[messengers] Winter Warriors

Date: 31 Jan 2011 18:47:51 +0100
From: Joe Hendry <messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>


Winter Warriors

 

January 31, 2011, Downtown Journal

 

BY GREGORY J. SCOTT

 

// Despite record snowfalls, chaotic parking restrictions
and buried bike lanes, Downtown cyclists say this year has been one of the best
for winter riding  //

 

What does it take to get a Minneapolis cyclist to give up the winter
commute? Not a record-setting snowfall, apparently. 

 

Despite the great winter deluge of December 2010, which
dumped more than 33 inches of snow on the metro area — the most the city has seen
since 1969 — Downtown bike commuters continued to climb on to their
two-wheelers to get to and from work. And while this should surprise no one —
cold-hardiness has long been our scene’s biggest bragging point, our trump card
in finally edging out Portland last spring as
Bicycling Magazine’s “#1 Bike
 City” — this winter’s
riders are significant in another way.

 

They seem to be the only ones prepared for the weather.

 

 The Metrodome’s roof
collapsed, the City of Minneapolis
busted its 2010 snowplowing budget by $3 million and thanks to a record-setting
string of six snow emergencies, 6,699 cars have been towed since late November.


 

But the cyclists keep making it from point A to point B.
Bike Walk Twin Cities, the local arm of a federal initiative aimed at reducing
car dependence, estimates that 36 percent of area cyclists continue to pedal on
clear winter days, and a hardy 20 percent ride on through more frightful
conditions. 

 

Many of these commuters have said that this season has been
much better than last year — though the bar may have been set pretty low. 

 

“Last year, we had that snowstorm on Christmas that didn’t
get plowed. And that melted and froze, leaving terrible, terrible icy ruts,” said
Kyle Neitzel, a Windom
 Park resident who rides
daily to his job at the IDS Center Downtown. “We have been pretty fortunate
that we haven’t had a quick freeze, or a warm-up followed by a quick freeze.
[This winter] hasn’t been bad.”

 

Bjorn Christianson, lead administrator of the popular local
cycling forum MplsBikeLove.com, agreed. 

 

“I would say so far this year, it’s been easier than last
year. Last year we had the really bad freeze/thaw cycles,” he said. “So you’d
end up with 3- to 4-inch high — I call them ‘ice warts,’ just big hunks of ice
that sit on the road and the plow can never get them up.” 

 

These refrozen slush nuggets, also known as “ice islands” or
“ice boogers,” are riders’ worst enemies, more feared than frigid wind chills
and mushy snow melt. 

 

“They’re just polished to a hardness, like diamonds, and you
hit it and it jerks your handlebars,” said Gene Oberpriller, co-founder of One
on One Bicycle Studio, 117
  Washington Ave. N. 

 

Oberpriller’s studio — which includes a mechanic’s shop, an
art gallery and a coffee bar — is the community hub for the city’s bike
messengers, who fuel and warm up there in between deliveries. During late
mornings, a steady stream of splattered, ruddy-cheeked riders track in and out,
ordering coffee and smoking cigarettes outside. 

 

On a recent Tuesday, with light snow falling outside and
balmy, 22-degree weather, most were in high spirits. 

 

“This is a pleasurable day,” said Evan Reich, a messenger
with courier service Blazing Saddles, noting that fresh snow increases
traction.

 

But once the conversation veered away from climate and
toward plowing, opinions grew less cheerful. 

 

“I would say it’s definitely worse,” said Chris “Skinny”
Anderson, a courier who zips between Downtown law firms, trafficking documents
and serving subpoenas. “The streets are not being plowed. I’ll go the whole day
without seeing a plow truck. Or you’ll see a guy going someplace else to plow.
You’d think they’d cover [Downtown] first.”

 

Mike Harris, an eight-year messenger veteran, held a similar
view. “It’s worse. It’s nicer because it’s less cold, but there’s a lot of sh**
out there.”

 

All three cited Nicollet Mall as “utterly horrible.” Another
dangerous stretch is 5th Street,
Reich said, which shares its roadway with the light rail and is divided by a
tall fence outside of Target Field. 

 

Off-street bikeways like the Midtown Greenway and the
Hiawatha LRT trail have faired much better, said One on One mechanic Ben
Husby.  

 

“What I’m hearing from a lot of people is that trails and
paths are in great shape,” he said.

 

Both the city’s Public Works department and the Park Board
have a general practice of clearing off-street paths within 24 hours of the end
of a snowfall, according to Shaun Murphy, Non-Motorized Pilot Project
Coordinator for the City of Minneapolis.


 

A quick walking tour revealed a Hennepin Avenue that was mushy but
manageable. The green stripe bike lanes were clear of snow but camouflaged
beneath gray muck. The 1st Avenue
bike lanes, each sandwiched between the curb and an inner parking lane, were
completely out of commission, buried in 3-inch deep snow and mini boulders of
ice. Prime bus arteries Marquette and 2nd
Avenues appeared well cleared, with some stretches, like the 800 block of Marquette, squeaky clean
from curb to curb.

 

But hulking snowdrifts were everywhere. Oberpriller cited
these as a major danger, as they tend to block sight lines at busy
intersections.  

 

But most cyclists said they feel satisfied with the city’s
plowing efforts. 

 

“A lot of streets, there isn’t a lot of room to work with,
so if there are multiple vehicles and you’re cycling, you get kind of pinched a
little bit,” commented Christianson. “But if you follow the rules and own your
lane when you need to, it’s pretty easy to get around.”

 

“The city’s done a decent job of clearing the snow up. It’s
not so bad,” said Tim Roach, who does bike delivery for Jimmy Johns at 88 S. 9th St.  

 

There’s also an unexpected benefit from narrowed roadways,
Neitzel pointed out: de facto bike-only lanes.

 

“A lot of times when you have a two-lane road, the outer
lane will only be halfway plowed. And that leaves you with essentially your own
lane.”

 

Cyclists are also noticing more consideration from vehicles.

 

“I’ve had less people honking at me,” Oberpriller said.
“We’re a little more visible now. There’s a lot of buzz about the city and
riding. It seems to enthuse people.” 

 

All in all, he said, the diminished bike lanes, the drifts,
the near-daily snowfall — it just builds a level of challenge and adversity
that most riders thrill to.

 

“There’s no such thing as bad weather,” Oberpiller joked,
citing a favorite cycling aphorism. “Just bad clothing.”

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