Foot-Powered Progress

June 27, 2011 By Conrad deFiebre, Transportation Fellow

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Bicycling as a daily commuting option has doubled statewide, including in Minneapolis and St. Paul, since 2002, thanks to smart urban planning, a bike-friendly corporate community and a hardy citizenry.

There has been an ‘if you build it, they will come’ trend. When communities invest in non-motorized infrastructure, more people tend to bicycle and walk to work and school.

This represents a dramatic policy shift from decades past, when transportation development meant laying pavement for motor vehicles and little else. Suburbs grew on the assumption that everyone would drive everywhere. Cheap gasoline and big-box shopping went hand-in-hand with that mindset.


 

However, Minnesota’s nation-leading planning and policy efforts demonstrate non-motorized travel is a viable commuting choice for increasing numbers of us. The U.S. Census’ American Community Survey found that more than 96,000 Minnesotans walked or biked to work in 2009, a 29 percent increase since 2002. Statewide bicycle commuting has more than doubled in the same period.

The League of American Bicyclists has honored seven Minnesota cities and 23 companies as “Bicycle Friendly.” They range from Fortune 100 companies to three-person enterprises.

While Minneapolis is America’s best bicycling city, it also leads comparable Midwestern cities in people walking to work. Per capita, more Minneapolis workers use foot and pedal power in their daily commute than in Denver, St. Louis, Milwaukee and even Chicago.

Bicycling and walking provide an economical, environmentally-friendly transportation mode that helps reduce road congestion and preserve motorway infrastructure.

Still, there’s more to be done in Minnesota to rebalance decades of near-exclusive public and private support for motor travel:

  • State and local governments should keep adding and improving bike-walk infrastructure as long as these investments continue to boost active transport’s market share.
  • Schools should establish safe and healthy bicycle education programs to complement driver training that emphasizes adequate regard for cyclists and pedestrians sharing the right-of-way.
  • Traffic laws and enforcement should hold drivers, cyclists and pedestrians equally responsible for safe travel for all.
  • Our public and private sectors should expand efforts to encourage non-motorized transportation, including bicycle sharing, promotions and incentives for biking and walking commuters who don’t need expensive employer-provided automobile parking.

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