Bike Month Begins, Minneapolis Brings Home Cycling Gold

Despite having the coldest winter weather of any major U.S. city, Minneapolis has the second highest rate of bike commuting in the country, after Portland. Ridership throughout the city is up 21 percent since 2007 and in some neighborhoods, it’s up as much as 132 percent. Clearly, chilly Minneapolis has become a hot place to ride a bike.

Despite an average winter temperature of 17 degrees, bicycling is booming in Minneapolis. Photo courtesy of the city of Minneapolis.

As National Bike Month kicks off, Minneapolis is celebrating one of the highest designations as a cycling mecca: the League of American Bicyclists has named Minneapolis a gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community. The city was just listed for the first time in 2008 at the silver level.

Bill Nesper, who oversees the Bike League’s Bicycle Friendly America program, said that although the designation comes with no award money, cities want to be recognized for the good things they’re doing. “And it’s becoming clearer and clearer across the country that this is a good thing to do,” he said, “to build a sustainable, active, connected community.” At its root, he said, what it means to be a Bicycle Friendly Community is that cyclists are “encouraged and provided for.”

Last week, at the Garrison Institute’s forum on how to encourage climate-friendly behaviors, Minneapolis sustainability director Gayle Prest explained how the city had worked to make cycling – even in the dead of winter – “normal.” City information on cycling intentionally depicts people of all ages and races, shapes and sizes. They make sure to show women and children, people with and without helmets – and they never, ever show cyclists in spandex.

Still, Prest said, they don’t “over-control the message.” She says cycling is a “great product” that sells itself.

Prest said they divide riders into four categories: recreational, shopping, commuter and the “all year, everywhere” folks. The city tries to encourage people in one of the first two categories to bump up a level or two and become commuters.

Minneapolis took heed of the city of Portland’s estimate that 60 percent of the population are “interested” in cycling but “concerned” about safety. To address some of those concerns, Minneapolis hosts a peer-to-peer program so people can get used to commuting downtown with an experienced urban cyclist. The city also has bike-walk ambassadors encouraging cycling by teaching bike safety and winter riding classes, hosting brownbag workshops on bike commuting at businesses and distributing bike maps and materials. The city has also installed:

Minneapolis' bike-share system, Nice Ride. Photo: EcoVelo

  • Painted bike lanes and bike boxes
  • Commuter lanes, the celebrated Midtown Greenway through South Minneapolis, and other bike boulevards
  • Winter plowing priority for bike trails
  • 600 bike Nice Ride bike-share system
  • 50/50 cost split for bike rack installation between the city and property owner
  • Requirement for showers and lockers in larger buildings

Bike culture has thrived in Minneapolis, with everything from bicycle film fests to alleycat races to bike polo games to Artcrank, a bike-themed art show.

The city of Minneapolis won a Bicycle Friendly Business award from the League earlier this year, in part for offering subsidized bike-share memberships to city employees.

Minneapolis wasn’t the only big winner of the Bicycle Friendly Community awards. Boulder, Davis and Portland just can’t get off the platinum list. Ten cities joined Minneapolis in the gold category – only one of them, Madison, east of the Mississippi.

Upon hearing about the League’s gold designation for Minneapolis as a Bicycle Friendly Community over the weekend, Mayor R.T. Rybak tweeted, “NY, DC and Boston got silver…how cute.”