How a $7 million dollar bike path gets built

Perhaps you know this but it escaped my attention despite multiple monthly trips to the Minneapolis/St Paul International Airport (MSP): “cyclists can’t ride all the way to Terminal 1” (the terminal formerly known as the Lindberg Terminal.)  The solution:  a proposed $7 million dollar, 0.9-mile bike path that would allow Minneapolis to supposedly become a “world class city” and provide a way for avid cyclists to get to the airport.

There are lots of unchecked assumptions in this wildly-expensive plan including the fact that cyclists would live in south Minneapolis and work at Terminal 1, for starters.  The plan was unveiled recently and was developed by a Hennepin County Task Force.  The Task Force bike path recommendations appears to have strong support from the chair of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, Dan Boivin.  Mr. Boivin has served for 14 years on the Metropolitan Airports Commission, most recently appointed chairman by Governor Mark Dayton. Mr. Boivin stated in a recent article in the Star Tribunethat “there’s demand from the employees,” and that he “wants bike access integrated into pending-construction” meaning he wants to move ahead on a plan to allow bicyclists to be able to ride to the airport.

According to airport officials who, every two years, conduct a bike count at MSP, there are currently only a “handful of bikes” but the Hennepin County task force report projects that nearly 430 daily cyclists will materialize if this new path is constructed.  Considering the basic fact that for six months out of each year Minnesota weather is rather unhospitable to bicycle riding, their projection of “hundreds” of daily bicycle commuters sounds more to me like a psychic prediction from Miss Cleo rather than a scientific projection based upon facts but I digress.

The Wisconsin-based president of the League of American Bicylists (who travels with a folding bike in a suitcase), Steve Clark of Cushing, Wisconsin, issued this statement about MSP and its lack of bicycle accessibility: “I’ve been to probably over 100 airports.  Minneapolis-St Paul is the worst. It’s the only one I was not able to bike from – the Lindberg terminal.” Mr. Clark continued his statement by adding, “We’re a world class bicycle area so we should have a world-class airport.”

So, there you have it: we need a dedicated bicycle path for several hundred potential bike commuters to ride less than one mile to their jobs at MSP or we’re not a world class city.

This is the same argument that elected officials in Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis use to reinforce the need for additional (and wildly expensive) light rail lines throughout the metro area, funded also with precious taxpayer dollars:  without light rail, we’re not a world-class city.  As such, taxpayers have spent nearly $2 billion to construct 23 miles of light rail in the past few years, including the Blue Line that takes passengers to MSP for a $4.50 round trip ticket.  Apparently that’s not enough.  Now we need a dedicated bicycle path to the airport and if we spend $7 million dollars to build the less than one-mile route, bicyclists will come.

People often ask me how outrageously expensive plans like this bike path proposal become law.  Here’s how:

  • Election Day is less than one week away. 
  • Nearly 5% of elected officials in Minnesota have appeared on the ballot in the last three elections unopposed including many champions of ever-increasing government programs and spending.
  • Take your pick but Minneapolis, Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Council commission task forces like this one that develop sometimes outrageous plans to spend more and more of your tax dollars based on their priorities – like light rail, dedicated bicycle paths, etc.
  • Most members of these task forces often have a vested or personal interest in the mission of the group.  Rarely are their assumptions challenged (“this plan is too expensive and serves too few people”).  And, seldom are taxpayer advocates included in the appointments to these commissions.  (Editor’s note:  when I served as chairman of the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Committee, I was denied a position on one of the most important boards that my predecessor enjoyed – a seat on the Counties Transit Improvement Board – CTIB—because I was judged to be ‘anti-transit.’)
  • Left unchecked, these plans are passed along to the governing body (Met Council, Hennepin County Commissioners, Minneapolis City Council, etc..) and  become law.  You and I pay for them through a variety of taxes.
  • There are currently 4 vacant seats on the Hennepin County Bicycle Advisory Committee.  You can learn more about these vacancies are and how to apply by clicking on this LINK. And don’t stop there – get involved!

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