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photo credit: Thirteen of Clubs

Winter may be approaching but that’s not going to stop the men and women of Minneapolis, including lots–well above the national average–of “50+ers,” from hopping on their bikes whether to go to work, to the store, or simply for the fun of it.

“Close to four percent of Minneapolis residents bike to work according to census data,” bike-lover and Minneapolitan, Jay Walljasper writes here, “That’s an increase of 33 percent since 2007 and 500 percent since 1980.”

“At least one-third of those commuters ride at least some days during the winter,” Jay adds, referencing federally funded research conducted by Bike Walk Twin Cities. “Even on the coldest days about one-fifth are out on their bikes.”

Jay, a 50+er himself, writes with such enthusiasm about his home town’s community-wide embrace of biking in an essay we published on NRDC’s Smarter Cities site that we thought we’d excerpt it here. There is one section in particular about how Minneapolis is making cyclists–not just men, who dominate the urban biking scene, but women and 50+ers–feel safer, putting the city 50 percent ahead of the national average for women bicycle riders.

With other midwestern cities like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Columbus, Ohio looking to learn from Minneapolis, which this year was named “America’s #1 Bike City” by Bicycling magazine, rolling past famous cycling cities like Boulder, Colorado and Portland, Oregon, we figure there must be a few good lessons all of us could bring back to our own towns and cities. So what follows is an excerpt from Jay’s wonderful essay:

Separate Right-of-Ways Increase Biking among Women, Children and 50+ers

Minneapolis is committed to creating separate rights-of-way for bikes wherever feasible, which helps explain why the city defies trends elsewhere towards an overwhelming predominance of male bicycle riders. While only a quarter of riders are women nationally, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reports 37 percent in Minneapolis.

Research shows that most people–including many women, families and older citizens–are wary of biking alongside motor vehicles on busy streets. Having the option to ride apart from heavy traffic encourages more people to try out biking as a form of transportation.

Since the 1970s Dutch planners have separated bicyclists from motor vehicles on most arterial streets, with impressive results. The rate of biking has doubled throughout the country, now accounting for 27 percent of all trips. Women make up 55 percent of two-wheel traffic and citizens over 55 ride in numbers slightly higher than the national average. Nearly every Dutch schoolyard is filled with kids’ bikes parked at racks and lampposts.

The Dutch experience also shows that as the number of riders rises, their safety increases. Statistics in Minneapolis echo those results. Shaun Murphy, Non-Motorized Transportation Program Coordinator in the Public Works Department, notes that your chances of being in a car/bike crash in the city are 75 percent less than in 1993.

A Continuing Concern for Social Justice

The notion that only upper-middle-class white folks ride bikes is being challenged on all fronts across Minneapolis. The Major Taylor Bicycle Club, named for the African-American racer who claimed world records in the 1890s, organizes rides and bike events in minority communities.

Jon Wertjes, the city’s Director of Traffic and Parking Services, mentioned that a half-dozen bike rodeos to excite kids about biking would take place in inner city neighborhoods over the summer. In St. Paul, the Sibley Bike Depot offers a wide range of programs to introduce biking to immigrants and low-income families, including a shop that sells low-cost bikes and lets people work on their own bikes for free. They also run programs where kids can earn free bikes by taking bike repair classes and a bike library where low-income families are loaned a free bike for up to six months.

At a time when gasoline prices are high and transit service is being cut across the country, bikes can help fill the transportation gaps in poor communities. Nice Ride, with support from the McKnight Foundation, has extended service to lower-income areas of both Minneapolis and St. Paul this summer. Bill Dosset says the initiative aims to overcome cultural attitudes ins some communities that bikes are only for kids or people who can’t afford any other way to get around.

Bike Walk Twin Cities launched a social marketing campaign to promote biking in the lower-income neighborhoods of Minneapolis’s north side, where this year a new Bike Walk Center opens along with extensive network of new bikeways.

Interested in reading all of Jay’s essay? Here are links to the other parts:

The Surprising Rise of Minneapolis as a Top Bike Town

Bicycling in Minneapolis: The Nice Ride Bike Share Program

Bicycling in Minneapolis: Saving Money and Improving the City

And for more on biking:

Smarter Cities’ Bicycling Tool Kit–Bike-commuting programs in U.S and European. cities, education programs, resources and more.

Exporting the Love of Bicycling, Part 1: Utrecht

Washington D.C.: Making Bike Commutes Cool

See all NRDC blog posts on bicycling