A 2,200-mile ride to check out Portland’s bike scene

Posted on July 19th, 2009 – 10:34 PM
By Roadguy

Here’s my weekly column from the newspaper:


The country’s No. 2 biking city, Minneapolis, probably could learn a thing or two from the No. 1 city, Portland. And what better way to learn than by biking from here to Ore­gon?

Four Augsburg College students who set out from the Twin Cities on May 21 completed their trip after 32 days and 2,200 miles, but those are only two numbers by which to measure their journey. You could also count flat tires (at least five on one of the bikes), full breakfasts consumed (two per person per day), or ideas for improving biking in the Twin Cities (a lot).

While the Census Bureau deemed Minneapolis the city with the second-highest percentage of bicycle commuters, the Augsburg crew says Minneapolis’ biking culture and facilities are as much as a decade behind Portland’s.

• “Bike boxes,” which are painted near crosswalks and give bikes a high-visibility spot to wait for the light to change. Vehicles are required to stop a bit farther back and aren’t allowed to turn on red.
• Traffic signals that are just for bikes — they halt all other vehicles and allow only bicycles to go.
• Green lights that are timed so bikes can make them.
• Special road signs that tell, in miles and minutes, how far destinations are by bike.

Also, the map of Minneapolis bike lanes and paths is sparse compared to Portland’s, said Nate White, one of the four travelers. “Right away we got a feel of just how much easier it is to get anywhere on a bike,” he said.

He and the three others — Jake Quarstad, Tommy Schlae­fer and Michael Weth­ing­ton — met with congressional aides, design professionals, and city officials and whooped it up at the city’s Pedal­palooza festival. The folks in Portland encouraged the foursome to first get Minnesotans fired up about biking to create demand for things like more lanes, instead of just building bike infrastructure and hoping people use it.

Quarstad said they’re taking the advice to heart and planning a bicycle-themed river cleanup event for sometime in the next few months, and they’re hoping to open a co­operative bike shop in northeast Minneapolis.


The journey, which was funded by a $12,000 grant from Augsburg’s student government, was an educational experience all its own, especially considering that none of the four had ever biked farther than Duluth.

They camped in tents, had a one-day delay because of a June snowstorm, and zoomed down a mountain range at 40 miles per hour. They were blown away by the kindness of strangers, who gave them encouragement, food and places to stay, and the kindness of an aunt who gave them a lift through the straight-line winds of the Columbia River gorge. They marveled at the amount of roadkill on highway shoulders and were dismayed that the air in Yellowstone National Park tasted like car exhaust.

While they’re not entirely opposed to other forms of transportation — they took Amtrak back from Portland — Schlaefer and White said the trip confirmed their belief that they could get through life without a car. After you’ve biked across the Continental Divide, a hop to St. Paul to run errands is no big deal.

Would they do such a trip again? Absolutely — though Schlaefer said they’d probably go a bit later in the season, when the chance of snow is less.

For more about their trip, visit www.ped4progress.wordpress.com.

Mailbag: Driving(!) on the greenway

Posted on July 17th, 2009 – 10:02 AM
By Roadguy

Got this e-mail last night from alert reader Becky:

This evening, while riding my bike on the Greenway, I witnessed something so strange, I completely forgot I had my crapcam on me, and regret not taking a photo…

As I was biking east towards Nicollet, I passed an elderly woman DRIVING HER CAR on the Greenway! She had entered the onramp from Nicollet, as I saw her round the tight corner, and squeeze under the cement bridge supports when I biked past (very cautiously).

By the time I reached Nicollet, she had gone too far for me to snap a picture. :( But oh, what a sight! I thought about calling the police, but honestly wasn’t sure if they would find her by the time she found a proper road. I hope another biker was able to direct her off the pathway…

Roadguy has witnessed maintenance and police vehicles on the Midtown Greenway, but never a lost motorist. The entrance at Nicollet does indeed look a bit like a freeway ramp or a driveway, but good grief. Sounds like it needs more than a “no trucks” sign.

Traffic violation* photo of the day

Posted on July 16th, 2009 – 8:51 AM
By Roadguy

What’s wrong with this picture?


Who needs photocop? Just have Roadguy walk past pretty much any corner in Minneapolis. If the plank road wears out early, here’s a possible contributing factor. I probably should’ve zoomed in on the “no trucks” sign — maybe there’s some fine print that says “unless you’re not feelin’ it.”

(*After I wrote the post, alert reader Mark made a comment below that indicates nothing illegal may be taking place — except for maybe the fact that the truck is crossing the center line.)

Photo taken at 12:54 p.m. Wednesday on West River Parkway in Minneapolis.

Another new bike commuter is hooked

Posted on July 15th, 2009 – 10:40 AM
By Roadguy

My colleague May over at the Cribsheet blog writes about the newfound joys of transporting herself by bike. Her post from this morning is here. Maybe Roadguy should give bicycle commuting another try….

‘Great Increase in Use of Automobiles Changes Americans’

Posted on July 14th, 2009 – 5:13 PM
By Roadguy

My colleague Ben over at the Yesterday’s News blog has posted a 1917 Minneapolis Morning Journal article that attempts to draw a link between improved national health and the rise of the automobile. My favorite part:

Another possible connection between the motor car and intestinal troubles is that it induces a false appetite without sufficient exercise to dispose of the additional food. A dinner with much food and considerable drinking frequently forms part of the close of an automobile ride with consequent disturbance of the digestive apparatus.

Too many burps? Blame your car.

Roadguy video: Parking tips for downtown Minneapolis

Posted on July 13th, 2009 – 8:42 AM
By Roadguy

Summer events bring a lot of drivers into the city, so here’s a quick video of things to watch out for when you’re deciding where to park. (If you missed last week’s video about the ever-changing lanes in the Crosstown construction zone, it’s here.) And please add your own parking advice below.

Oh, and that PDF map of Minneapolis parking meters is here.