NEW YORK – It became clear to me only after moving to New York City that one of the most special things about Minneapolis is its noted bike-friendliness. In Minneapolis, and not here, there is a distinct, mutual respect between bikers and drivers that results in safely shared road space and a general feeling of security.
Here, there is a tremendous lack of appreciation for bikes; I have been chastised by angry pedestrians and drivers for biking where the law tells me to (the road) and scolded by a gaggle New York Police Department officers in a paddy wagon for dismounting where road meets sidewalk. I’m not suggesting we cyclists deserve rights superior to car drivers, sidewalk users or anyone else; I’m merely trying to get New York officials and bike advocates to take a long look at the many parts of Minneapolis’ system, because it really works.
There seems to be a prevailing reluctance here to accept two-wheeled transport as a valid means to get from Point A to Point B. You see it not only in cavalier motorists, but also in pedestrians, who apparently assume marked bike lanes are offshoots of their sidewalks, or who don’t think to look both ways — including into bike lanes — before they cross the road.
In Minneapolis, a general awareness of cyclists helps to keep everyone safe. And the city government deserves kudos for implementing infrastructure (such as designated bike lanes, institutional support for commuter cyclists and of course its phenomenal flagship bike-share program) that has fostered not only tolerance and acceptance, but also deserved respect, for bike culture. Bike lanes paved throughout the city and miles upon miles of bike and pedestrian pathways that serve as arteries for nonmotorized transportation implicitly show community support for an ever-growing population of commuter and leisure cyclists. In Minneapolis, biking is so gloriously celebrated that even Target Field has bike racks wrapped around it.
In NYC, tolerance is low, contempt high
It’s very much a chicken-and-the-egg thing; the cycling community can flourish in Minneapolis because it’s clearly supported and safe-feeling. Imagine the headache many New Yorkers could spare themselves, and each other, if they only took to bicycles instead of cars. Even the subway — still a great convenience that’s pretty friendly to our planet — is a less efficient, crowded mess, particularly during rush hours. To nurture growth in the number of New York City cyclists, though, people must feel safe on bikes and be protected. New York is not managing that. Despite the fact that it expects to have its own bike-share program in place next year — which is exciting news that I hope will help make roadways more harmonious — tolerance is low and contempt is high out there on the streets.
The good news is that New York has at least one organization dedicated to promoting alternative transportation in the city (fittingly named Transportation Alternatives). Reports, advocacy and a tireless commitment to fighting for cyclists’ rights in City Hall are hallmarks of the nonprofit’s efforts. Still, I wonder why we need to try so hard when cities like Minneapolis seamlessly weave cycling into the very fabric of the city; it’s undoubtedly a draw.
Neighborhood backlash gets heard
Bike-lane backlash from New York neighborhood residents who don’t want the extra traffic passing through and scathing critiques of cyclists in some of the city’s publications seem to carry some real weight in the court of public opinion. Even Anthony Weiner, back when he was merely a Democratic congressman not feeding hungry media with his disastrous fall from grace, promised to rip out bike lanes if elected New York City mayor in the next election.
As I return to Minneapolis for a visit this summer, I’m excited to use the highly successful Nice Ride bike share that took root last year. I plan to enjoy a week of safer-feeling bike rides alongside my friends at home, nearly all of whom have and regularly ride bicycles. When I return to Brooklyn, I’ll still take to the streets on my beloved bike, but it sure won’t be the same as it at home. At least not yet.
Karlee Weinmann is a Minneapolis expat and freelance writer living in Brooklyn. She’s on Twitter: @karleeweinman