When I was hired at Move Minneapolis this past September, I was thrilled to begin bike commuting to 9th and Nicollet. Despite my biking experience, I soon learned that biking downtown is a different beast than other parts of the city. I found myself feeling like a newbie bike commuter as I navigated to the Young-Quinlan building the first weeks of my new job. If you are considering leaving your car in the garage for your journey downtown to fight climate change, reduce your stress, avoid rising gas prices, or get some exercise, now is a wonderful time to explore the city center by bike.
I’ve been biking around Minneapolis for over 10 years and consider myself pretty experienced. I’ve biked to work on the U of M campus, to weddings, funerals, and job interviews. I’ve even biked to the veterinarian, cat in tow in a backpack style pet carrier (believe it or not, kitty liked the bike ride much better than riding in the car).
I’d been mostly off my bike since COVID-19 added me to the throngs of full-time remote workers in March 2020. In the past, I’d almost exclusively ridden into downtown from either Northeast Minneapolis or the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. Now I’d be coming from the Southeast since moving to the Hiawatha neighborhood. That meant I had a lot to learn about biking to and around downtown.
From my apartment, I have identified two main route options to get into downtown, each of which includes separated trails : West River Parkway or the Hiawatha LRT Trail. West River Parkway is simple: Parkway to Portland Avenue to 9th Street, so I chose this route for my first ride.
There were a few things I’d forgotten while off the bike during COVID-19: West River Parkway is hilly, I get sweaty even when it’s only 60 degrees, and construction sometimes spills into bike lanes (and vehicle travel lanes).
I’d also somehow forgotten how rewarding, interesting, and downright fun biking to work is. I was exhilarated by my first bicycle commute since March 2020. The fresh air and exercise meant I arrived wide awake and energized. I felt so connected to the city. I couldn’t wait for the ride home.
On another commute I chose the Hiawatha LRT Trail route. I didn’t study the downtown portion of the directions on Google map because I thought “Eh, I’ll figure it out by sight when I get down there, how hard can it be?” This led to the realization of a few more things I’d forgotten: downtown has lots of one-way streets, not every street has a bike lane, bike lanes are sometimes on the left of the street, and sometimes they are on the right. I also rediscovered the 2-way separated bike path past US Bank Stadium off 6th street and was delighted to utilize the raised, separated bikeways on Portland Avenue and Washington Avenue. Raised bikeways are at or near sidewalk level and include different materials to distinguish them from sidewalks. Being separated from motor vehicle traffic can lower stress and feel safer than sharing the same space.
A big factor I hadn’t previously dealt with much coming from North across the river is the fact that Elliot Park and US Bank Stadium alter the street grid. This makes routing less intuitive, especially given the one-way streets. You sometimes must backtrack to get where you are heading or take a bit more circuitous route than you thought.
I quickly learned that stoplights are not timed for bicycle speed, and that stoplights are plentiful downtown. I found myself getting stopped at every block in some cases. In other cases, I got a great workout as I pushed myself to top speed to make it through the intersection before the walk signal counted down to zero. Commuting and cardio at the same time! I was also excited to incorporate the Samatar Crossing into my route, which I hadn’t ever taken by bike. What a joy!
After a few weeks back in the saddle, I’ve homed in on a few takeaways that may be helpful for folks new to biking downtown.
- Test out possible route options on a non-workday to avoid worrying about being on time. Given the changing nature of construction, it’s a good idea to have numerous route options for getting to your destination
- Learn which streets are one-ways (and know which direction they go!)
- Learn which streets have bike infrastructure if you are not comfortable taking the lane
- Plan for more time to get across downtown than you might for other areas with fewer stoplights
- Scope out bike parking spots ahead of time if your workplace doesn’t offer dedicated parking
- Due to one-ways, your route home may be different than your route into downtown, so plan accordingly
Now is a great time to try biking downtown. You can scope out your route(s) and get familiar with the unique downtown landscape with fewer vehicles on the road, making it low stress. If you’ve never tried bicycle commuting before and will be returning to the office, try it before you go back to old habits. As the workforce is returning to downtown, don’t go back to the status quo of traffic congestion, high gas costs, and a stressful commute. By utilizing sustainable transportation options such as biking, carpooling, transit, walking, scooting, and rolling, we can have the downtown that we all desire, without the noise, pollution, stress, and safety issues that congestion brings.