How the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition is Making it Easier to Bike the Twin Cities

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition routinely draws big numbers to its events across the city.
The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition routinely draws big numbers to its events across the city. Mike Beck
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A member-supported, volunteer-driven organization, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition works to increase the vitality of cycling in the Mill City. With a goal of making cycling safer and more accessible to everyone, their reach includes everything from group rides to monitoring street safety.

Perhaps their most visible initiative is Open Streets Minneapolis. These events have become famous for shutting down traffic and opening streets up to pedestrians and cyclists in hopes of promoting sustainable transportation, healthy living, local businesses, and civic pride. To date, they have developed Open Streets events in Northeast, Lowry, Lyndale, East Lake, Franklin, Downtown, U of M, and Nicollet.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition is also spearheading the Bikeways for Everyone campaign, which has set a goal to build 30 new miles of protected bikeways in the next five years to help expand the existing cycling infrastructure in Minneapolis. This initiative is all about improving public health, reducing pollution, creating new green spaces, and enhancing the quality of life in the city through the creation of more non-motorized thoroughfares.

What’s more, the group also organizes Minneapolis Bike Week as an extension of their other activities, which involves an entire week of bicycle-themed events, group rides, and educational opportunities. We connected with Alex Tsatsoulis, the development and communications coordinator for the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, to learn more.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition has had great success with events that shut down roads to traffic for a day.
The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition has had great success with events that shut down roads to traffic for a day. Mike Beck

How would you characterize the cycling culture in Minneapolis?
Minneapolis has a really rich and growing bike community—there’s really something for everyone here. I think the best part of it for me is that you don’t have to be a “cyclist” to ride a bike here—it’s just something people do, whether it’s hopping on a Nice Ride to get between meetings downtown or going for a spin around the lakes with the kids on the weekend. Riding a bike is becoming more and more normalized, and it’s great to see people from all walks of life on our trails, bikeways, and bike lanes every day.

How is the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition working to form partnerships in the community to support cycling in Minneapolis?

We work very closely with other active transportation groups to further our work of making Minneapolis an even better place to ride a bike, and we rely a lot on input from our community partners and local community groups to tell us where there is need and what their priorities are that we can assist with. We are a volunteer-led organization, so we really do listen to what our members and supporters see as their priorities and our volunteers help set the direction for our work.

Open Streets events were held in eight communities this year.
Open Streets events were held in eight communities this year. Colin Harris

Can you explain the Bikeways for Everyone campaign and the key achievements?

Bikeways for Everyone is a collaborative campaign of Minneapolis organizations and businesses working to see 30 new miles of protected bikeways built by 2020. It’s been great to see this diverse coalition come together to work toward a shared goal of improving our streets. We had a big victory this spring when the Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed a Protected Bikeway Update to the existing Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan. The Bicycle Master Plan is a great guiding document for improving biking in Minneapolis and the Protected Bikeway Update lays out a system of up to 55 miles of protected bikeways—44 miles of which should be built in the next 5 years. You can read more about the details on the Bikeways for Everyone blog.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition programs work to attract new people to cycling.
The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition programs work to attract new people to cycling. Mallory Olsen

What about Open Streets Minneapolis? How would you explain that to someone new to town?

Open Streets is amazing. We work with local community groups and partners to temporarily close down major thoroughfares to car traffic for one weekend day in order to open up the street for people biking, walking, and moving along under their own power. It’s an incredible community experience—local businesses and groups come out to the street and engage with people one on one in a way they’d never be able to otherwise.

We host eight of these events across the city throughout the summer, and it has been great to see so much of our city embrace the events and bring to life a vision of what our streets could look like if they were built to a human scale.

The Open Streets initiative shows how pedestrian and bike-friendly design can improve communities.
The Open Streets initiative shows how pedestrian and bike-friendly design can improve communities. Jeff Gassman

How have the Coalition’s initiatives grown in recent years?

Open Streets and Minneapolis Bike Week have grown very quickly over the past few years. We had thousands of riders participate in Minneapolis Bike Week this spring and we’re on track to have well over 60,000 participants at Open Streets events this summer—five years ago we started with just 5,000 at our one event. I think it says so much about Minneapolis that these sorts of active and healthy living initiatives are so popular and growing so quickly. I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

What kind of response are you getting from the community in terms of your mission?

People are excited about the potential for growing our city in a way that is safe and fun to bike and walk around. Minneapolis biking is becoming more and more normalized as a way to get around and more and more people are looking for ways to use their bikes to get to work, for short errands, or just to ride for fun. We’ve spent years and years designing roads for cars, and how people would interact with them was an afterthought. Now I think we’re seeing a lot of pushback from people wanting to live in places where they have options for getting around and where they don’t get stuck having to drive because there’s no other choice. I’m excited to see all that positive energy, because I think it really bodes well for the future of our city and where Minneapolis could be in just a few short years.

Tell me a little about the volunteers that work to further the coalition’s mission.

We have hundreds of volunteers who plug in with us at all levels, including a number of great volunteer leaders who are inspired by potential projects in their own neighborhoods. It’s inspiring to see that a lot of times we’re not the ones who come up with street improvement ideas—it’s people who live in a neighborhood who have an unsafe street and who want to make it better for themselves and their kids. We do rely on volunteers greatly overall—they help us set our priorities for our work, help us put on the great events we do.

Some events attract bike enthusiasts who are taking the sport to new heights.
Some events attract bike enthusiasts who are taking the sport to new heights. Mike Beck

What are some ways people can get involved?

Check out our website and come to a volunteer night. We have a number of volunteer roles—from something as easy as helping us stuff bike light packets during Bike Week, to helping work to improve a street through one of our workgroups. If you have a passion about making Minneapolis an even better place to ride a bike, we’d love to help you find a way to help make our city even greater.

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