Friday, April 22, 2011

America's Best Bike City

Minneapolis likes to hold itself out as the bike-friendliest city in the U.S., next only to Portland, Oregon (depending on who you talk to). Since 2000, bicycle commuting has doubled in the city, with 8,000 people relying primarily on their bikes to get to work. There are 82 miles of off-street bike paths, 43 miles of on-street bike lanes, and the most bicycle racks per capita among America’s 50 largest cities. We have the Nice Ride bike sharing program in good weather, bike-path ploughing in bad, and bike racks on all Metro Transit buses and trains. After awhile, all this infrastructure – the plowed paths, the lighting and emergency phones, the bike boxes, the signage, the timed traffic lights, the landscaping – all adds up to quite a sum. How are decisions being made regarding this significant infrastructure investment – and who is footing the bill?

Portland? Boulder? Seattle? It's like anyone can make the list...
If this were a normal infrastructural investment, we might consider the public demand for bicycle routes, which government body ought to administer them, how to fund them, and where those funds would come from. In this case, however, I’d argue that Minneapolis’ Met Council has approached transit investment in a backward fashion, owing to the source of its bicycle infrastructure funding: sizeable grants from the federal government. National programs like the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Project and the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program have bestowed millions of dollars upon Minneapolis since 2000 for the expressed purpose of developing alternative transportation infrastructure. It’s a far cry from relying on onerous property taxes and value-capture strategies.

Minneapolis’ access to restricted-purpose federal funds for bicycle infrastructure has helped the city leverage even more funds for such projects, further boosting investment: An additional 45 miles of bikeways have been funded for 2011.

My attempt, here, is mainly to illustrate that this spending is very much shaping our lives. People who wouldn’t ordinarily bike on the weekends are being drawn down the city’s various trails, and people who would never bike to work are leaving their cars at home in favor of the two-wheeled commute. Life is getting better for Twin Cities' pedal pushers. And granted, while it’s not a risky gambit – a person easily becomes a cyclist for anywhere between $100 to $500 (or more, certainly) – this spending does represent a central planning ploy to change travel behavior.

Given that Minnesota is a net donor state, I say the more federally funded bike trails the better.

No comments:

Post a Comment