Archive for the 'Twin Cities' Category

Moving Beyond Petroleum — Bike Sharing

In light of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, many Americans are understandably angry at BP, and want to do something about it.  This has led to calls for boycotts of gas stations bearing the BP logo.  However, this would prove ineffective, as BP does not own most of these stations.  In addition, BP is a wholesaler of petroleum products, so you may be buying gas from BP no matter what station you buy from.

The appropriate response if you want to hurt BP, or, more importantly, try to prevent further environmental damage, is not to look for the most moral oil company.  Instead, take BP at their word, and move Beyond Petroleum.

How to do so? I’ve written about this before, here and here.

Maybe you’re not in a position to make a dramatic lifestyle change like going car-free.  But with a little planning, it’s not too hard to replace several car trips per week with bus or bike trips.  And if you’re lucky enough to live in Minneapolis, you have a new option to make bike riding even easier: Nice Ride Minnesota, a new bike-sharing program.

Based on the Bixi model, recently implemented in Montreal, the system allows users to pay a small subscription fee ($5/24 hours, $30/month, $60/year), and then take one of the 700 neon green bikes out for a spin, returning it to one of 60+ docking stations at the end of the trip.  The first half hour is no additional charge, so it encourages short trips, although the density of the stations in the covered areas makes it easy to hopscotch across town.  The system currently covers downtown and surrounding areas, including the University and uptown neighborhoods, and there are plans to expand.

Some have been dubious of how popular the system could be, but I have seen many of the bikes daily since the program was launched less than a month ago.  In fact, over 10,000 rides were taken during the first 20 days of the program.  This is encouraging news, not just for the success of this program and others like it, but also for encouraging bicycling as a common mode of transportation, not just recreation.

If you’re in Minneapolis, I encourage you to try it out! It’s a small investment of time and money to see just how bike-able the city is.  It’s an easy and enjoyable way to travel, and helps you feel more connected to the neighborhood than just driving through, windows up, with the radio on.  (Not to mention the health and environmental benefits.) After trying it out, you may find it worth your while to invest in a longer-term subscription and make Nice Ride part of your regular commuting and recreation plans.

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Going Greener With Alternative Power

It’s been a little over a year since I blogged about my carbon footprint, and detailed some of the steps that I was taking to reduce my environmental impact.  Here’s an update, along with a new step that I encourage all of you to look into: purchasing electricity from alternative energy sources.

Car-Free Existence

I grew up dependent on cars for transportation, but I’ve found the transition to not owning a car to be pretty easy.  I ride my bike when the weather cooperates, 8 miles round trip to school (EDIT: Closer to 6 miles, now that I’ve found a faster and shorter route).  Thanks to a good network of bike lanes and trails, plus (mostly) conscientious drivers, my bike commute is usually pretty nice.  I can definitely see why Minneapolis is considered the #2 bike friendly city in America.

UPDATE: If you’re hesitant to start biking places because you’re not sure you’d be able to find a route, Google Maps now has bicycling directions that are fairly good.

When it rains, and during the winter, I take the bus.  This is also very convenient, as the Twin Cities have good public transportation.  I can use Google Maps to find the best route at any given time.  Plus, it’s great that the Twin Cities have a growing number of hybrid electric buses, which furthers the cause of going green.

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A Bridge to Somewhere

On August 1st, 2008, disaster struck the Twin Cities as the Interstate 35W bridge that spans the Mississippi River between Downtown Minneapolis and the north side of the city collapsed during rush hour.  Thirteen people died and 145 were injured.

The aftermath of the Collapse

The aftermath of the Collapse

I did not live in the area at the time, so I can’t quite share the same feelings that must have been shared by everyone in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  I’m sure that most people either used the bridge regularly, or know someone who did, and the thought “That could have been me or someone I love” must have been pervasive.

The effect of the bridge collapse on my life has been much smaller.  With one of the city’s main arteries cut off, the effect on traffic throughout downtown and the surrounding area has been huge.  This is especially pertinent to me, since I live near downtown and have to get to the East Bank every day to get to the University of Minnesota.  Since bicycling is my main mode of transportation, increased traffic is obviously an issue, although the bike lanes have made this fairly manageable.  The other problem is that I have to find a way to get across the river on one of about five bridges, which are of course carrying the load that the interstate bridge used to take.  In addition, the bike trail along the river bank has been cut off where it passes underneath the bridge, further limiting my options.

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