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A Free Way to Work

June 11, 2008 By Carrie Beck, Undergraduate Research Fellow
Forty percent of car trips made by Minnesotans are two miles or less.  Though these trips may not seem like much, if each trip costs roughly 40 cents in gas, the dollars quickly add up.  Short trips like these can been done easily and sometimes more quickly by bicycle.  In fact, it is becoming easier in Minnesota to commute longer distances by bike.  More Minnesotans are making the choice to bike to work, saving themselves about twenty percent of their costs in gas.

Average gas prices have recently risen 47.3 percent per year causing more than 500,000 Americans to commute to work on their bikes.  The US Department of Commerce reported last October that Americans purchased more bikes than cars in the last twelve months. After the 1973 oil crisis bike sales exceeded 20 million and, though recent sales are not quite as high, they are coming close. 

Bicycle dealers all over the metro area have noticed increased sales and repairs of bikes.  Calhoun Cycle employee Sheila Frankfurt says, "A number of people per week come in saying they want to start to commute."  Tonka Cycle and Ski has been surprised that even despite the harsh Minnesota weather their sales have gone up about fifteen percent just this spring.  Owner Steve Phyle said, "Now, as the weather is getting nicer I expect to see sales and repairs rise even more."  Behind Bars in Minneapolis estimates their sales have increased at least ten percent due to new commuters. 

Bikes are no longer just toys for leisure. Devices previously used to haul children are now being used for groceries and families are choosing to go on bike tours instead of car trips.  Even police stations are more frequently using bike patrols.

There are countless reasons to ditch your car or keep it in the garage; from staying fit, to avoiding traffic, to helping the environment.  European cities like Amsterdam are littered with bicycles and residents use them for a third of the trips they make.  They lead much more social lifestyles as it is easier to greet someone riding your bike down the street than in bumper to bumper traffic in your car.  Superstar cyclist Lance Armstrong has also contributed to additional interest in the sport.  But for some people, cost is the primary concern.

University of Minnesota sophomore Adam Runyon rides his bike everywhere, "There is no way I can afford gas as a student and it's much easier to get around campus on my bike when I don't have to worry about parking.  But I'm lucky that my lifestyle allows me this option, not everyone can bike as easily as they can drive."

Edina resident and Ameriprise employee Vaughn Asselstine rode her bike 20 miles round trip to and from work three times during Twin Cities' Bike Walk Week in May.  Already an avid bus rider, Asselstine did not climb on her bike necessarily to save money but as a believer that it is a better lifestyle choice than driving.  However, she recognizes the obstacles in commuting to work by bike, "It really helps if employers encourage their employees to bike by giving them free or discounted access to showers, lockers and parking."

Fortunately, Minneapolis is already considered the second most biker-friendly city in the nation, just after Portland, OR.  Steve Phyle of Tonka Cycle and Ski said, "In the grand scheme of cities we have a very biker friendly city but there are still patches that could definitely be improved."  There are 40 miles of dedicated bicycle lanes along streets and 82 miles of off-street bicycle trails in Minneapolis alone.  According to Transit for Livable Communities (TLC), older cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul were constructed for easy bicycle travel but that planning fell off as new suburbs were developed.   Finally, in 1990 suburbs began to require or encourage more sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails and 3.5 million dollars of federal money has been set aside to create bike trails over the next four years.

Minnesota residents usually ride their bicycles to work only if they live within a five mile radius from the office.  TLC recommends that regional and local governments plan, fund and build pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure within and between communities.  They identify the elements of good bicycle infrastructure as connections to the places people want to go, safety, bike parking, signage, convenience and continuity, and maintenance.

Freewheel Bikes recently opened a commuter station on the Midtown Greenway in an effort to make commuting by bicycle appealing to more people.  Modeled after a center in Chicago, the station includes a bike store open from 6:30 am to 8:00 pm, caf,, bike valet, contract storage facilities, bike rentals, bike maintenance facilities with loaner bikes available overnight, showers, locker rooms, and a bike shower.  The center is also close to other public transportation.

Tonka Cycle and Ski is also selling a huge number of electric assist motors which attach easily to any bike.  These help give you a little boost of speed if you need to get somewhere quicker than your bike would typically take you.  They also help with easing the physical difficulty of biking which means you do not have to give up commuting by bike as you grow older.

Metro Transit sponsors a program called Guaranteed Ride Home which sends you two coupons every six months for a free transit ride or cab ride in the event of an emergency, where you cannot get home fast enough on your bike. 

Swapping your car for your bike has a multitude of benefits and there are few areas that are as friendly to bikers as the Minneapolis area.  Minnesotans should take advantage of the ease with which they can alter their lifestyle and reduce their expenses.  For more information about this program, as well as maps of bike trails and tips for commuting visit

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