Recently, I had the opportunity to go to Minneapolis for an Open Streets Training put on by the Alliance of Biking and Walking. Knowing that the city of Minneapolis is one of the top-ranked cities for bicycling in the United States, I went hoping to bring back some of that magic to Seattle. Here’s what I learned:
In Seattle we have Bicycle Sundays and Seattle Summer Streets events. In Minneapolis it’s called Open Streets. During the training I learned that the focus of these events vary greatly. Some events are walking focused, some play focused, and others are focused on bicycling. I have attended these types of events in three different cities now and the key difference between Minneapolis or Portland compared to Seattle’s Bicycle Sunday is that their events take place on streets near business districts that one could be biking on a daily basis. I stopped at one of the coffee shops along the route in Minneapolis and asked how the event impacted their business. The employee said the amount of patrons was easily doubled on the event day. When the event comes to a close and participants are shooed off so that cars can come back on, many are left with the question, “Why can’t everyday be like this?”
Minneapolis has a bike sharing program called Nice Ride. I used it to get to and from the conference. As a tourist, I am sold.
First off, anyone can rent the bicycles. For only $6, a user has access to the whole bike share system for 24 hours. Users are intended to use the bicycles for only 30 minutes at a time, and there were enough stations spread out around the city that I never had any problem finding a dock. But the bicycles were heavy, and I can say with confidence that I never exceeded 12 mph. In my opinion, what could take the Nice Ride system to the next level is more wayfinding signs. If I were a local this wouldn’t have been an issue but as a new bicyclist in the area, having more signage that directed me to the most bicycle friendly routes would have tremendously increased my comfort.
All that said, after seeing Minneapolis, I am sold on the idea that both Open Streets and bike share are key to making Seattle a more bicycle-friendly city to live in as well as visit.