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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Minneapolis: Don't bike, drive?

Image of bike racks on Hennepin Avenue in MinneapolisFrom the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 06.17.07:

Baby, you should drive your car
The city has rules, you see -- rules that don't exactly encourage energy independence.

As I got into my car to pick her up, I noticed a green piece of paper stuck under the windshield wiper. It was a notice from the Minneapolis Police Department -- Traffic Control Unit. There'd been a complaint and my car had been chalked as abandoned. After 72 hours it would be tagged and impounded. The notice had been filled out 48 hours earlier.

Here's what that implies: How could someone not drive their car for 72 hours? That's like three whole days. What kind of freak would own a car and not drive it for three whole days? Someone call the cops, quick.

In retrospect I'm lucky this is the first time my car has been tagged as abandoned. I live in south Minneapolis and work in downtown Minneapolis. If there's snow on the ground I walk to work (45 minutes); otherwise I bike (15 minutes). It's easy. I lived in Seattle for 15 years and biked to work there and Seattle has hills and constant drizzle. Minneapolis just has wind and an occasional fierce thunderstorm.

Almost every week, in other words, I'm breaking City Ordinance 478.250, because almost every week, Monday to Friday, my car just sits there, not using gas. How dare it? How dare I? Don't I know there's all this extra gas to be used? How selfish can I be?

We had National Bike to Work Day last month. Notices were passed out and I think they added some extra bike racks in front of the Hennepin County Government Center for a day and maybe a speech was made somewhere. I thought it was cute. Encouraging people to bike when they own cars and there's all this gas to be used.

In Copenhagen, 33 percent of commuters bike to work. In Amsterdam it's 40 percent. Embarrassed by their low numbers, these cities are trying to encourage more bike commuting by building parking facilities that can hold up to 10,000 bikes and increasing prison time for bike thieves.

That's the direction they're going in. The direction we're going in? Drive your car once every 72 hours or we'll take it away. Oh, and one day a year we'll have a "day" in which we "encourage" people to "bike."(Read more, requires registration.)
The reality in the U.S. is that even the most committed bicycle commuter occasionally needs a vehicle. I've been known to frequent the local Enterprise agency (and Enterprise is notable for locating offices in downtown areas; most car rental companies cater almost exclusively to the airport crowd.)

The dilemma faced by the author of this humorous and provocative article is common to many city dwellers. It's a great motivation for giving up car ownership altogether: no more anxiety about break-ins, vandalism, towing, tickets, collisions. Many cities in the U.S. are starting to see car sharing operations emerge, which provide short-term use of vehicles when needed. In San Francisco, for instance, there are three car-sharing firms: City Car Share (nonprofit), Flexcar, and Zipcar.

It's easier to make the bicycle your preferred transportation mode when there is a range of multimodal options, for those trips or days when you can't bike. It's not surprising that the U.S. cities with the highest percentage of bike commuters, are the same cities with high percentages of transit and walking trips.

Visit: Trading four wheels for two, Minnesota Public Radio
Visit: Bike commuting up in Minneapolis, Minneapolis Daily News
Visit: Making Minneapolis more friendly for two-wheelers, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Image: Bike racks on Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis.
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site


erin said...

Just for perspective: many universities do the same to bikes. Once a semester they come and tag every bike on the rack, and three days later they come back and remove any bike that still has its tag.

Fortunately I don't have to worry about this happening to my car, but I've discovered another side effect of my newfound bike-love. I got into my car last week and it just wouldn't start! I realized that it had been sitting in the garage for a good two weeks, and the battery had drained.

Anonymous said...

In minneapolis and st paul, also check out, a non-profit agency with a fleet of 16 Toyota Prius cars all around the downtown areas.

I live in Uptown and there's 3 within a very short walk of my place - it enabled me to ditch my car, since I know I have something to fall back on for those little errands that just need a car.

The 72 hour tagging rule is just frustrating: I had my car towed twice in a year, and each time it was because I had forgot to go move it around after two days of sitting in one place.

I certainly find that law irritating since they have such intermittent bike lanes and extremely bike-commuter-unfriendly street traffic systems... just riding downtown from my house feels like I'm taking my life into my hands, just to get less than a mile to work!