Here’s my weekly column from the newspaper:
TAKING MEASURE OF A BIKE JOURNEY
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.
ALONG THE WAY
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.