Midtown Market/Exchange — the former Sears headquarters in Minneapolis. A tornado warning had been lifted a couple of hours earlier. There’s great Mexican food in here, and the famous Holy Land lunch and grocery, home of the jalapeño hummus, is here as well. A few years ago it was a derelict, empty shell. The upper floors house a medical facility, not a hospital.
Minneapolis just got voted best biking city in the US by Bicycling Magazine, beating out Portland and New York City. The US Census rated the city #2.
Last Thursday they instituted a bike share program called Nice Ride — an obvious sexual innuendo that was never mentioned. I was in town for one of my bikes and cities and the future of getting around panels, so I tried the system out — twice. Here’s how it works.
There are bike stations all over a large section of town, covering downtown, and areas known as midtown and uptown (which are actually south and southwest of downtown). Each station has a map showing where the other stations are, so you know where to head for — most are within a few blocks of typical destinations.
Obviously you can also go to their website, where there’s a physical map showing the station locations as well. You slide in a credit card (debit cards are no good — pin code entry is an issue) and decide how many bikes you want. You get the first 30 minutes totally free — your card isn’t charged. After those 30 minutes are up, the fees kick in, ramping up the longer you hold onto the bike. You have unlimited 30 minute chunks available to you within a 24-hour period of your rental — all at no charge. The idea is to encourage short trips, not long, leisurely day trips. You don’t have to return the bikes to the station where you got them… you typically abandon your bike at a station near your destination. When you’ve done your business there and want to return home, or to your hotel in my case, you go back to the station, re-insert your credit card and are issued a release code number. You can repeat this process as many times as you like in the 24-hour period and not be charged. I made one trip to Dero, a company that makes bike racks, and then later to the Uptown Theater, where the event was.
You can also get a yearly unlimited pass, which comes in the form of a stick you can attach to your keychain. When inserted into a slot at the stations it releases a bike instantly.
How are the bikes? Pretty good. They’re made by Bixi in Montreal, where one of these systems is already in place. The Minneapolis bikes look nicer and are easy to spot, as they’re electric green. They’re super sturdy, of course, and have only three gears — which is plenty for a flat city like Minneapolis (or New York, or Melbourne, Australia, which is initializing their own system in a couple of weeks). There is a carrier contraption in front with non-removable bungee cords, which worked fine for me to attach my laptop bag. There are front and rear lights powered by hidden dynamos — so no batteries to replace. Mud and chain guards mean you can wear normal or office clothes and not worry about getting grease stains or puddle splatters. They’re not lightweight — this isn’t a sports bike by any means — but in a flat town like this it’s no problem.
Luckily, my destinations were located in opposite directions reachable by the midtown greenway, a beautiful bike and pedestrian avenue that goes all the way across town — from the lakes to the Mississippi. It was a former rail line and for years had been abandoned — a gully filled with abandoned shopping carts and the detritus of the homeless. A few years ago it was cleaned up, and more recently the two-way bike and ped lanes were put in. There were lots of folks using it — it was gorgeous on a sunny day like today.
It’s like an expressway — you exit via ramps. The next step is to tie in the local businesses along the way a little more.
In the early afternoon, I went to the local public radio station, where a few years ago they instituted a station with a new format called The Current, that plays more music than the usual talk and current affairs programming of most public radio. They feature local music and various kinds of alternative or indie music. Needless to say, it’s hugely popular. A guy from the station would be a moderator at the bikes and cities event later.
Then I went to visit Dero, a company that manufactures bike racks to serve various, mostly practical, specific needs: cluster racks for colleges around the country, lightweight ones that can be dropped into position for temporary events, standard U-shaped ones, and I saw a prototype for a sheltered double-decker system. The upper level rail slides down so you don’t have to hoist your bike up.
They’re busy fulfilling lots of orders. We’re in discussion about some custom-designed racks for specific cities in the near future, but have to get through some red tape first.
Outside their warehouse is a sensor powered by some solar cells.
Employees can attach a little electronic thingie to their spokes, which causes the sensor to beep when they ride by.
They are then rewarded by the company for riding to work, and receive a financial credit. New York has a similar law that employees can get tax credits or financial rewards for riding — though having an automated system makes it a no-brainer.
The panel in Minneapolis was typical of these events; the makeup was a city person, an advocate, a historian/planner and myself. On this one we were joined by Mayor R.T. Rybak, who has been instrumental in getting these programs pushed through. He’s so popular that no one wanted to run against him in the last election. This event was under the umbrella of “Policy and a Pint,” a series of gatherings organized by the same local NPR radio station, in which they encourage having a beer while discussing policy. At the Uptown the excellent local beers were dispersed in the theater lobby, which slowed down the seating considerably, but allowed everyone to loosen up a little.
I got lots of laughs during my slide talk, which was satisfying. I guess it’s turned into a PowerPoint standup routine, with a bit of advocacy in there as well. I’ve adjusted my own presentation since I started doing these about a year ago — now I end on a more optimistic note, mentioning programs that are being instigated in lots of cities. It’s not just about bikes either — they’re merely part of a larger movement to make our cities more livable. There’s a groundswell in many US cities to make them more pleasant, to improve the quality of life. Many of these changes involve giving cars less priority. Even car-centric cities like LA and Dallas are building park-like things that cover over parts of their freeways; high-speed bus lanes are being installed; and pedestrian zones are being expanded.
As usual, most of the questions during the Q&A after our talks were directed to the city person — in this case, the mayor. Big cheers… as he responded to some of the queries affirmatively, announcing plans for expansion and additions to current projects. The event was becoming less a presentation and more a rally and celebration.
We had to wrap up by nine, as the Uptown Theater was screening the Joan Rivers documentary.
On to Chicago. Nice show of H. C. Westermann’s series of prints “See America First” at the Art Institute. He became known in the late ’50s and ’60s, but was maybe a little too unclassifiable to really become super well-known. He was a big inspiration for a lot of others, though.
The big show there was of a particular era (1913-17) when Matisse got a bit “experimental.” Needless to say it is a popular show, but for my money it’s a little bloated — there are maybe half a dozen super amazing and surprising paintings, and the rest is context and backstory.
To some these might look unfinished — but he worked long and hard on them, though they don’t betray a lot of that time and effort. One wall text mentioned that WWI was quite a disturbing and disruptive event at that time — which is sort of an understatement, but it seems it had some shakeup effect on Henri. These were quite a bit different than his earlier work.
Later in the afternoon there was a freak storm — windows blew out on the Sears (now Willis) tower, a McDonald’s drive thru sign got blown away, and the skylight of the Goose Island brewery, one of the bike event sponsors, got sucked out of their ceiling. Over 200,000 folks lost power. Earlier that day I was told that the “windy city” moniker is deceptive — that Chicago is not really all that windy…
“Sean Maloney was on the 68th floor of the [Willis] building Friday afternoon when he said he felt the building begin to sway. Open doors started slamming shut. A colleague suddenly slid across the floor in his chair. Looking out toward the west, Maloney could see a dark wall of clouds bearing down on the city.
Blocks of concrete fell from the Aon Center.”
I think they’d better stick with Windy City.
The bike event was at the Cultural Center, which used to be a fancy downtown public library. Here is the ceiling of a room with a Tiffany glass skylight — unaffected by the storm. There was a wedding reception about to begin there, so I was shooed out.
The bikes and cities event was not as exciting as the storm, though Chicago is expanding their network of bike lanes and is going to initiate some high-speed bus routes soon too. It’s cold here in the winter, but there are folks who bike to work all year round, so there.