Op/Ed: Lessons from Minneapolis for Bike Planning in Los Angeles

Minneapolis. Photo: Latino Urban Forum

Biking in Minneapolis is a rejuvenating experience because it allows me to think. By integrating the natural environment into the biking experience, the city sets a high standard for developing urban bike infrastructure that allows for stress-free travel around town. Like Los Angeles, Minneapolis has horrible commercial streets for biking. But most of the city’s tree-lined residential streets have little traffic and few parked cars making them calm and a safe alternative.

James Rojas Photo:Latino Urban Forum/Flickr

While most bike advocates in L.A. squabble over the green paint on Spring Street or getting a bike lane on Colorado or Figueroa the real challenge to improve the biking experience – attracting potential older cyclists – is never addressed.  We should not only be discussing the quantity but quality of the bike infrastructure.

A few years back I lived in downtown L.A. and would bike a mile from 7th and Spring to Union Station. It was a horrible experience with cars honking or shooting out from driveways in front of me.  Urban biking scares me because unlike a car where you have a rear view mirror on a bike you do not.  So I must rely on my ears to alert me of dangers behind me.  All the noise in downtown L.A. was exhausting. Besides the beach or river bikeways L.A. lacks comfortable biking routes.

L.A.’s bike infrastructure can and should learn from other successful local projects.

Boyle Height’s Evergreen Cemetery Jogging path is the perfect stress free place to jog because there is only one curb cut for a mile and half and it is in the middle of the community. People from all ages jog on this rubberized sidewalk. This should be our standard for bike infrastructure.

These are a few other lessons learned from biking in Minneapolis:

•   Width: Bike lanes and paths should be wide to handle three to four bikers in tandem. Wider lanes allows people to bike at various speeds.

•   Pacing:  We should minimize how many times we have to stop while biking so people can get their stride on. In Minneapolis I bike for miles with few stops around the lakes or greenways in the middle of the city. 

•   Sight:  What we see should be pleasing. Less is more when biking.  Urban design along bike ways should feather rhythmic and constant patterns, such as a row of trees, and houses. Biking should highlight panoramic views to settle the mind like looking at the sunset over the beach, lakes, or fields.

•   Noise: Whenever possible noises should be pleasant like sound of wind, rushing leaves, chirping birds, running water, and children playing. Somehow these sounds make us feel relaxed.

•   Smell: Local smell of honey suckle and other flowers is important. The smell of salt air makes biking at the beach attractive. The smell of bakeries, BBQs and others can enhance the experience.

•   Size: When developing bike friendly cities size matters because most bike-friendly places work based on how far the human body can bike comfortably. I give biking the 20 to 30 minute rule. If you have to bike beyond that time it’s a chore. People like to bike in their communities. L.A. should develop strong neighborhood bike plans, projects and infrastructure.

•   Location: Biking infrastructure should be integrated with parks and nature. In Minneapolis this integration has led to new housing developments along the Greenway and even created a bike-oriented district.

The real change in biking will occur when we see people over 50 biking in L.A. I know this is a tall order but the city has to develop high standards.