks without so much as a name. Lesley's work with Our Streets Minneapolis includes advocating for better bike lanes on streets like 1st Avenue, and laying hard-won foundations for Open Streets Minneapolis.
Join us as we thank Lesley for building our movement and paving the way for our future. Check out the interview below to learn more about Lesley's motivation for doing this work, and her vision for our city.
Lesley Schack (left) with her child Quincy and husband Ethan at the 50th Open Streets Minneapolis event, Open Streets West Broadway 2019.
Tell us a little about yourself. How do biking and walking fit into your life?
I moved to Minneapolis for college nearly 20 years ago and have lived here ever since. I now reside in the Midtown Phillips neighborhood with my husband and our four-year-old. The last five years, I have not owned a car and it has lifted such a weight in terms of expenses, bothering my dad about repairs, parking, and more.
Biking, walking, taking transit, and using Hourcar are essential to how my family gets around. Whether it's getting groceries, meeting up with friends for dinner, visiting my parents who live 45 minutes away, doing preschool drop-offs, or traveling to work, it's been fantastic to be able to live life without the hassle of car ownership.
What is your favorite place to bike or walk in Minneapolis? What do you like about it?
There are a lot of great spots to bike and walk in Minneapolis, but one of my favorites for walking is Powderhorn Park on the south side. Even though you're in the middle of the city and Lake Street is very close, you feel like you're a world away. The trails that circle the park take you through acres of greenspace and heavily wooded areas, around a lake, by lots of local wildlife, and to plenty of hidden benches where you can just stop and take it all in.
One of my favorite things to do on a weekend morning is walk to one of our neighborhood restaurants, Modern Times, for breakfast and then to Powderhorn Park afterwards for a leisurely stroll with to-go coffee.
What inspired you to work for better biking and walking in our community?
I see biking and walking as a tangible way to help fight climate change, improve health, and contribute to a more livable city. To me, it's also an enjoyable way to travel--it usually offers a more relaxed journey and the opportunity to better connect with my community.
But depending on where you live or work, it can be daunting to even consider getting on a bike. I am inspired to advocate for better biking and walking conditions because it should be a safe and efficient transportation option for everyone.
How did you first become connected to Our Streets Minneapolis, then the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition?
My husband invited me to join one of the earliest meetings. At the time, we were both pretty engaged as volunteers at the local Sierra Club, and my interest in the role of land use and transportation in fighting climate change and improving communities was growing. Checking out the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition seemed like an intriguing way to do more.
When I went to my first meeting, the Bicycle Coalition wasn't an official organization and didn't even have a name. It was just a small group of passionate community members who wanted to do something about the lackluster bike lanes downtown on Hennepin and 1st Avenues.
How has the city changed since you first started doing this kind of work? Are there any specific examples that come to mind?
I think the biggest change I've seen is that there are more buffered or protected bike lanes. For me personally, it has made all the difference in whether or not I've felt safe and comfortable enough to hop onto busier thoroughfares.
Two examples in my neighborhood that come to mind are Park and Portland Avenues. There's no way you would have caught me on either of those streets before the bike lanes were moved to the right side of the road and had buffers added. The same goes for 26th and 28th Streets. While none of these streets are perfect, they are immensely better than what we had before the bike lanes were added and improved.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in this work?
One challenge I'll always remember is how incredibly difficult it was to prove that Open Streets was a good idea and actually launch these events. Today, we have several Open Streets each year, but I don't think people realize how much work it was for a small group of volunteers to convince the City and other entities that Open Streets was a good idea.
We did a lot of door knocking along Lyndale Avenue to collect signatures from neighbors, encountered resistance from businesses, and skepticism from public works and police, and went to many neighborhood and City Council meetings to get the necessary buy-in. I'm still amazed that we were able to pull it off! Without the dedication of a small group of volunteers and the leadership of one volunteer in particular, Colin Harris, there's no way that Open Streets would have happened.
If you could change one street in Minneapolis overnight, which street would you change? How would you change it?
Lake Street. There are so many cool businesses and restaurants to explore, but Lake Street is not very safe or appealing for walking or biking given how many cars there always are and how little space there is for much else. Also, crossing Lake Street can be really treacherous--even if you have a walk sign it's dangerous with all the traffic trying to turn in front of you from different directions.
My dream would be to slow the cars way down and get many of them off of Lake Street, probably by narrowing it to one lane in each direction, widening sidewalks, and adding bike lanes. I'd also plant more trees and add a lot of outdoor seating to restaurants, and maybe some parklets.