From the Minnesota Bicycle Summit 2011
Nearly 175 people from throughout the state of Minnesota joined the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota at the inaugural Minnesota Bicycle Summit on February 28, 2011. Featuring a mix of politicians, industry organizations, and interest groups, the Summit highlighted current successes and challenges for cycling in Minnesota. The current economic climate puts funding for cycling projects at risk both in-state and federally. Summit attendees learned valuable facts to help stand up for bikes in policy discussions, seasoned with a healthy dose of cheerleading from Summit speakers.
Mayor RT Rybak, Minneapolis
We kicked off our morning with Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak at the podium. Minneapolis was named Bicycling’s #1 city for cycling in 2010, and has benefitted from participation in the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program — as well as from strong support from Minneapolis’ mayor and other politicians!
Mayor Rybak is an engaging speaker, and with a crowd with a significant mix of Minneapolis citizens, the group was receptive to his messages: Saluting the economic power of cycling, and the need for cyclists and friends to keep pushing government officials for infrastructure and investment.
Per Mayor Rybak, cycling is economic because it reduces traffic congestion, which reduces productivity and is a critical business issue. It also is a quality of life issue — left unsaid is the suggestion that quality of life improves productivity, because it attracts talent to live within desirable metro areas. It is also economic because it can create jobs and attract tourism dollars — he cites his upcoming trip to Amsterdam to promote Minneapolis tourism to the Dutch, as there are direct flights between MSP-AMS. The cycling culture and bikeshare system can help attract Europeans used to using cycling as a common transport mode.
Cycling is an example of people leading government in a citizen movement. Programs like Complete Streets encourage the rethinking of infrastructure, and programs like Safe Routes to Schools speak to values, not just transportation options.
Closing on a favorite note, Mayor Rybak exhorted the crowd to continue to push the agenda and make known the views of cyclists and citizens. As ever, he made the popular observation that “Portland is just an avenue in Minneapolis!” to bring his part of the Minnesota Bicycle Summit to a close on a note of laughter.
Senator Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont)
Following Mayor Rybak, State Senator Julie Rosen of Fairmont addressed the Summit. Senator Rosen is Chair of the Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications Committee, Vice Chair of the Health & Human Services Committee, and is also a member of the Capital Investment Committee. An avid cyclist, she told the crowd that while many might ask why they would ride their bicycle on a day like today, she’d ask “Why wouldn’t you ride your bicycle on a day like today?” with its bright sun and reasonable temperature.
Senator Rosen told stories about purchasing her bike (a Serrotta), and riding RAGBRAI multiple times (not a piece of cake — there are hills and wind, but it’s a great party, she says). She also talked about key policy issues facing cyclists and the Legislature. She said that there was “unlikely” to be a bonding bill this biennium, but that ongoing use of Legacy funds would be good for cycling in Minnesota. A key concern for her is Minnesota’s obesity rate. She feels there is a tremendous amount of work to be done for both cycling and health in the state. She loves Complete Streets and says that while it’s been confusing to some, it’s progress for all users of streets. She is concerned by attempts to roll back smoking bans in Minnesota, and encouraged cyclists to speak out against these attempts, as it’s an issue health-oriented cyclists should care about as well.
Her tips for presenting cycling to legislators on either side of the aisle? Zero in on return on investment. Cycling and cycling infrastructure is an investment that creates jobs, reduces health costs, and improves overall quality of life in Minnesota in measurable ways. Such messages will have ongoing merit during budget discussions, even as the economy improves.
Barb Thoman, Transit for Livable Communities
Barb Thoman, Executive Director of Transit for Livable Communities, followed Senator Rosen to discuss the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program and Bike/Walk Twin Cities. She recapped how the pilot came to be in 2005 under the leadership of Representative James Oberstar, and the vision of accelerating bicycle network growth via targeted investment, and evaluation of that investment. Minneapolis is one of four pilot sites nationally, and has received more than $10 million in federal dollars for the program.
As part of the pilot, TLC do regular cyclist counts — monthly in many cases, with daily automated counts on some corridors. Other study has been done throughout the project to quantify results for communication to legislators. Per Ms. Thoman, the pilot is more than an infrastructure program: It includes bicycle education for cyclists, law enforcement, public works officials, and elected officials to better understand cycling, as well as funds to enhance enforcement of bicycle and vehicle law. The goal is to drive a mode shift and encourage cycling as a valid modal choice.
At the same time, much of the money has been spent on infrastructure. The Hiawatha bikeway to downtown will be completed in 2011, and other funds have been used on a variety of on- and off-road routes, sidewalk connections, enhanced pedestrian crossings, and more. A variety of studies to support planning are also underway, including studies of problem intersections.
Ms. Thoman was able to announce three new TLC grants today totaling more than $1 million:
- $62,000 to the city of Minneapolis for improvements to Franklin Avenue through the Seward neighborhood, including crosswalk countdown timers, marked crosswalks, and curb extensions. The project may also include bicycle lanes.
- $110,000 to the city of Fridley to fund new sidewalks and bike lanes on Main Street from 57th Avenue to 61st Avenue. This will help connect the surrounding community to the Fridley North Star commuter rail station, and is part of Fridley’s new comprehensive bicycle/pedestrian plan. Fridley will be contributing an additional $67,000 to the project, and an additional program will implement bicycle parking through the enhanced corridor.
- Finally, an additional $1 million grant will be made to the Nice Ride Minnesota program. With matching funds of an additional $500,000 from Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, the funds will be used to expand Nice Ride to north Minneapolis, and across the river in St. Paul.
Ms. Thoman ended her segment on a somber note, noting the interconnectedness of transit, cycling, and pedestrian access. Transit funding, including funding for buses, is under threat at the state and federal levels. She encouraged the audience to speak up for these funds, as they provide important links for alternate transportation and help enable the total network.
Nick Mason, Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota
Nick Mason, Education Director and Technical Program Associate of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, gave a presentation chock full of facts that advocates can use to argue for bicycle investment. Key to his presentation is the notion that bicyclists are NOT a special interest group — more than 2.6 million Minnesotans have ridden a bicycle in the last year, and cycling has an economic impact of more than $1 billion annually in the state.
Some key facts offered included:
- Minnesota has two recognized Bicycle Friendly Communities — Minneapolis and Rochester.
- Minnesota has more Bicycle Friendly Businesses than any other state, employing more than 38,000 people.
- Twin Cities bicycle retail, wholesale and manufacturing is worth more than $300 million annually.
- Minnesota is home to the largest bike tool manufacturer in the US (Park Tool), the largest bike parts distributor in the world (Quality Bicycle Products), and more than 160 small business bicycle shops.
- A recent University of Minnesota Tourism Center study determined that cycling creates more than 5,000 jobs in the state, and generates more than $1 billion in annual revenue — more than hunting and snowmobiling combined. Due to study limitations, it is believed that the study actually understates economic impact!
- Minnesota was named the Best Trails State in 2010 by American Trails.
Nick also mentioned a study in Wisconsin that suggested that more than $318 million in health costs could be saved if just 20% of all trips under 2 miles in Madison and Milwaukee alone that are now made by automobile were replaced by bicycle trips. Given that 40-60% of all trips made in the US are under 2 miles, this suggests the potential for massive cost savings in health and traffic congestion should mode shift be encouraged and occur.
Another topic Nick discussed were findings that 60% of transport cyclists are interested in cycling more, but concerned about safety, compared to 32% of people who are not interested in using bikes for transport, and the 8% of cyclists who are either strong and fearless, or enthusiastic and confident — the core cycling community. He discussed the challenge of describing benefit of cycling investment to the 32% while investing in infrastructure and programs to enable the 60% who are interested but concerned.
Nick’s statistics helped lead in to the portion of the program focused on the legislative agenda, and how to be an effective citizen lobbyist — summarized in a separate post.
Representative Leon Lillie (DFL-North Saint Paul)
State Representative Leon Lillie of North Saint Paul closed out the morning. He told his personal cycling story — how he bought a bike at a pawn shop in early 2009 and became hooked, upgrading his bike and then riding across the United States in the fall of that same year. He feels that cycling is a lifestyle, and believes that we can all play a part in instilling the lifestyle and its values in Minnesota’s youth. He feels a key goal for him in encouraging cycling is to get more kids on bicycles and to start them on a life of better health.
After Representative Lillie finished, the group lined up for lunch, which would include speeches by Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, and a pep talk from former US Representative James Oberstar.