I’ve now lived for one month in the most bike-able city in the country and have the quads to show for it. Apart from the physical benefits of biking everywhere I go, I wish to argue there are psychological, economic and social benefits I’m reaping. I get to enjoy the beautiful summer weather. I don’t need to spend money on bus fare. I can clear my mind over the course of a 40 minute ride to Sibley.
But even in America’s most-bikeable city, divides persist.
Allow me to jump into the zone of broad generalizations for a moment.
First of all who owns bikes?
-Hipsters. Most likely a road bike from at least two decades ago, with a rack and/or basket suffixing and/or prefixing it. (Yes, I’m guilty).
-Racers. Outfitted in spandex on bikes worth the equivalent of a used car.
-Visitors. Thanks to the Nice Ride program you can rent a bike for spins around town.
-Mini-bikers. Tall guys on much too small bikes.
-Commuters. Heavy duty panniers, fenders. The whole sha-bang.
-Bike mechanics. Relatively nice bikes tricked out with all the gear. Most likely wearing a cycling cap and carrying a Timbuktu messenger bag.
And where do they bike?
-The Greenway. Glorious 5.5 mile trail cutting across South Minneapolis. Mecca.
-Bike trails along the Mississippi and the lakes. (Let’s think about who lives on the water front? Hint: I probably couldn’t afford to live on the waterfront).
-The side of the road. An engendered past time in this land of bike trails.
So what’s wrong with this picture?
-Where are the ladies? Not out in equal numbers to the guys. Safety, attire, cultural limitations, bike machismo; it’s hard to pin it to any one thing.
-Where can you bike in low-income neighborhoods? North Minneapolis has about zero bike infrastructure compared to Southwest or other parts of the city. Same goes for University Ave in St Paul.
–What services are provided to encourage biking? Programs like Nice Ride (http://www.niceridemn.org/) make biking visible and celebrated. Well, if you’re in Uptown, Downtown or the U of M that is. (check out the full story: http://insightnews.com/community/6161-bicycle-apartheid).
-How do you pay for these things? Bike shops abound in the Twin Cities. But walking into a shop where any bike is over $200 can’t be an encouraging experience for everyone.
Fortunately, a lot of people and organizations out there have noticed these disparities and are working to remedy them.
Sibley Bike Depot for starts. They’ve been working for a long time on increasing bike accessibility for everybody in the metro. Check out their Bike Library program: http://www.sibleybikedepot.org/community-partners-bike-library-0
The Grease Rag is one group empowering women and transsexuals to get out and bike. http://greaseragmpls.wordpress.com/
The Cedar Riverside branch of ExCo, in a largely Somali neighborhood, is planning a women’s bike maintenance class for the Fall. http://www.excotc.org/about.
I’m sure there are many more. Let’s just make sure that biking, an amazing alternative to driving, doesn’t become a dividing factor, the way cars have, between the haves and the have-nots.