So, there’s been a bunch of buzz about Minneapolis and bicycles lately. Grist is all a-flutter about Minneapolis as a bicycle town. There’s the kerfuffle about the Minneapolis bicycle coordinator hiring, as evidenced in this Star-Tribune story (and the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition’s recommended response). There was a bunch of gushing praise about bike-sharing and infrastructure following the Safe Routes to Schools conference.
Regardless of how one approaches the coordinator issue, one thing is going to become more and more clear in the near future. Minneapolis has become used to being able to do big, fancy stuff for bike/ped infrastructure thanks to being one of the pilot sites for the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program (NMTPP). And the Grist article rightly calls out that progress in Minneapolis has been both due to investment and commitment. But the future holds a lot more commitment than funding to do much.
Realistically, the NMTPP is not going to be extended. Hell, right now on the federal level there is debate about even extending the gas tax (once practically considered automatic), let alone keeping dedicated funding for cycling in the transportation bill. The odds on the pilot program becoming a program program and spreading to other municipalities, let alone getting more funding? Fairly laughable.
Minneapolis and Saint Paul are also reeling from reductions in Local Government Aid from the state of Minnesota. Finances are a struggle. There’s not going to be generous additional funding from the cities — and not just because of the kinds of reactions seen in the comments on the Star-Tribune story about the bicycle position with the city, although you have to believe that’ll factor in, but also because these are cities having issues with basic street maintenance right now, let alone improvement and upgrades. When you can’t fill a pothole or buy a new snowplow to replace one that is at double its recommended service age, fancy street upgrades aren’t likely either. The ROI of bike improvements versus other improvements isn’t an issue when there are no improvements being made.
The seriousness with which Minneapolis treats bicycle safety and infrastructure is great. It will make a difference going forward. There are plenty of ways the bicycle coordinator position can continue to impact cycling in the city, and work on improvements. But I think cyclists locally are going to have to get used to improvements being less showy. Funds may still be available from various sources and grants, but the net total will be far less than previous. You’ll likely see more paint, and less concrete.
At least until economic conditions improve.