When people talk about expenditures on major infrastructure projects, the lingo usually focuses on grants, bonds, taxes, and feasibility studies. Often overlooked is the importance of local activism. Although the benefits of bicycle infrastructure projects are mainly localized, political and logistical constraints often require that multiple layers of government become involved, including the city, county, state, and Federal governments. It is often not possible to fund bicycle facilities at the city level alone. Right of way is often owned or operated by county or state agencies that have a vested interest in the management of regional transportation corridors that must be shared with bicycle infrastructure. Activism from grassroots and non-profit organizations are vital in ensuring that local interests in bicycle infrastructure are not forgotten or compromised within a framework that requires the involvement of regional and state governments.
Case in point: the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Midtown Greenway is a grade-separated, 5.5 mile bicycle and pedestrian path that lies within a former railroad bed in south Minneapolis. The Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority (HCRRA) purchased the corridor in 1992 for a planned transit line. However, there was also a local desire to have a bike and pedestrian path in the corridor. Since local interest in bicycle and pedestrian use could have undermined planning for transit in the corridor, it was absolutely necessary that the county and other regional interests become involved in the construction of the Greenway. However, the tension goes the other way as well--if the county was unable to be responsive to local interest in having a bicycle and pedestrian path in the corridor, its regional interest in providing transit could have compromised the local goal of increasing bicycle and pedestrian facilities in south Minneapolis.
After the right of way was purchased by the HCRRA for future transit development in 1993, the Midtown Greenway Coalition incorporated as a non-profit and began advocating for their vision. The activism of the group not only led to the construction of a high-volume bicycle and pedestrian trail within the corridor, but helped to thwart plans for a Bus Rapid Transit Line that threatened the success of the Greenway in 1999. Rather than merely blocking transit in the corridor, the Coalition completed its own studies showing that electric streetcars could be compatible with the bicycle and pedestrian path and are a viable mode of transportation in the corridor.
Let's not forget the need for grassroots organizations as we decide how to plan and provide bicycle infrastructure that must share right of way with corridors that are utilized for regional transportation and transit. While they may seem annoying, and might slow down the process of infrastructure investment, these organizations keep regional governments honest with respect to the needs and desires of smaller local communities.
Brandt, S. (1998). “From lines on a map to a dream come true.” Star Tribune, 24 July 1998. Retrieved 12 May 2013 from LexisNexis Academic online.
Brandt, S. (1999). “Busway on greenway? No way, some say; A feasibility study for an express busway near Lake Street aggravates a split between neighborhood organizers and Minneapolis, Hennepin County officials.” Retrieved 12 May 2013 from LexisNexis Academic online.
Foti, J. (2007). “Pedal pushers find greenway is the best way to get places; As improvements to the Midtown Greenway increase, so do bicyclists.” Star Tribune, 1 August 2007. Retrieved 12 May 2013 from LexisNexis Academic online.
Sitaramiah, G. (2004). “Minneapolis Midtown Greenway Streetcars Play a Part in Transportation Plan.” Saint Paul Pioneer Press, 6 April 2004. Retrieved 12 May 2013 from LexisNexis Academic online.