Biking around town would be a lot more enjoyable if it weren’t for the constant fear of cars speeding by. In Minneapolis, a community coalition called Bikeways for Everyone is hoping to get more cyclists on the street by building 30 miles of protected bike lanes — dedicated zones that put a physical barrier between car traffic and riders — by 2020. These bikeways, also known as “cycle tracks,” not only provide bikers with safer places to ride, but also create more pedestrian-friendly streetscapes and opportunities for appealing greenspace. In commercial areas, these types of lanes also promote local businesses by increasing foot traffic. According to a study from the New York Department of Transportation, businesses along 9th Avenue in New York City, where the country’s first protected bike lane was constructed, saw an increase of 49 percent in retail sales. But then again, this should come as no surprise given research that bike riders spend more at local businesses, simply because it’s easier for them to hop off a bike than it is to park a car.
While Minneapolis has incorporated elements of protected bike lanes into some areas, the city has yet to construct one that is a fully functioning. Plans to build a protected bikeway downtown on Washington Avenue are waiting to be approved (construction would start in 2015), so in the meantime, Bikeways for Everyone decided to test the waters and get the public on board. Last summer, volunteers gathered together to construct 15 plywood planters and set them up at each of the city’s four Open Streets events, creating a “pop-up” protected bike lane. Volunteers flagged bikers to ride through the protected area, and at the end, asked them to sign a petition to create permanent lanes like these across the city. “You don’t need a whole lot of space to get the point across that you have a space to ride your bike that’s protected from cars and pedestrians,” Andrew Kuncel, one of the event organizers, told People for Bikes.
The demonstration cost about $600, but can be done for a lot less using cheaper materials, and can be implemented in any city (with local approval, of course). The idea is to show citizens how nice — and safe — bike riding can be, even in areas that are predominantly car-friendly, and encourage them to advocate for protected bike lanes in their cities. “My vision is that this campaign is successful, we have 30 miles of protected bikeway, and I can bring my kid everywhere we need to go … on a bike,” says Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition President Molly Sullivan. “And that bicycle ridership increases throughout the city so much so that the city says, ‘This is not a ‘nice to have.’ This is a ‘need to have.'”