Thursday, May 26, 2016

Getting folks to bike commute doesn't have to be so hard

bike bridge
This is the post where I tell you about new consulting services I'm offering to promote bike commuting. If you wanna skip to the goods, check out my new site.

It's time to ask the hard questions of ourselves, our employers, and our colleagues. Why are bike commuting rates so low? I think it comes down to people being so entrenched in the status quo that they cannot see another way. Just under half of employees live within 10 miles of their office and yet bike commuting rates are dismal. Even in Minneapolis, where we have the second most bike commuters of any major city, only 4.6% of folks commute by bike. There's a huge opportunity to promote health by changing the way people get to and from work.

 Most major employers have a wellness division. Usually housed under human resources, this is the department that will plan walking challenges, send out flyers on healthy behavior, organize health fairs and screenings, and give you resources for health promotion courses. In my experience as an employee, these challenges are merely lip service to the idea of wellness. Some people get into them, yes. Some employees will buy hand weights and new shoes, taking the lunch hour to walk around the parking lot. Some employees will take more walks at home with their friends and families, to make sure they're getting their steps in for the day. Some employees will park farther from the store entrance or decide to walk to a coworker's desk instead of emailing as a way to walk a bit more. All of these are great outcomes. These challenges can be fun, but it's very unlikely that most of them are impacting health beyond the duration of the challenge.

I worked at a pharmacy after I finished my undergraduate degree. It was my first big-kid job and I still remember it fondly. At the time, I'd never been regularly physically active. I was 22 and slender; I'd always associated working out with losing weight. While I worked at the pharmacy, the wellness division coordinated walking challenges. I participated, for the cheap plastic rewards, but I still remember taking pride in telling my coworkers who exercised that I "didn't need to." Eventually hearing them talk about time at the gym wore me down and I joined one myself. I exercised religiously until I thought to bike commute. That was the beginning of the end of my gym life. And thank god for it, because spending hours upon hours, day after day, staring out the same gym window while swinging my arms on the same elliptical remains my idea of hell.

Bike commuting made sense for me then and makes sense for me now. It's a way to be physically active without having to try too hard to be physically active. Commuting by bike is associated with better mental health and reduces cardiovascular risk. Bike commuters live an average of two years longer, breathe in less pollution, take fewer sick days, and are just plain happier with their commutes. Folks who commute by car are more likely to gain weight over time than those who commute by bike, even when they are physically active in their free time. Promoting active commuting is cost effective. Getting people to incorporate physical activity into their everyday routines is much cheaper than enrolling folks in targeted physical activity classes.

So then, how do we do it? How do we encourage people to take the leap and figure out the bike commuting thing? Well, it's clear that bike commuting isn't an option for everyone. Folks who live long distances away from work may struggle to bike commute, although e-bikes may extend commute range. Parents may find it hard to coordinate daycare drop-off and pick-up on a bicycle, although it's very doable if you have the right set-up. And employees with disabilities or chronic disease may not be able to bike commute due to physical limitations. All of those things are okay, those are not the people I'm talking about.

I'm talking about people like my old coworker B. He lives nine miles from work and his route is almost a straight-shot to the office along the greenway. He didn't have a bike and hadn't biked in ages. He said that seeing my bike parked in the office every day made him realize that he had no reason for driving every day. He bought a bike and started riding it to work, and over the ensuing months lost around thirty pounds. While B is a great guy, I don't think he's particularly special in his relationship to commuting. He drove to work because driving to work is how he'd always conceived of commuting. Eventually, he saw that biking to work was a feasible option, a better option.

There are ways to promote bike commuting that work. Doing this in the work environment makes perfect sense, because everyone has to get to work. Instead of giving out gift cards when employees see the dentist (or hell, in addition to gift cards for employees seeing the dentist), why not use strategies that have been shown to increase bike commuting rates? Achieving lasting health means building healthy habits and bike commuting is a powerful habit. We can improve bike commuting rates through the creation of bike-to-work events, leading bike trains so people don't have to first-time commute on their own, writing targeted guides and information about how to bike commute, conducting surveys to understand barriers, and changing company policies and amenities to be more friendly to bike commuters. I'm now offering all of these as consulting services. Promoting bike commuting should be a public health priority. It has the potential to be very powerful. If your company is interested, drop me a line.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The corporate bike forum: Minnesota’s not-so-secret society of commuter advocates

This is a guest post by Marc Berg. Keep up with all posts by following along on Facebook.bikes

Want to Join Corporate Minnesota’s Not-So-Secret Society of Commuter Advocates? We’re meeting at Great River Energy on April 19th.

My first post on Minneapolize was about the vision for a downtown bike center, where people would be encouraged to commute by bike because they have everything they need in terms of end-of-trip facilities. That idea continues to gain traction, as one facet of what I like to jokingly call “our diabolical plot to normalize transportation cycling.”

Those of us who regularly commute to our jobs by bike get a little thrill out of being seen as the workplace iconoclasts – at least when it comes to matters of transportation. We swagger in each morning with our helmets in hand and messenger bags over our shoulders, hoping this quiet but public display about our lifestyle choice might eventually convince at least some of our coworkers to leave their cars at home and join us for the ride in. It’s a personal form of grassroots bike advocacy that allows us to feel that we’re making an individual contribution to a larger cause of bettering the world through more biking.

 Thankfully, the Twin Cities has a growing network of like-minded folks who hold semi-annual conferences under a mainstream-sounding name – the Corporate Bike Forum – which, since 2013, have been hosted by local corporate heavyweights such as Best Buy, Wells Fargo, Ameriprise, and Target Corp. Conceived in 2013 by David Gepner, chair of the Hennepin County Bicycle Advisory Committee, the forums seek to “facilitate networking, share ideas, and help create strategies around getting your co-workers to bike to work.”

 The next forum is scheduled for April 19th at 2:00 p.m., and will be hosted by Great River Energy in Maple Grove (more info below). Previous forums have included discussion of some of the more well-known local workplace initiatives, such as (1) the expansion of the Dero ZAP program, (2) the creation of Target’s employee bike center, and (3) the health insurance cost savings QBP realized by offering cash incentives to its employees who bike.

 The last forum, held at Target in October 2015, featured a panel discussion on the challenges facing women as bike commuters, led by Brittany Peterson of Target, Jo Olson of Bike.MN, and Pamela Moore of Transit for Livable Communities (TLC). Brittany, Jo, and Pam each shared personal stories of how they became bike commuters, the positives and negatives they encountered in creating a commuter lifestyle, and things they felt would help more women start to see bike commuting as a realistic and attractive option. Forum participants were encouraged to offer their own perspectives on the issue of women-as-bike-commuters, and did so – enthusiastically – about safety concerns; the absence of decent trip-end facilities (i.e., showers and lockers) at many workplaces; the need to provide new female commuters with better information about routes, equipment, and attire; the intimidating quality of some of the male-dominated “bike snob” commuter groups; and a pronounced fear of “looking dumb” as a female bike commuter and not meeting cultural expectations about workplace attire and appearance. Ideas suggested to alleviate some of these problems included holding group ride-ins with a “no-drop” rule, employer-sponsored bike skills classes, and employee-commuter groups making extra effort to offer an environment more welcoming to women.

As a middle-aged male, I realize I’ll probably never fully grasp the subtle cultural and environmental factors that discourage women from biking. Still, we can all agree that too many obstacles remain, and that real action is needed. Implicit in every question, comment, and story I heard from the group that day was a wish that the proverbial “powers that be” – the unseen individuals who make the big decisions in our lives – would simply listen for a moment, and understand that these ideas make sense, and can benefit so many people in so many ways, that tangible action would follow in the foreseeable future. Everything that Brittany, Jo, and Pamela said about the things employers could do to make bike commuting a more appealing choice for women would be easy and inexpensive to implement. Do we just need to get the right people in the room with us? What’s the best way to convince business leaders that they should join our cause, and run with it? These are all crucial questions and ideas that need to be addressed on an employer-by-employer basis. The Corporate Bike Forum, however, can serve as an effective sounding board to brainstorm these ideas first. 

Presentations scheduled for the April 19th event at Great River Energy will include “Creating a Workplace Bike Culture: the U of MN Experience” by Steve Sanders; “Duluth, a BFB Hotspot: Best Practices from the North Shore” panel discussion hosted by Shawna MullenEardley, and a tour of Great River’s employee bike facility let by Greg Archer. Registration is available on the Bike.MN website. If you can’t make it this time, but want to be kept in the loop, the group recently opened a Facebook page as a platform for online information exchanges, including announcements about future forums.

 Interested in joining the discussion? Do you have some excellent ideas to encourage bike commuting? Or find a support network of folks who could help you to spread these bike-radical ideas into your workplace, and further our evil plan to subvert the car culture? Register for the April 19th event, join the Facebook group, and help us crank forward to that ultimate victory. Maybe the Corporate Bike Forum will grow so large that we won’t be seen as “different” any more.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Minneapolis doesn't have enough bike lanes

37e28531 Yesterday's Star Tribune article by Steve Brandt asked: Does Mpls., big-city leader in bike network density, have enough bike lanes? In the article, Brandt states that we have the densest bike network, well ahead of Boston, our nearest rival. And yet, this is a very narrow and short-sighted question to ask. American cities are terrible at bike infrastructure. In Minneapolis, we're doing a decent job. But we're only doing well when compared to how poorly most other American cities are doing. It's like wondering whether a C student is doing too well when everyone else in the class is getting a D. It just doesn't make sense. We don't need to be confined to a box of mediocrity.

When Copenhagenize ranked the twenty most bike friendly cities in the world in 2015, Minneapolis made the list at number 18. It felt like a symbolic nod, an acknowledgement that some American cities are trying, rather than a legitimate inclusion of a world-class bicycling network. They stated: "Minnesota’s largest metropolis has the lowest baseline score of all the cities in the Top 20, but it makes up for that with bonus points in a number of categories." I'm glad we made the list, but Minneapolis has nothing close to the amazing infrastructure you can find in places like Barcelona and Amsterdam. There, it's not a struggle to find protected bike lanes. Barcelona has a comprehensive network that makes it so nobody bikes in the street. They don't have to. Everywhere you need to get by bike can be accessed within just a few blocks of a protected bikeway. Getting around is easy, even for tourists who don't speak Spanish.

Many folks in the Star Tribune comments stated that less than 1% of folks ride bikes and so we shouldn't spend money on infrastructure that very few people are going to use. Well, that's just not true. In Minneapolis, about 4% of folks bike to work regularly, but that doesn't capture people who bike commute only occasionally. A comprehensive report from People for Bikes found that 34% of Americans rode a bike in the previous year. The report found that many people believe biking is a good way to get around and would like to bike more, but are afraid of being hit by cars. They found that 46% of people said they would be more likely to ride a bike if bikes and motor vehicles were physically separated. Minneapolis has a long way to go. We're just barely starting to implement our protected bikeway plan. Many, many people do not feel comfortable biking in traffic. Until our bike network is comfortable and easily navigable for all people, ages 8 to 80, we won't have enough bike lanes.

Asking whether Minneapolis has enough bike lanes shifts the conversation in the wrong direction. The question itself is inflammatory, as you can see by the over 350 comments that have been left on the article so far. People are pulling out all the old tired arguments against biking in response, as they do with almost every Star Tribune article that references biking. I bet most of them didn't even read the article. If the Star Tribune wants to adequately cover biking in a way that doesn't result in unnecessary divisiveness, they shouldn't ask incendiary questions in their headlines. The City Pages, owned by the Star Tribune, has been doing an equally poor job covering cycling topics. 

So maybe now is the right time to say that I want this blog to be a place to write about and discuss cycling in a supportive and balanced way. In the next couple weeks, I'll begin posting articles from guest bloggers. I'm happy to hear your perspective. Want to let me interview you, write a post, or just share some ideas you'd like me to explore? Send them to I'm looking forward to this new chapter.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Protected bikeways are even more useful in winter

Hey folks, this is the first post by your new Minneapolizer, Lindsey Wallace. I'll be crossposting between this site and Biking in Mpls for awhile. To stay on top of posts, follow my page on Facebook.
Photo courtesy of Robin Garwood
This summer, I volunteered for the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition at Open Streets. My role consisted of standing around with a sign and encouraging people biking by to try out a temporary protected bikeway. This was part of a block sectioned off as a protected bikeway, with some fake planters and chalk. The idea was to give people an idea of what biking in a protected bikeway would feel like.

While volunteering there, the most frequent question I got was, "How are these going to be maintained in winter?" People were concerned. They were concerned that the city was going to spend money on facilities that would be costly or impossible to maintain amidst ice and snow.

It may only be early March, but I'm fairly comfortable saying that winter is over (although you can thank me for the blizzard I've undoubtedly summoned with these words). Protected bikeways weren't a problem this winter. As you can see from the photo above, Minneapolis has done a bang-up job of keeping up the Oak Street protected bikeway cleared. Robin Garwood took that photo, and posted the following on Facebook the day after a snowfall:
"The Oak Street protected bikeway was SO GREAT this morning. Fully protected from any potentially skidding cars, good surface, no parked cars (or moving ones) encroaching on my space. 
It's funny: one of the major concerns we've heard about protected bikeways has been winter. It snows here! What will we do to clear a protected bikeway? 
Oak Street is a magnificent example. It's plowable, and it's plowed. The parking areas, where they are adjacent to the bike facility, are so well-defined that all the parked cars are in the appropriate place. And the end result is a facility that actually provides MORE benefit in the winter than in the warmer months of the year. I say that because the "baseline" of no facility or standard bike lanes is so much worse in the winter - and the experience on Oak Street is as good today as it was in September. 
We should build 50 miles of these."
I agree. It makes much more sense to have protected bikeways in the winter. In the summer, roads aren't slippery, there's more daylight, and drivers are more accustomed to seeing bikers around. It's easier to bike on bike boulevards, side streets, and unprotected bike paths. In the winter, there are more obstacles and more reasons people might be afraid. If we can build high-quality protected bikeways that are easily maintained, these will become more useful in the winter than in the summer. People will be able to get around without fear, and that'll encourage more people to give winter cycling a shot.

Let's build them, let's build them all.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

minneapolize has a new minneapolizer

After several years of writing for minneapolize I'm moving on and Lindsey Wallace is taking over the blog. Watch here for amazing writing about biking in the Twin Cities, urban design, healthy living and all the things that accrue to our community from active transportation.

If she will let me, I may write a post from time to time but minneapolize is Lindsey's thing now. Follow her! You won't regret it.

For a while posts will be re-posted to/from

Check out Facebook too:

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Downtown Bike center. Is this the next big thing for Minneapolis?

After almost a year hiatus, minneapolize is back with a new contributor, Marc Berg

Every bike commuter I know has an anecdote of being asked by a semi-amazed coworker, “you bike to work? How do you do it?”  After answering with a brief explanation of the route, and how little time it actually takes, the commuter will attempt to persuade the coworker to try it out someday.  The coworker’s response, frequently, is “yeah, I should do it, because I need the exercise, but” – and, the familiar excuses follow – “I wouldn’t want to get all sweaty.  I need to look professional at my job.  And if I had to change a flat, or fix something else, my hands would get all messy.  What if it rains and my stuff gets soaked.  I just don’t see how I could deal with all that hassle that you put up with.  I’ll probably keep driving.”

In his 2011 paper “Trends and Determinants of Cycling in the Washington, DC Region,” Prof. Ralph Buehler of Virginia Tech analyzed data regarding over 5,000 bike commuters and found that individuals who had access to trip-end facilities – that is, showers, lockers, and secure bike parking – were nearly five times more likely to commute by bike than if those facilities were not available.  Thus, if our workplaces have what we need to comfortably transition from cyclist to office worker, we are more likely to want to bike to work. 

                                                                   with permission of Bike & Park

With all the things that Minneapolis does to make itself into The Number One Biking City in America, it’s surprising that we don’t already have a public bike center in downtown.  A “bike center” is a comprehensive, trip-end facility for the bike commuter, offering secure bike storage, showers, storage lockers, changing rooms, bike repair equipment and/or service, bike-related retail, and food/beverage offerings.  Bike centers exist outside downtown – the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center on the Midtown Greenway, and the UofM Bike Center near Stadium Village.  Within downtown, Target Commons, at Nicollet and 10th Street, has a bike center available to its corporate employees.  According to the website, bike centers can also be found in other U.S. cities, including Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Louis, Washington DC, Long Beach, Santa Monica, and Santa Barbara.  I’ve located yet others in Indianapolis, Seattle, Las Vegas, and Tempe.  Portland doesn’t have one – not yet, at least. 

Isn’t it time for downtown Minneapolis to set a goal of building the best bike center in the country? It would make perfect sense:  we have a relatively compact downtown, with most buildings connected by the skyway system, or within a short walking distance of it.   The terrain is mainly flat, served by a network of trails and bike lanes.  According to the most recently available data, approximately 60 percent of the jobs in Minneapolis are located downtown.  About half of the people who work downtown live within a 10-mile radius – a bikeable distance for most.

In addition, a first-rate downtown bike center would:

1.   Show that biking is a low-cost transit alternative to those who cannot afford to pay for downtown parking, but who want or need more independence than allowed by buses and trains.  Many people on modest incomes dread the idea of taking a job downtown for these very reasons. In other U.S. cities with bike centers, memberships are a fraction of the cost of downtown car parking.  At the Chicago facility in Millennium Park, an annual membership costs only $170 – under a dollar per workday. 

2.    Serve as a powerful, conspicuous example of bike commuting as a viable lifestyle choice to everyone else.  Minneapolis wants to reach 15 percent bicycle mode share by 2020, but isn’t yet quite sure as to how to do it.  A downtown bike center would demonstrate that bike commuting is realistic for everyone in the “interested but unsure” group of persons physically able to pedal the distance into downtown.  And, people who start biking to their downtown job may start biking to the grocery store, restaurant, mall, or theater. This, in turn, could have a multiplier effect, prompting people to demand trip-end facilities for bike commuters in other locations. 

3.   Promote economic growth.  A bike center could revitalize a vacant ground floor space of a skyway-connected building into a dynamic destination for the bike-commuting consumers, who, in turn, will patronize nearby cafes, restaurants, and retail shops.  And, given all  the recent press about how millennials and those in the “creative class”  prefer to live in cities conducive to a car-free lifestyle, having the best downtown bike center in the country would be a strong selling point for bringing talented people to Minneapolis.

4.    Bring Minneapolis international recognition for doing something exceptionally well.  Our downtown bike center could set a new benchmark for urban trip-end facilities, showing the rest of the world the very best in design, amenities, outreach, and user engagement, and recognized as the best facility of its kind for motivating people to commute by bike.  It could show off our big players and innovators in the bike industry, with racks from Dero, tools from Park Tool, parts and accessories supplied by QBP, a Zap tower, and a sizeable Nice Ride station near the entrance – all things we like to brag about.

5.    Cost very little, when compared with many other types of public improvements that are built on a regular basis with little or no controversy.  The other U.S. bike centers mentioned above cost in the range of mid-six figures to a few million to construct – less than the cost of most highway rest stops or park-and-ride facilities.  The Chicago facility, for example – which accommodates over 300 bikes, and has 16 showers – was built for $3.2 million.  The smaller Cleveland facility was built for approximately $600,000.  In the vast scale of public works projects, bike centers are relatively small investments.

To make this a reality, we’ll first need to get all of the relevant stakeholders – civic leaders, businesses, bike advocates, and nonprofit foundations – in the same room, and on the same page.  We’ll need a comprehensive study of where trip-end facilities are most needed and will have the biggest impact, with a large-scale public outreach effort to get input on what services and amenities are most important to the people who we want to encourage to bike. 

Of course we will have to figure out how to pay for it, and how to create a sustainable operating model.  The majority of the other U.S. bike centers are operated as a public-private partnership, where the facility is owned by a local government and operated by a private company, which pays either nominal rent, or has a revenue-sharing agreement.  Because user fees alone are unlikely to cover operating costs (unless we charge something like $200 per month to use the facility, which we don’t want to do), we will need a supplemental source of funding.  For example, the Chicago – Millennium Park bike center sold naming rights to McDonald’s for $5 million to offset operating costs. 

If you could design a bike center for downtown Minneapolis, where would it be?  What would it have?


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down That Wall

I have been thinking about the headline quote since I go the note that today marks the last day for public comment on the St. Paul Bike Plan.

You can read about the plan and make a last minute comment here.

Having reviewed, commented, supported, and lamented the speed with which things will happen, I'm glad, as a St. Paulite, that Reuben Collins (St. Paul bike/ped planner) and his team made this plan.

As part of a committee connected to the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, I help draft language in support of the plan. Part of our comments addressed the Downtown loop intended to be an off-street bikeway that will circle (square?) downtown such that anywhere on the loop, cyclists will be within a couple blocks of their destination. We recommended the legs of the loop be moved from St. Peter to Wabasha and from Kellogg Parkway to 4th Street. In both cases, cyclists will have greater and closer access to retail businesses who will benefit from the traffic.

Why do we need this plan? Whenever I ride to a downtown destination, I take either Summit Ave (dangerous for other reasons I won't address here) or the path along the 35E parkway. In both cases, I end up on the Thompson Avenue bike path behind United Hospital. At the end of a couple of blocks, I'm always met with this sign:
"Bike Route ENDS"

The sign should really say, "Biking Ends HERE".

I've always wanted to take a photograph of this sign with hundreds of bikes piled into/against it as though there was nowhere to go. Truth is, it doesn't feel safe to continue from here. First one is met with the 7th Street, Kellogg interchange and then immediately after the 7th Street, I94 interchange. Neither feel safe to walk much less ride across. This is only one way into Downtown but similar troubles abound with others. The plan attempts to link the loop downtown with each of these ways in.

While one can argue about the way in which this will be done, the hope is, it will be done. God indeed is in the details but not going forward is a worse fate for cyclists and businesses than completing this plan, even as it's currently designed. If we don't build it, St. Paul will again be relegated to a poor second cousin to our neighbor to the west. This will include the city's ability to attract residents, companies, and employees.

I attended a couple of the meetings for public comment and found the audience to be friendly and supportive of the plan with the exception of a few business owners and friends who protested the loss of on street parking spaces near their stores. I wish they could fully understand the implication of the loop and the experiences that businesses in Portland, OR felt when the first on-street bike corrals appeared. Retailers at those places were angry and afraid their business would fall off. Once the bikes could park in from of their stores, they quickly understood the phenomenon of cyclists spending more than motorists at local center-city establishments that the anger quickly faded. Now, over 150 spaces removed later, Portland business are lining up for these corrals.

So why the allusion to Mr. Gorbochev? I kept thinking of this because I simply want to say to Mayor Coleman:


And build it quickly.