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Local group soaks up bicycle culture in Minneapolis

Joe Saunders and Jodi Grabowski, shown organizing a ride in Laurel Park, visited Minneapolis to see bicycling network. Joe Saunders and Jodi Grabowski, shown organizing a ride in Laurel Park, visited Minneapolis to see bicycling network.

Area bicycling enthusiasts, planners and hospital representatives who soaked up the two-wheeled passion of Minneapolis say they see the potential for more bike use back home.

Sponsored by Quality Bicycle Products, the Bicycle Infrastructure Best Practices Workshop last month had the delegation from Asheville and Hendersonville riding on the Minnesota city's wide bicycle boulevards on "Nice Ride" bikes that residents are able to borrow for $6 a day or $65 a year.
"You think of this area as a big cycling area because we have a lot of road biking and mountain biking but when you're there it's part of who they are," said Jodi Grabowski, community outreach coordinator at Park Ridge Health "You see them toddling along to get to schools, or in a hurry to get exercise or just commuting. In a way, it was kind of overwhelming because you think about all things you want to do here, but you don't want to get ahead of yourself."
The bike delegation, organized by Hendersonville-based Blue Ridge Bicycle Club, spent two days riding the bike paths and learning how Minneapolis had woven bike travel into its transportation network, getting cars off the street and improving residents' health at the same time. The city received a $25 million federal grant to develop the bike-walk demonstration project. Minneapolis now has 170 miles of bike trails that connect residential, commercial and university areas and extend to suburbs. The city has set aside some local streets as bicycle boulevards with traffic-slowing speed bumps that slow car traffic, which is limited to residents of those streets.
"Cycling is under DOT, not parks and recreation," Grabowski said. "To me it just makes it clear that this is transportation, this isn't recreation. We need to make it possible for people to have this as an option for transportation and if people feel unsafe they're certainly not going to do it."

NCDOT moves toward 'complete streets'
Joe Sanders, president of the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club, came back enthusiastic about what can happen here.
"I think everything is applicable," he said. "I think the challenge will be how to implement it. Minneapolis had a big infusion of cash to begin with and it installed a tremendous bike share program. They are also blessed, though, with a lot of abandoned railroad tracks. They have turned those tracks into rail-trails."
Studies show that 63 percent of the population would like to ride bikes more but don't feel safe doing so.
"What we saw in Minneapolis was a bike boulevard. It parallels a main thoroughfare," he said. "I think Fourth Avenue would be a great bike boulevard; the other thing is Fifth Avenue is wide enough it would be very easy to put a bike lane on."
John Mitchell, Henderson County's director of business and community development, said he enjoyed the visit.
"Probably the best part was a really deep-window view into how private corporations had worked with municipalities in their region to kind of be advocates," he said.
Mitchell said he's also been on the Swamp Rabbit Trail in the Upstate and seen its effect.
"In Greenville there's been a real renaissance around the area that the trail occupies," he said. "You could see in Minneapolis the benefits to the economy. There was a great cross-section of folks that were on the trip. For me the big takeaway is that there's got to be a buy-in across the spectrum. There's got to be a partnership that kind of begins with the grassroots. ... That's kind of why it's been successful in Minneapolis. There was a desire from the local folks to kind of move in that direction."
Mitchell has observed the NCDOT embracing bikeways more than in the past.
"I certainly see there's more interest on the recreation side but I also see it from the planning side," he said. "We have a relationship with DOT and I see them leaning toward what they call complete streets. There is from NCDOT a desire to look at bicycle infrastructure as part of a complete roadway."


Sierra Nevada eyes bikeways
Mandi McKay, the assistant sustainability coordinator for Sierra Nevada, said her company hopes to be involved in planning for more biking.
"I think every community could learn a lot (from Minneapolis) but particularly Asheville, Hendersonville and that whole region," said McKay, who is based in Chico, Calif. "You guys are way up there on the recreation riding and people come from all over to do biking, but as far as day-to-day riding or riding to commute it's tough over there. There aren't many bike lanes or bike specific routes. I think a lot could be done because there's a huge amount of potential. We're excited to be part of that."
Sierra Nevada is planning hiking and bike trails throughout its 180-acre property, which is mostly undeveloped forest.
"We want to be a part of the conversation (about greenways and bike trails) so people could ride their bikes on the road and get to our facility," she said. "Those were the movers and shakers, the Blue Ridge Bike Club and people that were there are ready to help plan. We want to be part of that. I think there's a lot of momentum."
Sanders said he's trying to build on that momentum by inviting the delegates to ride the Virginia Creeper or Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, S.C.
Other local delegates who traveled to Minneapolis in July were Cathy Ball, a transportation engineer with the city of Asheville; Jeremiah Haas, outdoor coordinator for UNC Asheville; Asheville City Council member Esther Manheimer; Mike Craft of New Belgium Brewing Co.; Elizabeth Willson Moss, Pardee Hospital director of community affairs and outreach; Hendersonville planning director Sue Anderson; Transylvania County economic development director Mark Burrows; Brevard city planner Daniel Cobb; Waynesville public works director Fred Baker; Mike and Claudia Nix of Liberty Bikes; Peggy and Joe Sanders of the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club; and Kris Hinz of the Asheville Bike-Pedestrian Task Force.