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Pedal power: Bike ridership up as grants improve trails

If it seems like there are more bikes around the urban area lately it's probably because there are — a lot more, at least in Minneapolis. 
 
The number of bikes counted on trails at three locations was up 30 percent during April, May and June from the same period last year, said Don Pflaum, the city's bicycle coordinator who termed the number "staggering."  
 
And if the St. Paul-based Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) sees continued success with its "Bike Walk Twin Cities" initiative, you'll be seeing a lot more cyclists.

TLC's Lea Schuster on Thursday announced five more "Bike Walk" grants totaling $1.8 million, part of a $21.5 million national pilot being administered by the organization. Last year, the group awarded $7 million for 30 projects around the Twin Cities, all aimed at encouraging more walking and bicycling through improved trails and dedicated lanes, reduction of conflicts with automobiles, landscape improvements and public education. 

 
Already, Minneapolis and St. Paul have more than 250 miles of bicycle lanes and trails. In some locations — like the popular Greenway in South Minneapolis — congestion can sometimes be a problem during the heavy ride time between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.  
 
But in all, Pflaum said, Minneapolis is beginning to see a major payoff in its years-long effort to attract more bicycle ridership as the city tries to overtake Portland, Ore., as the nation's leader in bicycling. Even so, Minneapolis ridership is still far behind many European cities, especially the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany.
 
There's little doubt that the rising price of gasoline is helping push people to ride bikes and walk short distances, but there's also evidence of more recreational bike riders as access to trails and road conditions improve. 
 
"More and more employers are supporting bike riding," said Joan Pasiuk, who directs TLC's Bike Walk Twin Cities initiative. She pointed to Best Buy's headquarters in Richfield, which provides bike parking as well as showers and change facilities. 
 
One of the grants awarded Thursday is aimed at improving conditions along Oliver Avenue that parallels the Penn Avenue arterial heavily used by Best Buy employees at the headquarters complex at Penn and I-494.
 
A key objective of the Bike Walk Twin Cities initiative is to target people who drive on trips of less than two miles, which account for 40 percent of all trips in the metropolitan area. These distances are ideal for bicycling and even walking, Pasiuk said. 
 
As bicycle ridership increases there's also evidence that it's attracting the attention of political leaders. Three mayors joined Schuster at Thursday's announcement of the Bike Walk grants: R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis, Debbie Goettel of Richfield and Craig Klausing of Roseville. Rybak announced that within two years Nicollet Mall will be reopened to weekday bike traffic. 
 
For its part, Metro Transit provides for bike racks on all buses and the Hiawatha light rail train, and it has a "guaranteed ride home" for frequent bikers who are delayed by weather or have a home emergency. More bike lockers and safe parking sites are being established in both cities. 
 
Meanwhile, designers of the new Twins' baseball stadium in the Minneapolis Warehouse District have accommodated bikes by providing easy access to major trails from western suburbs and, even, by extending the trail through the stadium complex for access to the Mississippi River. 
 
Go here for metro maps showing bike trails.

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