By Catherine Windyk
In the midst of Car-Free MSP, friends asked me to cat-sit for a week in Shoreview, MN. I cat-sat in the same location last summer and found myself driving alone to almost every destination while I was there. This year, in the spirit of #Car-Free MSP, I was determined to see if I could go car-free for some trips during my stay.
Telework & Transit
When considering potential car-free trips, I first determined whether I had any in-person meetings or other requirements for in-person work in Downtown Minneapolis. I confirmed that I would be able to telework for the week. Telework is certainly a privilege that not everyone has, but for those who are able, it is an important component of replacing drive-alone trips.
Going car-free, however, does not mean never leaving the house. I investigated how I would get Downtown if the need arose, using the Metro Transit Trip Planner and Google Maps to determine my transit options. There was a bus stop a block from where I was staying, with that option requiring two transfers and over an hour of transit time:
Another option was taking an express bus from the Rosedale Transit Center Park and Ride which I was familiar with from my car-free days of taking the bus from Northeast Minneapolis to the mall. While I could have driven to the Park and Ride from where I was staying in Shoreview, I was curious what biking to the lot would be like, both because I love to bike and it would enable me to take a completely car-free trip, putting my bike on the bus.
Bike + Bus
I did a test run on my bike while not under a deadline in order to experience the route and get a sense for timing. Half of the route was on a 40 MPH two-lane road with a narrow shoulder and no bike infrastructure; the other half was on a separated trail. People driving on the 40 MPH road gave me a wide berth, and motorized vehicle traffic was fairly light. I noticed I was not the only person biking on that stretch, and while I wouldn’t call it “comfortable”, I did not find it extremely stressful either.
Once I got on the trail, the ride changed dramatically: I was in the forest! The trail was not marked, but I was very respectful of people walking on the path, and even asked someone if there was a separate bike path (they said no but that it was okay to use the path). The scenery was lovely, and I felt immersed in nature. As far as I could tell there was no lighting, so it might be treacherous at night or in the early morning.
After emerging from the forest, I utilized infrastructure that was either a wide sidewalk or a multi-use path, separated from motorized traffic. Aside from not knowing if I was welcome to bike there, it was comfortable. This got me to the periphery of the Rosedale Mall, which was the most unwelcoming portion of the trip. There was a bike rack at the Transit Center, but it was clear that the area was designed for people in motorized vehicles. It was, after all, a Park and Ride lot aimed at serving people who drive. Perhaps in the future it can become more of a Mobility Hub serving various forms of transportation, like those being implemented in Minneapolis.
Supporting Local Business While Car-Free
Another destination I wanted to replace a drive-alone trip to was Donut Hut in Little Canada. I’d driven to the shop last year – it was under 3 miles from where I was staying, so I thought it was a good candidate to try biking to. The first half of the route was on a separated path that I saw being utilized by people both biking and walking. After a delay from a train crossing the path, I left the path and entered a roundabout. The roundabout looked new and included well-marked crossings, refuge spaces, and “Stop for Pedestrians” signs. I’m never completely at ease around roundabouts, but the infrastructure made me feel safer. Additionally, most people driving were quick to yield to me.
Biking directions from Google Maps sent me down the main road (Rice Street) which had intermittent sidewalks, no bike infrastructure, and barely a shoulder due to road construction. I traversed this stretch with a combination of walking and biking on the grass and walking and biking on the sidewalk. It didn’t feel particularly unsafe because I was far from the vehicle traffic on the road, but it was certainly not welcoming. There was no bike parking when I reached my destination.
After another delay due to a train on the way back, I very much enjoyed a pedestrian-friendly area near Lake Owasso County Park. There are pedestrian crossing signs at crosswalks, and pavers that signal to people driving that they are entering a pedestrian zone. I’ve driven this stretch and can attest that I feel like slowing down when going through.
Unconvinced that there was not a better way to bike to Donut Hut, I found a different route – a separated trail that added distance but included dedicated infrastructure. I utilized this route on another trip and it was a completely different experience. I enjoyed access to nature (geese and a deer included), lower noise levels, a sense of peacefulness, and a general feeling of consideration. The path was in good condition and provided a low-stress route to the Thunder Bay strip mall as well as businesses on Rice Street.
Overall, despite the gaps, I was heartened by the biking and walking infrastructure that I did find during my car-free experiments in Shoreview. I also had access to transit options. Granted, my experience was in mid-September, and I’d like to see how the streets, trails, and sidewalks are maintained in the winter. I also did not end up commuting Downtown during my stay, so I can’t report on that experience. While transit operations continue to be impacted by a driver shortage, transit options may be more plentiful in the future. I found that while you may have to get creative, be willing to explore, and not take the most direct route (it can be helpful to combine Google Maps and area-specific trail maps like this one), there are destinations you can get to without a car in that little corner of Shoreview (and Little Canada, and Roseville) – and I imagine in many other suburban areas.