By Eric O’Link, Outdoor Writer
Minnesota bicyclists might take some pride in knowing that our state ranks fifth in overall bike friendliness, according to the League of American Bicyclists.
That’s good news if you like to bike. But the new Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota isn’t satisfied with fifth; the group’s goal is to propel Minnesota to the top of the list.
This was the message shared with a packed conference room of cycling enthusiasts at the second annual Minnesota Bicycle Summit in late April. More than 100 people spent a Saturday morning at Quality Bicycle Products in Bloomington to hear from guest speakers as well as updates of the Bicycle
Alliance from Executive Director Dorian Grilley and several committee members.
Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota grew out of the previous year’s bike summit, when those in attendance discussed the need for a statewide bicycle advocacy organization. The nonprofit alliance was formed last fall using leftover funding from the Minnesota Coalition of Bicyclists, a similar group that had been inactive for about a decade.
Public agencies and advisory committees have been doing great work on behalf of bicyclists for the last 15 years, Grilley says, but no group had been the voice of Minnesota bicyclists. That’s a role the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota will fulfill through advocacy and promoting bike education.
“It’s something we’ve been lacking in Minnesota,” says Nick Mason of Dero Bike Rack Co., one of the alliance’s founders and chair of its advocacy committee. “We haven’t had a unified voice to stand up for bicycling, to make sure it’s part of our way of life here.”
Part of why Minnesota doesn’t rank higher on bike friend-liness is a lack of bicycle education, Grilley says, something the alliance aims to change by certifying volunteer instructors throughout the state to teach League of American Bicyclists curriculum. Ultimately, the alliance plans to offer beginner, advanced, and child-focused courses statewide, covering everything from traffic skills to commuting to bike repair. The alliance’s education program will also incorporate the “Share the Road” message to educate motorists about bicycling safety and bicyclists’ rights to ride on Minnesota roads.
On the advocacy front, the alliance is already meeting with local and national policymakers and elected officials to make them aware of the needs of the Minnesota bike community.
“Our major policy initiative is going to be complete streets,” Grilley says – roadways designed not only for cars, but for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders. The alliance has forged a partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield and AARP to promote complete streets and bicycling as a fit, active, healthy choice as people age.
Now that the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota is developing its education and advocacy programs, it needs members. Grilley says the goal is to have 1,000 members by the end of the year; those interested can sign up at bikemn.org.
“The real benefit to a member is to know that they are part of making Minnesota more bicycle friendly,” he explains. “Should they choose to become an active member, we’ll provide them with the knowledge to be a more effective advocate.”