A Healthy Commute
Suburbia, that automobile-inspired slice of the 20th century American Dream, is beginning to adapt to more sustainable transportation modes in the resource-challenged 21st century.
As freeway congestion, runaway gasoline prices and the overheating globe turn more people away from cars, Twin Cities suburbs are working to make bicycling and walking more safe and attractive for commuters, students, shoppers and anyone else who needs to get around town.
Three of the five new Minnesota bike-walk grant projects announced last week are in suburban Falcon Heights, Lauderdale, Richfield and Roseville. Meanwhile, the I-494 Corridor Commission consortium of suburban Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Edina, Minnetonka, Plymouth and Richfield is promoting biking to work with free gifts and information guides for adult residents of those cities.
Why pedal instead of drive? To put an end to gas-price worries. To improve your health. Just three hours of biking a week cuts the risk of heart disease and stroke by 50 percent. Even to help reduce congestion and gas prices for those who can't make the switch to non-motorized transport.
If you think you're one of the latter, too far from work to bike, Bike2Benefits, the I-494 Corridor two-wheel project, has a few suggestions: Try it just once a week. Or bike to a nearby transit stop and hop a bus or light-rail train; they all have bike racks. Or bike to work one day, catch a ride home with a coworker, then back to work the next day with the coworker and bike home.
Forward-looking companies like Best Buy are encouraging bicycle commuting with secure bike storage and free shower and locker facilities. "Commuter options are a key to employee satisfaction," said Best Buy's Carol Hanson.
Many staffers who bike to Best Buy's Richfield headquarters will appreciate the Oliver Avenue Bicycle Street being developed with one of the new federal bike-walk grants. It will offer a bicycle-friendly 1.85-mile route from the Crosstown Hwy. 62 to I-494 one block off busy Penn Avenue, with a raised crosswalk over 66th Street, 10-foot wide bike lanes and no cross car traffic for one mile.
In all, 35 Twin Cities bike-walk projects have been financed so far with $8.8 million in funds from a sliver of the federal gasoline tax. (State gas taxes aren't involved. Under the Minnesota Constitution, they can go only to motorways.) It has allowed Minneapolis to expand its bikeways network to 100 miles, making the city No. 2 in the nation in pedal power, behind only Portland, Ore.
"It's a more benign version of the interstate highway system," said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. "With programs like this, we are going to beat Portland and we are on our way to No. 1."
Up to 800 northeast Minneapolis bicyclists and pedestrians a day are expected to traverse another of the new grant projects, the 4.1-mile Fillmore and 6th Avenues Bike-Walk Street connecting with the Stone Arch Bridge to downtown. Also in this round of grants are projects along Richfield Parkway, Highland Parkway in St. Paul and the Northeast Suburban Campus Connector along Fairview Avenue.
Some, of course, will bemoan this "diversion" of a tax on fuel users to non-motorized byways. They shouldn't. Programs like this complement motorways and ease pressure on them.
And before devotees of the internal combustion engine complain about a few million dollars of gas taxes - enough to build about 3 percent of the new Crosstown Commons interchange, for example -- going to people-powered mobility, they might consider forgoing the billions in nonuser property taxes that support more than 100,000 miles of local roads and bridges for cars in Minnesota.
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For more information, visit www.bikewalktwincities.org