Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Time for sanity on bikes

The city Minneapolis prides itself on its elaborate system of bike paths. The city's fringes are girded by massive bike bridges. Our downtown areas are rife with an intricate system of bike only lanes. We have spent literally billions of dollars maintaining arguably the most biker-friendly environment in the United States.


Lost in the enthusiasm for all things bicycle is the fact that the majority of Minneapolis residents rarely, if ever, ride a bike. Only 1 in 20 commuters ride their bikes to work, and that doesn't even count those who commute from the suburbs.

Recently, as part of an overhaul of downtown's traffic flow, a new system of bike lanes was established to protect cyclists. In particular, with bike lanes situated on the left side of traffic, cyclists were vulnerable to left-turning drivers who are unaccustomed to checking their left-side mirror before turning. Of course, this scenario was the product of a previous overhaul, prompted by cyclists getting hit by car doors on the right side.

Now, Cars are asked to park 3 ft. away from the curb, making room for a bike-only lane. Soon, cars will be asked to simply hover, allowing bikers free reign of the streets.

None of this is really a big deal, except that it costs money. Lots of money.

The bicycling community has been remarkably adept at influencing city leadership to their agenda. This stands to reason. People who ride bicycles vote, and vote for the sort of liberals who hold court in Minneapolis. Riding a bike has an air of environmental friendliness to it, in a city obsessed with the concept.

Beyond that, they are simply very demanding people. Demanding people get what they demand, as a rule. People who live under the threat of gun violence in a depressingly dangerous city? Less so.

As such, every grievance, be it a legitimate safety concern or a pet peeve, is met with instant redress. In spite of our unparalleled efforts to cater to bike people, there are more complaints. A non-profit called Nice Ride has begun an ambitious bike sharing program in Minneapolis.

No good. See, north Minneapolis is left out of the program for reasons that are myriad and obvious. And so state Rep. Bobby Joe Champion is calling for action.

Um, Bobby Joe. May I draw this to your attention? It might explain your little bike-sharing dilemma.

But his lamentations illustrate a point. We don't have ornate bike trails on the north side. Bikes are a luxury item, and biking is a luxury sport. Sure, it's a "green" luxury, but for every person who commutes to work, there are dozens more who strap their bikes onto their SUVs and drive to choice locales. In most instances, biking doesn't replace driving; it replaces jogging, knitting or roller-blading.

While we are pouring millions into the luxurious habits of a few wealthy, influential voters, we are taking cops off the streets, and that is compromising our safety. While the give and take between safety, fiscal sanity and luxury vexes city leaders across the globe, it is time to ask the bike community to give.

For starters, we need a moratorium on new bike projects, unless they are fully funded by private or federal resources. Second, it's time to ask cyclists to pay their fair share.

How about a bike registration program? Say, $180 for new bikes, and $90 for used? Perhaps a licensing program, with annual renewal rates of $175 for adults and $350 for families. All funds going to pay for these expansive new bike projects.

At minimum, it would redirect cycling advocacy. Do you really need a new bridge by Lyndale and Franklin when there is one a few blocks away? Okay, but your license fee will go up by $25 per year. Yeah, thought so.

Alternately, we can impose some fiscal discipline and common sense. This isn't Chicago. This is a car-based community in one of the coldest metropolitan areas in the world. A world class bike path system is great, but it should not be maintained to the neglect of other important areas.

It's time for some bicycle sanity.


Blogger Ranty said...

Hmm. Interesting points.

3:37 PM  

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