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Minneapolis is a very nice city for biking but it is definitely no Portland

Posted by on July 11th, 2014 at 9:19 am

bike rack lounge 540

A woman lounges on the bike-frame bike rack outside Modern Times, Minneapolis’s answer to the New Deal Cafe. “Can I take a photo?” I asked. “Hell yeah,” she said.
(Photos: M.Andersen/BikePortland)

Now, don’t get me wrong: Minneapolis is a great place to ride a bicycle.

It has lots of things that Portland can and should learn from. And yes, those things they do in the November snow and the August sweat are seriously impressive. But is Minneapolis a better biking city than Portland?

Don’t be silly. It is not.

This post is not a rag on Minneapolis, one of the most successful cities in the country and a place I’d be happy to spend $59.95 (or whatever houses there are going for these days) to move to if it ever came to that. Nor am I trying to rank two totally different places, a fun game that’s usually also silly.

Instead, this is a quick, honest look (based on a three-day visit last week) at the things that do and don’t work about pedaling around one of the few American cities whose residents’ love of biking seems to match up with ours.

Let’s start with the biggest problem with most Portland/Minneapolis biking comparisons.

The main reason Minneapolis has a fairly high bike-commuting rate (4.5%) is that its city limits are quite small.

annotated portland-msp map-page001

The Twin Cities metro area has about 50 percent more residents than the Portland metro area — it’s about the population of greater Seattle. But at 55 square miles, its central city, Minneapolis, happens to be one of the smallest major cities in the country. (Another often-cited city, Washington DC, is 61 square miles; Seattle is 84, Portland is 133, Chicago and Tucson are both 227 and New York is 305.)

This isn’t a bad thing, and it probably helps elect pro-bike politicians. (When incoming Mayor Betsy Hodges used her first proclamation in office to call Portlanders “wimpy,” I wondered if Charlie Hales was going to take it lying down. He did.) But it’s a perfect example of why Census-based city rankings are mostly matters of municipal coincidence. If Portland’s city limits suddenly shrunk to the size of Minneapolis, our bike commute rate would leap to a whopping 9 percent.

If you want a slightly better apples-to-apples comparison, compare the entire Portland metro area’s bike commuting rate (2.2 percent) to the Twin Cities metro area’s (1 percent).

That said, bikes are a huge part of Minneapolis culture. So why do its statistics lag Portland’s? Here’s part of the issue…

There are freeways freakin’ everywhere.

mpls bridge

Above is the majestic seven-year-old cable-stayed bike-ped bridge that connects the Midtown Greenway to the new Hiawatha path into downtown. It’s a beautiful piece of federally funded engineering that deserves its iconic status in the city.

And here’s why it had to be built:

downtown freeway

That’s Hiawatha Avenue, a six-lane stroad that chops through Minneapolis between downtown and Minnehaha Park. Fifteen years ago, a Hiawatha Avenue expansion project gave rise to the Minnehaha Free State, a beautiful but unsuccessful anti-highway protest; today this is just one of the ridiculous number of expressways that slice the city’s street grid to bits. Minneapolis has spent a lot of money repairing itself with bridges like the one above. But there’s only so much you can do.

minneapolis map freeways

Portlanders congratulate ourselves more than we deserve for having killed the proposed Mount Hood Freeway through Southeast Portland in the early 1970s. At the time, more or less the same thing was happening in almost every major U.S. city, including Minneapolis.

But here’s a fact: today, the Twin Cities metro area has 50 percent more lane-miles of freeway per capita than Portland’s and 39 percent more lane-miles of arterial street. Well after the cheapskates and elitists of Portland started saying “no” to roadway widenings, Minneapolis’s idealistic Lutherans kept on saying “sure!” They created a region that remains deeply auto-dependent.

The Midtown Greenway is amazing, but a path is not a substitute for a street.

midtown greenway 540

Minneapolis should be proud of the Midtown Greenway. The entire country should be proud of the Midtown Greenway.

It’s the most impressive urban rail-to-trail project I’ve seen, connecting commercial, industrial and residential neighborhoods in a straight shot through a sunken, forested railroad bed across the near south side of the city. Its effect on bicycle commuting patterns is practically visible from space.

This is what people look like when they are riding on the Greenway:

back seat snack 540

Cheese corn, a.k.a. the good life.

But here is the fundamental problem with the Midtown Greenway: the only storefront that seems to face it is a bike shop. In this case, a closed bike shop.

freewheel bike shop

Off-street paths are wonderful parts of a bike network, and this one blows our Springwater Corridor away on width, location and connectivity. But if I were choosing a commute, I’d take the neighborhood greenways on Ankeny, Holman or Michigan over the Midtown any day. When I ride, I want to enjoy the full culture of my city: houses, cafes, cats. The Midtown Greenway’s links to neighborhoods are numerous and well-marked. But during my third trip on the path, cruising blindly through a city I was supposed to be exploring, I realized what all the curving exit ramps reminded me of.

I was on a tiny freeway.

exit sign

Another limitation of paths: safety. One rule of thumb for avoiding urban crime is to always be in eyeshot and/or earshot of at least two strangers. Most city streets would pass that test at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night in June. The Greenway didn’t.

I’ll say it again: this off-road path is terrific and I’d be in heaven if Portland had something like it. But off-road paths can’t do everything.

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The bike lanes are pretty good. Sometimes.

nice buffered lane

The best bike lanes in Minneapolis are as good or better than the best in Portland. The above shot is from Portland Avenue South, the auspiciously named local equivalent of North Williams Avenue. I love the double-barreled buffers, clearly separating bikes from both parked and moving cars.

Unfortunately, here’s the same important bicycle route a few blocks north.

door zone bike lane

Here’s a nice use of a contraflow bike lane for a one-block connection…

contraflow

…and here’s a street that generously invites bicycles into the gutter.

ho-hum bike lane

Here’s a major downtown street that, like many of them here, offers a conventional bike lane…

minneapolis downtown small biker 540

…and here’s a vast speed-bait expanse on the northwest side of downtown that didn’t exactly seem to be living up to the potential of the most valuable real estate in the Upper Midwest.

wasted street space downtown minneapolis

Unfortunately, one reason Minneapolis has been able to carve out a lot of room for nice bike lanes is also probably its biggest obstacle to further bike-friendliness. Compared to Portland, its roads are big and its auto lanes are wide. All that pavement invites speeding, slows walking and, despite many wonderful exceptions, deadens street life.

The waterfront paths are, OK, fantastic.

mississippi bridge

We didn’t get a chance to ride over many of the city’s bridges, though I’m told they’re impressive. But here’s a look at one: the wonderful Stone Arch Bridge, built as a railroad crossing but now a car-free link between the waterfront parks on each side of the Mississippi. Also, I wondered whether or not the folks at Portland Pedicabs have ever put in for a Michelob Ultra contract.

The bike parking could use some work.

parking meter parking

If any city on the continent can match Portland’s bike parking, I haven’t seen it yet. One nice touch in Minneapolis is that some of the auto parking signs double as bike parking. But on a busy Sunday downtown, those weren’t enough to stave off the great American tradition of locking one’s bicycle to any pillar available.

parking shortage

Yet another city where biking rates have sprinted ahead of bike parking growth. (In this case, at the downtown Pride festival.) Note the bakfiets-Nutcase combo at right.

A good bike city, not yet a great one

There are lots of details I haven’t mentioned. For example, one of the country’s best bike-share systems, which plenty of locals were using and seemed to have a station everywhere we wanted to stop. Or the out-of-town bike connections, which I know nothing about but which it’s hard to imagine can compare to the Columbia Gorge or Pacific coast. Or the fact that in a more ethnically diverse city than Portland, the people using bikes seemed much more diverse, too.

burkas

Four years ago, Bicycling Magazine did both Portland and Minneapolis a big favor when it flipped Minneapolis to the top of its “best bicycling cities” rankings, before reversing the order again in 2012. (I think every single Minneapolitan who learned we were from Portland, bicycle user or otherwise, brought up that ranking.) The magazine’s next two-year update of that list is suspiciously overdue, but I hope it’s on the way, because it’ll give everybody something new to talk about.

And I hope that, once again, it’ll use dubious logic to claim that some new American city has become the best place to ride a bicycle. There isn’t a city in the world that knows all the secrets. Let’s all look forward to our next excuse to learn somebody else’s.

crowded greenway

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Bjorn
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Bjorn

I wonder if anyone has ever thought of rezoning land along a rail to trail conversion to allow offices or commercial businesses to be built. I bet businesses who don’t rely on a lot of auto traffic would like to locate on such a trail.

F.W. de Klerk
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F.W. de Klerk

Or we could just revert to calling ourselves the number one bike city whether we are or aren’t. Now if only we could get people to stop using those blinky lights!

mister jason™
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mister jason™

I moved to Portland from Minneapolis 8+ years ago and one of the small handful of things I miss about Mpls is the Midtown Greenway. That sucker *is* a bicycle freeway. (Street paths in the surrounding neighborhoods kinda blew at the time anyway, so it was that much better when it opened.)

Even without a crosstown bike-and-ped freeway, It’s still loads easier to get around Portland by bike. Plus, winter. And mosquitoes.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Nice write up of places to check out. I’m going to be there for my first time for four days at the end of next week.

matt picio
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matt picio

“Its effect on bicycle commuting patterns is practically visible from space” – but apparently not visible from bikeportland.org, or at least, not without context.

Michael, what the heck *is* that? I mean, obviously it’s a map of MSP census tracts, but what does it mean? Where is the path? Most of us have never been to MSP except for its airport, so a path location and/or additional context for the linked image would be helpful and appreciated.

Pete
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Pete

R.I..P. Jim Oberstar 🙁

Daniel
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Daniel

As someone who grew up in Minneapolis and now lives in Portland, this article shows an unbelievably shallow understanding of the Twin Cities. First off:

1 – It’s called the Twin Cities because there’s another city right next door that’s effectively part of the same metro. Comparing Minneapolis by itself to Portland is useless, since the barriers between the two are negligible; the relationship between Minneapolis and Saint Paul is analogous to the east and west sides of Portland. Saint Paul isn’t a suburb like Gresham or Beaverton, it’s an integral part of the Twin Cities, and combined the two have a larger population than Portland. Slightly smaller area, but the distinction between Minneapolis and its first-tier suburbs is much less than Portland its suburbs, so I’d actually roll Richfield and Bloomington into the area as well; maybe Edina and St. Louis Park if I was feeling generous.

2 – Portlanders are wimpy. Sorry if that offends people, but I was there when you had your most recent “snowstorm”, and the whole city was shut down. I live on Ankeny, and while it’s a fantastic route most of the time it becomes a ghost town when it rains, at least after the morning commute is done. Contrast that with Minneapolis, where it’s downright embarrassing to call yourself a bike commuter if you don’t own a fatbike for the winter. I came back to visit family, and the streets were full of bikes even as a severe thunderstorm warning was active for the entire county, in Minneapolis you don’t go inside until the tornado sirens go off.

3 – The Midtown Greenway is, by far, the most enjoyable urban biking experience I’ve ever ridden, and there’s simply nothing in Portland that compares to it. Call it a bike freeway if you want, that’s exactly what it is, but it simultaneously manages to be the most effective way to get from A to B on a bike and incredibly safe for cyclists of all levels. Bike Boulevards like Ankeny are a smart way of reconfiguring city streets to support bike traffic, but I spend much more time negotiating 2-way stops, jumping speed bumps, dodging pedestrian traffic, crossing busy streets with no right of way, and even getting stuck in car traffic when someone turns onto Ankeny to find a parking spot. The percentage of time I spend on Ankeny visiting “houses, cafes, and cats” is pretty minimal, I’m more focused on not getting t-boned and swerving around new cyclists who think Ankeny is a one-way going whatever direction they are.

4 – Minneapolis has better segregated facilities than Portland hands-down. It’s partially due to historical reasons and partially due to geography (there’s a lot of lakes and riverfront that is owned by the city as parkland) but for recreational riding it’s completely unmatched. I don’t think Portland has a single path that’s marked exclusively for cycling (correct me if I’m wrong please, I’d love to ride it) while shared use paths are rare enough in Minneapolis parkland that they require a special sign to warn people. You can circle all the lakes on wide, smooth paths and never have to dodge around 4 pedestrians walking abreast, unlike the Springwater Corridor. The creek also has a dedicated cycle path running most of the width of the city, and the river has TWO cycle paths going north-south, one on either side. In the winter, they even get plowed!

5 – I toured from Portland to Minneapolis, and while I can’t speak to every direction I can say that the route out of Portland to the east was miserable, compared to the route into Minneapolis from the west. Crossing through East Portland is a great way to get right-hooked or even hit from behind by an angry truck driver. In contrast, the Twin Cities metro has regional trails that start 60 miles out of the suburbs, and connect to the city trail system, with maps at all the junctions.

Portland does do a better job with Bike Boulevards though, and as far as biking for transportation is concerned I would say that SE has a bigger swath of contiguous bikeable area than anything in Minneapolis, due to high-traffic roads chopping up residential streets.

Tim Davis
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Tim Davis

Great article, Michael, with much to consider, indeed! You’re right that the two cities are very different animals, and each has big advantages over the other (lack of sub-zero winters scoring hugely in our favor LOL).

John: be SURE to bike on the famous Grand Rounds paths that lead around several stunning urban lakes, gorgeous Minnehaha Falls, the incredibly bike- and recreation-focused riverfront, and more; you will be in absolute heaven (http://www.minneapolisparks.org/grandrounds/home.htm).

And unlike the Midtown Greenway (which is a superb, incredibly rapid commuter route for many folks–and with zero intersections to contend with), the Grand Rounds bike paths within Mpls city limits are all in urban neighborhoods that are up there in beauty and charm with just about anywhere in this country–and you’re never more than a mile from a lake or a river throughout the entire 55 miles (and along totally safe bike paths meandering through beautiful parkways). The bike trail network throughout the Twin Cities (and going out well beyond the metro area in every direction) is so impressive that it makes me depressed how far behind we are in this regard.

We are still in our very infancy in Portland regarding providing cycling infrastructure and connectivity that would appeal to all levels and ages of people getting around by bike. I just wrote LONG letters to both Leah Treat and PSU President Wim Wiewel about taking advantage of the momentum we might have regarding cycling connections from dozens of awful ramps to the riverfront, Old Town and PSU.

You can be sure that Minneapolis (and St Paul and countless trail-connected suburbs, lakes and small towns) will continue to make massive progress in its cycling infrastructure. Like Michael said, it’s probably best if another city wins the “best bicycling city” award. We need all the motivation possible to get our bicycle mode share well into double digits.

Dweendaddy
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Dweendaddy

Great article – I learned a lot about both cities.
You kind of put down the Greenway as a “tiny freeway,” but as far as transportation goes, people like to drive on freeways and bike on tiny freeways. Biking around a city, you may “want to enjoy the full culture of my city: houses, cafes, cats,” but I guarantee you most people biking from A to B would like to be on something that feels as a safe as a “tiny freeway,” built just for bikes.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

Like Daniel, I grew up in the Twin Cities, but have lived in Portland for nearly 20 years. I would agree that Portland’s core is better for bike commuting than Minneapolis’ core – yes, hands down – BUT! That ignores some very important points in the Twin Cities’ favor.

Portland’s infrastructure drops off to crap pretty fast once you leave the core. East Portland has the advantage of bike lanes and MN-quality flatness, but last month we all talked about how bad that infrastructure is. And Portland gets worse when you go the opposite direction, over the West Hills — which I have to ride over Every Damn Day. Bike options are extremely limited for getting over the hills without dangerous connections and/or massive climbs. I would trade my evening ride from Beaverton to Southeast Portland for a 12-mile ride from Eden Prairie or Golden Valley to South Minneapolis, in a heartbeat.

Why? For one thing, as Daniel mentioned the Twin Cities have a massive network of off-street paths – long distance ones that actually GO SOMEWHERE and are useful for bike commuting. Both in the city, but also extending way out towards exurbia. I grew up in suburbia, thinking it was normal to have bike paths everywhere. Also, MSP suburban feeder roads are more likely to have shoulders (in part because of snow removal needs) and sidewalks, rather than being a skinny paved cowpath as is true in many Portland suburbs. And finally, in my experience through-neighborhood connectivity on the side streets tends not to be as bad in Minnesota suburbs than in Oregon suburbs. All in all, with the exception of Beaverton (which is exemplary), I find it easier to get around MSP suburbs than PDX suburbs.

The Bike Freeway (Midtown Greenway) is unique, but portraying its downsides (offramps, crime) as somehow indicative of MSP riding conditions is completely absurd – precisely because it is so unique, even among the hundreds of miles of MUPs within the Twin Cities. It is, however, an important discussion to have because (1) we’re contemplating a Bike Freeway ourselves through Sullivan’s Gulch, which may potentially have many of the same problems, and (2) some of our own semi-freewayish MUPs (Springwater) already have some problems with crime and/or cyclist-homeless conflicts.

Also, bike friendliness isn’t just about commuting. I like to ride my bike on dirt trails in the woods, and in Portland that means strapping it on top of a car and driving an hour or two, thanks to the all-powerful hiking lobby. In Minneapolis, I have 10-12 mountain bike trail systems to choose from within the metro area, many of them reasonably reachable from the city via bike. Also, thanks to fatbikes you can have as much fun as MTBing by just riding on the snow almost anywhere in the Twin Cities’ vast park system plus about 200 frozen lakes scattered across the metro.

Summary: If you’re one of the lucky few who lives AND works in the urban core, then Portland is unquestionably more bike friendly (and I do mean lucky – Portland’s downtown job base is pretty small compared to the MASSIVE one in downtown Minneapolis). Also, if you can’t handle severe weather (weekly thunderstorms, stronger average winds than Chicago, occasional tornado warnings, hot summers with wicked humidity, voracious mosquitoes, snowstorms, brutally cold temperatures and wind chills) then Portland is probably the better city for you.

If, however, you need to commute to or from the suburbs, or you like to mountain bike, or you like long recreational rides on car-free paths, or you like four seasons of real weather, or you roll your eyes at people who whine about BB-sized gravel on the roads in February, then Minneapolis isn’t so bad. Hell, maybe I should pack up the family and move back there. It’s bike friendly enough, housing is way cheaper and incomes are higher. Hmm.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

I also have to concur with Daniel’s point #1 that the city-limits comparison is useless unless you include St. Paul. Half of the land within Portland would be part of a suburb if it were in the Twin Cities (and in fact, nearly half of today’s Portland was suburban until the 1980s land grab – er, annexation, of East Portland). But the point is true that cycling is much lower there than here if you take the entire metro area into account. MSP is still a massively more car-dependent place, in terms of both the excessive development of freeways and the staggering sprawl out into the countryside. And in Minneapolis you will NEVER, ever see a car stop for a pedestrian waiting at an implicit crosswalk.

I don’t agree that the reason Portland shuts down in snowstorms is entirely because Portlanders are wimpy. It’s that we only have a few dozen snowplows (compared with literally thousands in the Twin Cities) and much hillier terrain. Also, our snow tends to be greasier most of the time because it’s usually near freezing when it does snow here. The storm we had earlier this year where it was 18 degrees and we got a bunch of dry, grippy snow is exceedingly rare here.

MNBikeLUV
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MNBikeLUV

As a resident of the Great Nordland, this was interesting article. However, some more context will make this article bit more well rounded.

First, Minneapolis is late to the bike game compared to Portland. Its easy to point out that Portland is ahead of Minneapolis in a lot areas. However, as BikePortland itself has pointed out, Portland seems like its lost its mojo as regards to bike friendly access. Yet, Minneapolis is still charging ahead. If this continues, in 5 years the comparisons in this article will be tipping in Minneapolis’ favor.

Second, Minneapolis does have a lot interstates. This is true of a lot of cities. Especially midwestern ones. I don’t know if its fair to ding current efforts to improve bicycling in Minneapolis for the sins of a past generation.

Third, Minneapolis is filled with Greenways and paths that aren’t the Midtown Greenway. This includes the Ground Rounds. (As pointed out by a previous poster, its awesome.) This has more advantages than just transportation bicycling. Minneapolis parks and surrounding community parks have a lot of singletrack MTB trails and most of them are able to be accessed via the greenways and paths. Its possible to live in an apartment in down Minneapolis and bike your way to dirt in a few minutes.

Greenways might be like a highway. But just like a highway, its purpose to convey persons from one point to another as quick as possible. I wouldn’t get too worried that fact the Greenways don’t have at-grade shops and housing. There are some land ownership issues in doing that. If the author had gotten off the greenway, he would have seen that development is starting to get caught up to the greenway revolution. There are many amenities within a block of the greenways that are there now BECAUSE of the greenway.

Fourth, its a shame the author didn’t hit the longer paths out from the city center. He would have be shocked at how far you can go in any one direction without getting on a road. He could have ended up in places like Hutchinson, nearly 60 miles away. And its just not Minneapolis. I live in northern Minnesota (3hrs north of MSP) and I can bike out my garage and end up in a myriad of towns, some of which are 100 miles away from my house, all without touching a roadway. (Eventually, the path by my house will be linked to one coming northward from Minneapolis. Imagine that!)

Fifth, its easy to try to do Minneapolis vs. Portland comparisons. But at the end of day, both cities are in this together. We can learn from each other and help each other. Minneapolis has learned a lot from Portland. And now Portland could learn a lot from Minneapolis.

Jon Peterson
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Jon Peterson

The focus of your article is on metro, which I suppose is fair enough. But as a suburban dweller here (Lake Oswego), and former suburbanite from the Twin Cities (Mahtomedi), I must say that I vastly preferred my relatively peaceful, 12 mile bike commute along wide streets in the MN ‘burbs to the annoying, stressful 3.5 mile mini-commute in LO. And the Gateway Trail gave me easy access to downtown St. Paul, whereas I have not yet found a peaceful way to get from LO into downtown Portland.

On the flip side, Mahtomedi was an auto wasteland, whereas I can walk or bike to lots of great things right in LO. And during last winter’s Epic Snowstorm (which wouldn’t have even made the news in MN), I had the roads to myself – no cars or bikes! So all in all, I do prefer Portland to Minneapolis. But let’s not get too nasty with the comparisons; both places need vast improvements, in the urban center and the suburban surround.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

Imagine a city with both the “tiny freeways” paths AND our pretty great greenways.
That’s the city that will beat both of us. Don’t really know if it’s coming anywhere soon, but who knows.
That would be the oreo cookie I’d like to eat.

Shadow
Guest
Shadow

So you start an article claiming that Portland is better than Minneapolis for cycling, then write a long article that pretty much just proves that Minneapolis is the best city on Earth for urban cycling. Alright m8, you’re just jealous. Don’t worry, I don’t blame you, I’m jealous of people in Minneapolis too now that I don’t live there anymore. And I agree, Portland is an amazing city for urban cycling, perhaps even second best. It will never, however, compare to Minneapolis. Get rekt, Portlanders.

Carl
Guest
Carl

Spot on, Michael. The path/freeway comparison makes a lot of sense and the land-area point is an especially good one. I found myself thinking the same things when I visited three years ago.

I did a little write-up for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance blog about 8 things of which I was jealous: http://btaoregon.org/2011/08/eight-minneapolis-inspired-what-ifs-for-bicycling-in-portland/

Nickey Robo
Guest

I was a resident of Portland for nine-ish years, from 2002 to 2011. There were many things I loved about the city, especially biking there. I learned to wrench at the Women & Trans repair nights at the North Portland Bike Works, I led Pedalpalooza rides, I worked for the Community Cycling Center for a year, and I was a member of the Sprockettes for a hefty chunk of time in my twenties. In mid-2011 I realized that two of my biggest dreams- working in community media and buying a house- were probably never going to come true in Portland with the high unemployment rate and skyrocketing housing market. I took a job in Saint Paul site unseen, and it’s been great. Earlier this year I bought a house in the beautiful Powderhorn Park neighborhood of south Minneapolis, and while it cost a bit more than $59.95, it was quite affordable for me, a single woman in her early thirties with a nonprofit job. But I digress… (However, if anyone would like to hear more about our extremely low unemployment rate, higher than average salaries, and affordable cost of living, I’m happy to brag!)

I’ve been back to visit Portland multiple times since I moved away, including just a few weeks ago for the Sprockettes tenth anniversary, so I think my opinion is pretty balanced and fresh.

Firstly, I agree with the above comments that it’s absolutely ridiculous to compare just Minneapolis and leave out Saint Paul. It is indeed quite similar to the east side vs. the west side in Portland, albeit with two separate downtowns and distinct city governments (which makes building facilities that benefit both cities a pretty big headache). When the cities are combined, the area of both is pretty equivalent in size to Portland- and 60% denser. Facilities aren’t *quite* as good in Saint Paul, but overall I see a relatively equal number of people riding in both Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

In many ways biking in *central* Portland is better than the Twin Cities. But the far eastern side of Portland has much worse conditions than anything I’ve seen in the Twin Cities. I think where Portland has us beat is primarily the sheer numbers of people riding- it always feels better to riding with more folks, and if you’re riding in central Portland there are a lot of other folks pedaling down the street. And bike parking is generally much better in Portland, it’s true (I have only ever seen one on-street rack in Minneapolis, unfortunately). I like the design of bike boulevards in Portland better, but that’s just personal preference.

While you may have not particularly liked the Midtown Greenway, those of us that use it regularly stinkin’ love it. It’s amazingly fast and safe. You may have felt like there were a lot of highways, but for me it doesn’t really seem like that much more than Portland- once you know where they are they don’t really get in your way. And when you talk about biking in the Twin Cities, you have to talk about winter. The fact that so many people here still ride in the winter really shows how committed we are.

But you know what? That’s all I’ve got. Other than those relatively minor things, I’m going to say that it’s pretty much the same- well, different, but no better in either place. Biking in both cities is great, and far better than most other cities in America. Additionally, I saw Portland grow leaps and bounds during the years that I lived there- bike facilities got much better over the 2000’s. The same thing is happening here, and I’m pretty sure were just going to keep leap-frogging over one another for that Best Bike City title year after year.

So, come back sometime for a longer visit. I’ll be happy take you on a bike ride.

caryebye
Guest
caryebye

random comments…I’m a former Minneapolis resident too, but most of the biking infrastructure came after I left late 1990s. I used to bike across Mpls via I think 4th Avenue (like a crazy person– as I recall that commute) to get to Uptown. I learned to bike by having a few friends show me routes but I never knew of bike fun or any community. It was cheaper then the bus and only once did someone steal my bike out of a locked garage.

Since then I visit and am a tourist and have enjoyed biking all over and with the greenway and amazing rail trails it’s a great way to get around. My parents live in a 2nd or 3rd tier suburb south of Minneapolis and I can bike there on one rail trail and only have one light and two stop signs the ENTIRE bike ride from Uptown. It amazes me! That did not exist when I was there. And now when I visit the burbs they are weirdly bike paradises since the sidewalks are all wide multi-use trails. One can bike all the way across the town I grew up and go to a great lake for swimming and again pretty much only have 1-2 street crossings. But it’s different. It’s recreational riding that can sometimes be commute cycling. It’s not so much urban cycling.

I’ve always maintained that Portland and the Twin Cities are so different. And I agree St Paul and Minneapolis are one big blob. It’s comparing apples and oranges.

Mpls: Is that one bike lane down the middle of Hennepin Avenue that just ends near the Hennepin bridge and leaves you in the middle of a huge road ever been finised? That’s probably the worse thing I’ve encountered. Or when I needed to get across town and ended up by the chain of lakes and many are one way only for bikes so you have to go on the narrow road.

The Mpls bike share was fun as a visitor. I went to a concert, couldn’t get a bus home, and hopped on the bike share, it was perfect!

Fun observations! And look forward to biking in Mpls again in September.

o/o
Guest
o/o

Had a brief stop in Minneapolis downtown years ago. I remember its streets quite wide like 1/2 block long and its atomsphere bit cold and sterile with many modern buildings. I did not stay long enough to appreciate the city. I always think Portland is a great city. It has alot of interesting buildings, alot of trees, artworks, water fountains, Benson drinking fountains, many bicycles, mild climate, close to many places, bridges, more bicycles again…

Ted Buehler
Guest

Minneapolis Native here (suburbs).

Minneapolis is hands-down better for bicycling than Portland. Possibly better than Portland will ever be.

Biking in Portland isn’t that hot. Excellent facilities, outside the Neighborhood Greenways, are rare rare rare. You can count Portland’s “crown jewels” on one hand.
* East Bank Esplanade
* NE Marine Drive path system
* Extreme availability of bike parking (esp. the now-discontinued Bike Corrals)
* um, I think that’s it. Any other nominations?

Everything else is shoe-horned in. Cramped. Often filled to beyond capacity with commuter bicyclists at rush hour. Genuine white-knuckle experiences. Even the new stuff is pretty flawed in one way or another. Try pulling a trailer on the Cully Cycletracks, try riding down the NE 7th cycletrack and making a left turn without eating it in the streetcar tracks. Try riding on the NE Multnomah cycletracks without getting tangled in a construction fence or hitting debris. The SW Multnomah cycletrack is all roght, but its only raised about 2″ above road level, with 50 mph traffic.

Don’t get me wrong. Portland has built a lot fairly respectable bike facilities. On a shoestring budget. Lots of creative infill, and it works pretty okay. But just pretty okay (not excellent). And especially pretty-okay (not half-bad) given the super-stingy budget it all was built on. Certainly, no other city has created anywhere near as good of bicycle infrastructure on a super-stingy budget as Portland has.

Michael — a few suggestions for your next trip. Your only “Crown Jewel” experience was the Midtown Greenway. Here are some examples of the many others in the region. These are all killer facilities. Better built, better designed, better maintained, than pretty much anything in greater Portland.

* Vadnais Regional Park, 2 miles from where I grew up, I biked there this year in April. 2.5 miles of closed roads, through a beautiful park, directly on the way from the ‘burbs to downtown St. Paul. & there’s sections of park like this on pretty much everyone’s commute if you’re coming in from 5 or more miles out. Places that you’d just lift your hands off the handlebars and sing the praises of the gods (whether you’re religious or not) for giving you this gift each day.
https://parks.co.ramsey.mn.us/Documents/VadnaisSnailLakesRegionalPark.pdf

* West River Parkway Bike Path, 5 miles along the Mississippi River, from downtown to the airport area/Fort Snelling. Separated biking and walking paths. Sometimes 3 paths, one for each direction of bicycling. And there’s many many miles of this type of facility. A-1 for recreation and commuting. (They’re probably crowded at rush hour, but still, infinitely better designed for the crush than, say, Springwater on the Willamette).
http://www.nps.gov/miss/planyourvisit/seg12.htm

* Suburban streets. Bike Lanes on at least half of the streets in the region. Mostly created for snow removal, but they make it possible to bike everywhere in the region, and to bike out of the city in any direction from anywhere. Unlike PDX/Van where if you’re headed out of town you need to consult the map and pick the decent or least-horrific ways to make your way out).
Here’s a corner near my mom’s house, http://goo.gl/maps/tEvR3
Not great, but a proficient bicyclist can go in any direction from there.
For comparison, look at a map of Portland. The only “suburban streets” with bike lanes are 122nd, E Burnside, E Halsey, NE Lombard/Sandy, Highway 30 out to Linnton, and a paltry number of other pretty mediocre bicycling facilities. Compare this with hundreds of decent suburban streets with bike lanes in the Twin Cities)

* Gateway Regional Trail, a rails-to-trails route from downtown St. Paul out 20 miles to the NE. A dream of a commute. Grade-separations at many intersections. & this is just one direction out of one of the two downtowns. This is a crown jewel, but there’s reasonable routes out of both downtowns in all directions, as I recall.
http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/maps/state_trails/gateway.pdf

Sure, Minneapolis/St. Paul have their challenges with freeways, ice, lakes (make for very low population density), but as a region, and possibly as central cities, their infrastructure is hands-down better than Greater Portland.

Portland is The Bomb for bicycling in so many ways. But, just because its the best, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suck rocks in many ways. Being the best is really more of a hinderance than anything else for Portland, as it makes it difficult to muster the political and budgetary firepower to routinely build “crown jewel” facilities that would enable pretty much anyone to bike anywhere. And Minneapolis/St Paul/Suburbs are ever so much further on that track than Portland, by my observations.

My $0.02,
Ted Buehler

Supercourse
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Supercourse

Yeah well…….. sorry Jonathan but I’ve ridden “everything” in both place {twin cities} and PDX. You really missed ALOT, I don’t see any comparison at all! Their infrastructure is eons ahead of PDX, never mind the states as a hole. I’m just glad to ride both any time I wish.It’s a nice little ride over there to.

Ted Buehler
Guest

“The Midtown Greenway is amazing, but a path is not a substitute for a street.”

&, conversely, a street (neighborhood greenway) is not a substitute for a bicycle freeway.

Ted Buehler
Guest

“and 39 percent more lane-miles of arterial street.”

This I’m skeptical of. Perhaps Portland comes out lower because some functional arterials, like N Williams and N Vancouver, are classified as “neighborhood collectors.”

Here’s a Portland Street Classification Map
http://portlandmaps.com/detail.cfm?action=Explorer&activeTheme=TSP%3A%20Traffic%20Classes&ZoomLevel=3&x=7659170.83526&y=700676.332957

Here’s a Minneapolis Street Classification Map
http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@publicworks/documents/webcontent/convert_279031.pdf
(p. 39).

Both cities seem to call an awful lot of busy streets “Neighborhood Collectors.”

But, Minneapolis calls any street with traffic a “neighborhood collector” while Portland doesn’t even grant that designation to a lot of pretty busy streets. For instance, Fremont from Vancouver to MLK isn’t given any designation, and its a major commuter route to access the freeway. Similarly, Ainsworth St. isn’t given any designation in Portland.

But comparable streets in Minneapolis are designated “Neighborhood Collectors”. In NE Minneapolis, look at NE Lowry, NE 29th, etc. These are smaller and less busy than NE Fremont or NE Ainsworth in Portland, but they are given “neighborhood collector” status.

Hence, I’m suspicious of the “Minneapolis has more lane-miles of arterials than Portland.” Lane miles of freeways? Absolutely. Lane miles of arterials? Nope.

Ted Buehler

Dwaine Dibbly
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Dwaine Dibbly

When I was a kid…. Uphill, both ways….

Let’s be happy that there are at least 2 cities that are doing well and trying things that work for them. We can learn from each other if we recognize that each has strengths….

gutterbunnybikes
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gutterbunnybikes

My daddy can beat up your daddy…..

What are we twelve?

Both are great cities (I almost moved to MN 20 years ago instead of here- I love to canoe) and if it wasn’t for the fact I hated mid-western winters I’d would probably still be lost somewhere in Boundary Waters right now.

Both are rocking bikes, just in different ways. And as it should be, since they are different cities to begin with. What’s gunna work in one aint necessarily gunna work in the other.

It isn’t a race, it isn’t a contest. No matter how you look at it, it’s just a bunch of folks on bicycles. Never did understand the need to be #1, especially on something like bike share which can actually never really be counted accurately to begin with.

Matt
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Matt

This story was too negative. I would have liked this article a lot more had you spent more time telling us the good things about Minneapolis and their bike infrastructure, and less about what’s wrong with their infrastructure. It would be very easy for someone from Minneapolis to come write a companion story about what’s wrong with Portland. All this talk about what town is the best cycling city in the US is getting old. We all need improvement when it comes to better cycling infrastructure, but we are both doing good things. Please focus on the positive.

Pres1
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Pres1

That’s my wife and daughter w/the Bakfiets and Nutcase! I’ll seemingly never tire of bike comparison articles and the resulting comments, keep ’em coming.

Champs
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Champs

The two cities have very different approaches. Minneapolis’ on-street routes, not so good. It’s true! Then again, California-style infrastructure isn’t possible thanks to a little thing called snow. Snowbanks encroach, bike lanes disappear between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, if not longer.

But there’s plenty worth responding to here…

To start, the “stroad” that is Hiawatha has an off-street path and light rail, something that can’t be claimed by any no-more-freeways Portland arterial. It used to look like Powell, or more accurately St. Helens Road—an industrial corridor with heavy rail, surrounded by homes.

Everybody so far is wrong about the Midtown Greenway. It isn’t a replacement for a street OR a freeway, it’s the very heart of bicycling in the Twin Cities region. On weekend mornings, you can watch wave after wave of group rides headed to the rural west. On weekdays, it is full of commuters, which included me. The air was clean, the route was direct, and one memorable day, there was the perfect tailwind for me to kit up, take my road bike to work, and cut the half hour commute to 18 minutes. Despite the lack of cars or a speed limit, I’m still very certain that 47mph is an unsafe speed for that trail.

Freewheel’s Midtown bike shop is be the only on-greenway presence, and it’s a shame that it was closed when you were there. Bear two things in mind, however: no shop in Portland (excepting Velo Cult) stays open as long or as late, and almost every exit along the greenway also correlates with a commercial district.

It’s true that you can’t go anywhere as beautiful as the Gorge or the coast, but you can purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka and know that there is safe passage out of the city via the Greenway and linked trails leading to open country roads with roomy shoulders. God forbid ODOT should grade and pave a few extra feet for the same—I’ve never seen so many flaggers because they can’t shift both lanes.

And except at the university where I worked, bike parking wasn’t a special problem. The neighborhood supermarket was a little slow to get rid of abandoned bikes, so I had to find alternate lockups here and there, but the Uptown Rainbow Foods is just a terrible place in general. They don’t have many bike corrals because, y’know, snow.

And seriously, get yourself a map and just look at how many trails, routes, and destinations this thing hooks up to. The Springwater is a streetcar route and there’s nothing going on at its nodes. What happened?!

Tim Davis
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Tim Davis

Well put, Daniel! And one thing I didn’t mention earlier is that the entire easternmost mile of the Midtown Greenway is primed to absolutely explode in real estate value. Take the narrow north-south band bounded by the Midtown Greenway to the north and Lake Street to the south, and then go west a mile starting from the river–not quite to Minnehaha Avenue. I don’t know if it’s because of the incredible (and increasingly popular) bike trails along the north and east sides of this narrow rectangle or because it’s been under-valued for so long, but my cousin (who’s an architect in Minneapolis and lives very close to the east river bank trails) says–rightfully so, as I’ve studied it both in-person and from afar–that it will skyrocket in value (it probably has already, in fact). I really think that the Midtown Greenway and the glorious river trails are contributing heavily to this.

Now, take this concept to Portland: just *imagine* how heavenly it would be if people could zip out quickly on a Sullivan’s Gulch bicycle freeway to 82nd (while improving health, decreasing stress, and, above all, laughing at all the cars going 0-5 mph on the Banfield). It would be slightly under 6 miles from 82nd to the Steel Bridge, with almost zero intersections or any cars to worry about. It would probably be the greatest thing we could ever do to increase both cycling percentage and convenience in the central part of the 82nd Avenue corridor!! It would actually have, I believe, a much greater impact than the Midtown Greenway has in Minneapolis. Again, if only we had a tenth (or maybe one hundredth?) the trail-building capacity that Minnesota has…

Pete
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Pete

Oh come one! The bike shop (Freewheel Bike Midtown Bike Center) on the Greenway is probably open more hours a week than most bike shops. But weare closed sometimes, our employees need to sleep and ride : )

Thanks for the great article.

A zondae
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A zondae

Zimmerman
Hey there, I’m a Mpls mountain bike girl. If you come this way, hook up with some locals, as there is a bunch more MTB trail (and jumps!) right next to Theo wirth. It’s not “official trail”, but it is maintained by assiduous few. Btw we are about to build 2+ miles of single track, in the city! It may not seem like much in mileage, but it makes up for it with twisty, fun character.

Phil Velo
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Phil Velo

Decent article, great discussion! I agree with what most everyone has said regarding MPLS. I work at the Depot Coffee House in Hopkins, which is right off of the Cedar Lake Trail, which is what the Greenway turns into further west. From our house in South Minneapolis, I can ride the entire way 9 miles each way completely on bike lanes and bike trails with many different routes to get me there.

In the winter, the trails are plowed well before the roads are. It’s not too uncommon during a 3-6″ snow storm to have the trail mostly clean at 5am, and I’m hardly ever the first one to lay tracks in the snow even that early.

The public works departments of Hopkins and St Louis Park are the ones that handle that section of trail and I’ve been told by those doing the plowing that they always try to get the trail done before the other, it’s a little competition in which we all win!

I also agree with everyone that we have great MTB trails despite being mostly flat, I chalk this up to a very dedicated set of riders and an even more dedicated group of volunteers. MORC and MOCA are very active and always trying to improve and add more interesting trails. A few hours away, but Cuyuna is absolutely amazing and is a singletrack trail system that should be ridden by anyone who has a taste for dirt.

Finally, what Pete said, Midtown Freewheel is open more than any other bike shop in the city and is one of the most used resources on the Greenway. I even tend to avoid it on the nice weekends because it’s just too packed!

Sam
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Sam

Right on, Pete, about Freewheel Midtown Bike Center. It’s open over 80 hours a week to the public and us commuters have extended access to showers, lockers, indoor secure bike storage, and a terrific coffee shop cafe. It serves as a bike commuting hub for all seasons. This guy must have dropped by on a weekend night when it’s rare to find any bike shops open anywhere.

Jeremy Werst
Guest

I wouldn’t say that the trails in Minneapolis go nowhere. I lived in Seward and worked in Golden Valley for a few years. 11.5 miles mostly on trail, and I could have made it all but about 10 blocks if I wanted. Worked in St. Paul, same thing. Either all but 10 blocks on trail, or 90% trail or bike lane.

If you look at the Greenway, it has exits to many areas with actual destinations. If you want to ride on quaint streets to coffee shops, you can do that. If you just want to get somewhere across town, the trail’s the way to go. You could cruise 20+ mph to Bryant, or Park / Portland, or Minnetonka. No lights. No cars. Safe and accessible for ALL levels of riders. There have been some issues with crime at night on the GW and the LRT into downtown. Yet if you look at the numbers, it’s actually safer than the adjacent streets. There’s also a group that patrols it several nights a week.

They really do get you pretty much anywhere in the city. And outside of it. That’s the key. It’s not like we’re in a bubble. I can get out of the city into destinations pretty much everywhere. Need to hit Costco? Beautiful park space most of the way, fresh air, bunnies, turkeys, fox, deer… Need to visit a friend in Hopkins? Same thing. Oh, hey, REI in Roseville or Burnsville? Lanes and path 85-90% of the way. Work in Eden Prairie? NBD.

Recreationally, they’re great, too. I have several loops from 20 – 60 miles that can be done with nearly zero cars.

There’s a lot of development happening in Uptown and along the LRT that’s specifically because of the trails. Access to the trails for transportation is a huge thing. There’s probably not going to be a whole rash of coffee shops or the like along there. But honestly, we don’t really want that here. Given the choice between trees and nature or a strip mall.. There’s no contest in my mind.

We’re probably way behind for bicycle boulevards, dedicated signals, and cyclotracks. But that’s changing rapidly.

Adam
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Adam

Nothing wrong with a fair, well-reasoned assessment. Thanks, Portland dude! The only area in which I part with your criticism is on the Greenway – I LOVE it! I work 11 miles from where I live (work in a suburb, live in South Minneapolis) and I make the commute everyday in 45 minutes – faster than I would on the freeway in a car. Also, the Greenway is notoriously safe at virtually all hours – after 2:00 a.m., I’d say your personal safety score goes down no matter what city you’re in.

Other than that, I’d say Minneapolis is essentially Portland’s still-maturing little brother. We have our moments, and there are glimpses of the kind of city we will be if we keep our nose clean, but for the most part we’re still in that awkward trying-to-find-our-identity phase (please see the explosion of PBRs and Converse All-Stars among cyclists).

One area that was not explored that perhaps should have been is in the cyclists, not just the cycleways. Our bike people, I would argue, are most definitely on par with Portland’s. There may not be as many of them, but those that are could hold their own with any in the City of Roses.

That said, I’ll be moving to Portland for at least the winter, so we can discuss further then.

Nice post!

Minneapolani
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Minneapolani

Well gee, I’m a cyclist in Minneapolis and I could give two yanks of my crank what Bike Portland thinks about cycling in Minneapolis. It would seem that these types of defensive, but-but-but we’re better articles are exclusively written by butt-hurt people from Portland. Congratulations, Portland- you’re good enough, you’re strong enough, and people like to bike in your city. Cycling is growing everywhere and other cities having notable bike cultures doesn’t mean the world will take away your bikier-than-thou gold star. I agree that biking in Minneapolis is different than biking than Portland, and not in small degree because Minneapolis bikers spin their wheels on the street instead of spinning our wheels trying to figure out if our we’re able to defend our biking culture to Portland. We. Don’t. Care. What. You. Think. We. Just. Ride.

Greaty
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Greaty

Michael Andersen’s “point” is obvious (Portland is the best), as is his huge bias; very subtlely a news editor for bikeportland.org. I’m not saying Minneapolis, is the better biking city. I honestly don’t know. I haven’t undertaken an objective survey of the two cities from a biking perspective, and nor has Michael Andersen. Additionally I probably wouldn’t be the best person to do it, and nor is Michael Andersen. Michael obviously already decided however Portland does biking is the best way to go. Who cares if you don’t like the Greenway or don’t think it’s safe? People in Minneapolis love it, and that seems to be what should be the measurement. The appropriate person is probably someone not from Minneapolis or Portland that spends an entire year in each place exploring every inch of biking path/street/lane in the cities, summer, fall, winter, and spring, and then compares based on some predefined metrics.

Additionally, Michael Andersen leaves out most of the best biking areas in the city, the interconnected chain of lakes, creek and river? Anyone? Cedar lake regional trail connects to Cedar lake, connects to Lake of the Isles, connects to Lake Calhoun, connects to Lake Harriet, connects to the Minnehaha creek, connects to Lake Nokomis, connects to the Minnehaha creek again, connects to Lake Hiawatha, connects to the Minnehaha creek again, connects to beautiful, huge Minnehaha Park (where there is a spectacular waterfall), connects to the Mississippi river trail, connects to Snelling State Park, or go the other way and you get to downtown, or cross the river and you have the St Paul side of the trail, and another whole city of biking. Oh and that’s just the South side.

Boris Kaganovich
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Boris Kaganovich

As another former resident of both Minneapolis and St Paul, I have to say that cycling in the Twin Cities and their inner suburbs is generally nicer, not only because of much flatter terrain (except in parts of St Paul, which is still flat as a pancake compared to the very suburban West Hills), but also because of the much higher density streetcar streets from the streetcar era. While Portland’s streetcar streets mostly were lined by 1 story commercial and seas of single family houses, Minneapolis and St Paul streetcar routes were lined with 1-4 story Mixed use, with 2-4 story apartment buildings off of the commercial corridors in much higher numbers than in Portland, with almost all of them being completely devoid of on-site parking and dangerous curb cuts.

Dante
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Dante

Not to offend anyone but I find it kind of funny how so many people defend Minneapolis but now reside in Portland and the surrounding areas. Portland has it’s fair share of issues like any city but I just feel it’s funny to defend a city you no longer live in. It’s a reason you moved to the northwest, whether it was for better weather, job, better biking infrastructure, etc. Point is, you’re here, not there anymore. If it’s so great there to ride a bike, then why not move back and do it everyday?? At the end of the day, I’m taking the lane anywhere in the city where a bike lane isn’t available. I love the few MUP’s we have here but when it’s said and done, it’s my right to ride the street just as a car drives on said street!

Ted Buehler
Guest

Here’s another comparison for ya’all — suburban bikeability.

Minneapolis region. Multiuse Paths.
https://maps.google.com/maps?ll=44.937585,-93.247833&spn=1.011969,1.674042&t=h&z=10&lci=bike

Portland region. Multiuse Paths. Same scale.
https://maps.google.com/maps?ll=45.559256,-122.641754&spn=1.000954,1.674042&t=h&z=10&lci=bike

In this parameter, the Portland region isn’t ever going to compare in terms of bikeability. The Twin Cities area has been putting these in as the areas suburbanized, and aggressively adding them later to bridge gaps and complete the network. Some are pokey little paths, some are uncomfortably close to arterials, but many are true “Crown Jewels” — infrastructure of such high quality that you can ride for miles an miles through beautiful corridors without a care in the world.

The Twin Cities’ path system didn’t happen by accident. Dozens of cities, small and large, all had to make the decision to incorporate multiuse paths into their development protocols. Folks probably wrote hundreds of grant applications to fill the gaps. It took decades. And now the result is a strikingly connected suburban area, where anyone who is reasonably proficient at bicycling can go to the store, school, or social visits on a bike. In each and every part of the region.

Metro Portland has no plan, no budget, and (evidently) no ambition to build a bicycle infrastructure network like this in the suburbs.

Ted Buehler

Tim Davis
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Tim Davis

Everything Ted Buehler has said in his PDX/MPLS comparison is depressingly true (and *much* more so when you include suburbs & countryside). I think it’s actually GREAT that we’re airing out our complaints, because it’s motivation, just like Ted says, to WRITE to Metro, PBOT, City Council, the BTA, Mayor Hales himself, and everyone else possible (as I do all the time!). Let’s take advantage of all the information, charts and ideas that have been presented and try to make dramatic changes! We can all very clearly see that our streets are FAR from being anything but car-friendly (which is bad for ALL street users, including those who exclusively drive from A to B).

However, when you’re writing to elected officials, *please* use good grammar. “It’s” is NOT a possessive pronoun, for example. I realize that this mistake is made millions of times every day (which is NOT “everyday,” by the way; “everyday” is an adjective that means routine/ordinary/typical; it makes absolutely zero sense to say that you bike “everyday”) in this country, but if I were an elected official reading a letter or email that was full of grammatical errors, I would not take the person’s correspondence very seriously.

I realize that I’m in the minority in being old-school regarding grammar usage, but it really is important to craft letters that are as error-free as possible. You’ll make a much better impression on the people whose (not “who’s”) policies you’re (not “your”) trying to change; they’re (not “their”) much more likely to be on your (not “you’re”) side!

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist a little late-night grammar humor. 🙂 I’m just trying to (not “too”) help. OK–I definitely need to turn off (not “of”) the laptop now!! 🙂 🙂

Rebecca
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Rebecca

Good article, great discussion.

My major take-away was that I’ll be living a thin shell of a life until I can find someone to pedal me down a quiet MUP on the back of their Xtracycle while I eat Cheese Corns. Dude in pic #7 has got it made.

Ted Buehler
Guest

Sometimes I wonder if I’m just reliving my memories through rose-tinted glasses. Early 1980s, Ted riding a 12 speed Raleigh road bike anywhere and everywhere in the Twin Cities.

But, Google Streetview confirms that some of my regular rides then are just as fabulous today.

Here is Lake Dr., “Old US 8,” through Columbus, MN. About 20 miles north of St. Paul/Minneapolis.

https://www.google.com/maps/@45.215803,-93.093399,3a,75y,8.59h,82.95t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1s9XzwMu1Ajf3A0c782iRyMQ!2e0!5m1!1e3

Those look to be 12′ driving lanes and 10′ bike lanes. All in a state of good repair.

Google Maps does not list this road as a bicycle route. So no way to quantify the prevalence of 8’+ paved shoulder rural roads in the Twin Cities vs. Portland. But anecdotal evidence suggests that Minnesota rocks the rural bicycling scene.

Ted BUehler

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

Wow, talk about similar experiences. I rode all over the Twin Cities in the early and mid 1980s, first around Woodbury and Lake Elmo where I grew up, and then later in Minneapolis on a Raleigh (Pursuit) 12-speed. I spent a LOT of time riding the bike paths and wide paved shoulders of the rural roads between Lake Elmo, Stillwater and Mahtomedi, including the very stretch of 75th Avenue that you linked above.

But changing the topic slightly, all the above discussion of the relative merits of cycling in the two metro areas hasn’t yet gotten to conditions once you get outside the metro areas. If you want to get out of town and do some recreational riding when the weekend comes around, then it’s no contest at all.

1. Shoulders. Most state highways in Minnesota have 8-12′ paved shoulders, as do MANY county level roads. Even many of the quiet back roads without paved shoulders still have wide gravel shoulders, so you can change a flat without getting buzzed, and if things go bad you can at least bail out without crashing into the ditch, flying over an embankment or getting squished against a guardrail. This means you can ride a bike in reasonable safety all over the state.

2. Long distance paths. Take the Google Maps links you posted yesterday of MUPs in the PDX metro vs the MSP metro and zoom them out one level (as far as Maps will let you zoom out and still see bikeways, unfortunately), then scroll the map around the entire state and look at the long-distance trails. Again, no contest. Minnesota is crisscrossed with long MUPs that are fantastic for touring.

Granted, Oregon has better scenery and (usually) weather, but as far as infrastructure for rural biking is concerned, Minnesota wins by about a light-year.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

St Anthony Parkway in Nordeast Minneapolis has a 25mph limit, as I observed when I was there last week.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Sorry, above reply was meant to go in the “25mph limits are illegal in MN” discussion further up the thread.

Anyway, I unexpectedly found myself in MN last week, and took the opportunity to spend a full morning Nice Riding all over central and south Minneapolis again. It reminded me that overall I do NOT find getting around Mpls by bike more difficult or dangerous than in Portland, even ignoring the problem of the West Hills. A few more specific findings …

While it’s true that the network of on-street bike lanes isn’t as good as Portland’s overall, it’s also important to note that the wider streets make bike lanes less necessary in a lot of places. That’s true on both the arterial streets and on the quiet side streets, which Minneapolis has in abundance in an even more orderly, navigable grid than Portland’s.

I was also reminded that double-buffered bike lanes on the Park/Portland couplet completely embarrass ANYthing in Portland.

One more plus for Minneapolis is the all-important river crossings. Much better situation than our Hawthorne and Broadway Bridge battlegrounds. In the central core (downtown and the U) of about 3 river miles, Minneapolis has:
Three river crossings reserved exclusively for bikes and pedestrians: Stone Arch, Northern Pacific #9 and the upper deck of the Washington Avenue.
– Four bridges with decent bike lanes: Hennepin/1st Avenue, Central/3rd Avenue, 10th Avenue and Franklin Avenue.
– Two more bridges (Broadway and Plymouth) with sidepaths that at least beat the Ross Island Bridge, which I have to deal with most afternoons.
FWIW, I rode 7 of the above-listed bridges on Thursday (all except Plymouth and Broadway).

River crossings outside downtown are also better than in Portland, where we get to choose between the craptacular Sellwood, the turdtastic Ross Island or the mediocre St. Johns. I’ve ridden the Lake Street and Ford Parkway bridges and both have nice, wide bike lanes; further south, the Hwy 5 bridge has a railing-protected sidepath that may not be great but looks at least wide enough for oncoming bikes to meet without drama; to the north, the Lowry has sidepaths that appear as wide as those on the Hawthorne but with lower traffic, and the 37th Ave NE bridge has decent looking paths on both sides as well.

Another neat find was the the new Dinkytown Greenway, another (shorter) sunken “bike freeway” rail-trail similar to the Midtown Greenway, great for quick trips across the U of M campus.

Finally, there are the dozens of miles of cycletracks that encircle the lakes and follow Minnehaha Creek and the Mississippi River. Let’s call them cycletracks, because that’s exactly what they are: two way bike paths, adjacent to significant roads but separated from both automobile and pedestrian traffic, with a reasonably low number of intersections and conflict points.

FH
Guest
FH

Most of my fellow Minneapolitans have already spoken up in our defense; I’ll add an additional point about the Midtown Greenway. Did you somehow miss the $82 Million dollars worth of real estate development that has sprung up along the Greenway since it was built? See page 5 of this: http://www.metrotransit.org/Data/Sites/1/media/midtown-corridor/midtown-corridor-economic-development-analysis.pdf
Most of these developments have direct Greenway access which has become a hot commodity.

To your point, the Freewheel Bike Shop is the only retail space located at trail level. Though as a bike commuting resident, the Greenway is more about getting from point A to B, with a nice relief from the grid above. If you had visited the Freewheel Midtown during its business hours you would have noticed the congestion of cyclists and pedestrians directly adjacent to this point on the trail; which is a welcome addition but also can create somewhat of a bottleneck situation. There are countless neighborhood nodes and commercial corridors in the Twin Cities that have the vibe you were looking for on the Greenway (thanks to our once largest street car network in the country circa 1900).

This article should remind us all that it is hard to draw conclusions based on visiting a city on a long weekend (or looking at a map). I spent about 3 days in Portland in May and could have drawn similar conclusions about your town. Superb Japanese garden, and wonderful views of an active volcano, but biking? Well I saw a few people on bikes I guess; but then again I spent most of my time in the Pearl District and Northwest. Who am I to judge based on seeing a small chunk of your city.

Great point on the physical area of our respective cities and their commute to work by bike numbers. I’ve been saying the same thing to others and was hoping no one in your neck of woods would find out…

FH
Guest
FH

^^^^Everything I said above still stands. I just wanted to address anyone who is still on the fence about visiting the Twin Cities; here is a video by my friends at LB Jeffries Photography that highlights some of the best aspects of biking in Minneapolis and Saint Paul! https://vimeo.com/109199383

Miah
Guest
Miah

You lost me the moment you neglected to include Saint Paul at the beginning of your article, in terms of size etc…Maybe three days wasn’t enough time to do a serious comparison but this is a glaring oversight. Everyone (in the Great Lakes region at least) knows this unique relationship between the two cities, which literally border each other and completely merge into one big city, aka the Twin Cities. Not including Saint Paul in your actual data totally debases every single thing you wrote in your “comparison”, for better or worse. Time for a redo!