The following post was written by Hilary Reeves, communications director, Bike Walk Twin Cities, for the Southwest Journal.
When you hear the word “bicycling,” do you think of a weekend ride around the lakes or about grabbing your bike to go meet friends for breakfast or to make a run for a few things at the store? An increasing number of local residents are using their bikes for getting around, a.k.a., transportation, but for some, it’s still a leap to think of the bike you ride on weekends as the bike you could ride more often: to work, running errands or simply to get from point A to B.
Around the nation, there are more people using their bikes to commute. A 2011 survey of 55 major U.S. cities found that on average, the number of regular bicycle commuters increased by 70 percent between 2000 and 2009, according to The Atlantic Cites, a blog that explores ideas and issues facing cities and neighborhoods. The survey, which was based on data from the 2000 U.S. Census and the 2005-2009 American Community Survey, found that bike commuting in Minneapolis increased by 58 percent during this time period.
Even with this increase, the city of Minneapolis would like to see more people choosing to bike to work. Minneapolis leads all Midwestern cities in bike commuting, and is among the top U.S. cities for bike commuting, but is still well under Portland’s nation-leading 6 percent. The city has set a goal of 7 percent of all commuters biking to work by 2014, which is double the current estimate of 3.5 percent bike commuters in the city.
Minneapolis’ infrastructure is prepared to handle more bike commuters, thanks to an infusion of new bike routes that have opened in the last few years. If you’re wondering where this surge came from, a lot is due to $25 million of federal transportation funds. Minneapolis and three other communities (Sheboygan, Wis., Columbia, Mo., and Marin County, Calif.) received these funds to see how far they could encourage bicycling and walking as ways of getting around.
According to the city’s annual report on bicycling, there are now 167 miles of bikeways on Minneapolis streets – a 75 percent increase just from 2010. The city now has its first Bicycle Master Plan, and a full-time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator to lead its efforts.
But the commute trip is only one kind of journey that could be made by bike. While the average work commute (13 miles one-way in the 7-county metro) is too far for some people to bike, about 40 percent of all the trips people make are within 3 miles. Bicycling 3 miles takes about 15 minutes and often can be quicker than going by car, and is frequently loads more fun.
Minneapolis residents such as Masami Kawazato and Aaron Merrill, who live in south Minneapolis, use their bikes to get to work downtown and to run errands. They have not owned a car since 2003. Bicycling has become ingrained into their lives.
“Part of my motivation to bike is my background,” Kawazato explains. “I’m originally from Japan and lived there from birth through 6 years old and then again during high school. There, it’s common to bike commute and run errands like grocery shopping.”
The couple regularly encourages others to try bike commuting, as they do. “Try it at least once,” Kawazato says. “It doesn’t have to be every day right away. You could take the bike every Thursday to start or get a Nice Ride bike when it’s a nice day. For any women interested in biking but concerned about wardrobe, I’ve found that you can bike in just about any kind of clothing.”
If you’re interested in starting to use your bike for commuting or running errands, here are six tips to keep in mind:
1-Make bike commuting a routine. As Kawazato suggests, start by bike commuting once a week, on a specific day. Once you get accustomed to it, you can try adding additional days to your routine.
2-Add variety to your routes. Although Minneapolis has many miles of well-marked bikeways, don’t feel confined to taking the same route each day. Mix it up a bit, explore new routes, and learn new things about the city.
3. Be safe. Without question, always wear a helmet, and be sure you have at least a working white light on the front of your light and a reflector or blinking red light (better) on the back of your bike. Be predictable in traffic, obey traffic laws, and always signal your turns. By doing so, you aid not only yourself, but also all other bicyclists.
4. Security. Invest in a high-quality U-shaped lock to secure your bike to a bike rack, or sign post, and definitely not to fences, parking meters, street signals, or trees..
5. Attire. Wear comfortable clothing while bicycling, and invest in quality raingear if you bike commute regularly. If your job requires more formal attire, take it with you for changing, or keep a set of work clothing at work.
6. Seek companions. Bike commuting is safer and more fun when you can ride with others. Encourage friends or co-workers to regularly ride with you. Knowing you are riding with others will also be an incentive to stick with your commuting.
If you would like to be part of a national effort that encourages people to bike for transportation and recreation, go to www.nationalbikechallenge.org. It runs through Aug. 31.