New Beginnings and Dead Ends


The other day, we noticed one of those traffic-counting devices on the Cedar Lake bike path—the little black hose that crosses the trail and enters the silver lockbox. It tallies the number of vehicles that pass. We also noticed some kids jumping up and down on that hose, and we did nothing.


This is the weather where we earn our proudest statistics. For example, the Twin Cities is now known as the American city with the highest number of bike commuters. Almost three percent of all commuters are pedaling to work here, and that is regardless of the season—if you believe the traffic counters.


If that number is a lie, it is a white lie. If it reflects what we ought to be more than what we are, it still can spur public policy in admirable ways. For example, the recently passed federal transportation bill dedicated $25 million to developing more bike paths throughout the state, but mostly in the Twin Cities. That may seem frivolous. But long-range thinking always seems frivolous if you measure time in terms of banking statements. Since transportation is one of the “biggest challenges” facing our city and state, why sniff at such a simple transportation alternative—the modest bicycle? Why must we persist in the endless idolization of the automobile? Completing and linking bike paths along Hennepin from Loring Park to Eleventh Street, for example, should be considered money in the bank. It will insure against the inevitable lawsuit after a cyclist eventually gets killed trying to bike from Uptown to downtown. To a personal injury lawyer, that sign that says “Bike Path Ends” translates into “Big Money Ahead.”


A mile of bike path costs between $100,000 and $1 million (depending on the cost of acquiring land; thus more expensive in the city than in the suburbs). A mile of new freeway comes with a price tag of up to $75 million. One man’s pork is another’s beans. The cynic will say that bike paths do nothing to relieve automobile congestion, and that may be true. But the bike path completely relieves automobile congestion for one person—the person who switches to a bike.


One thing we always liked about our newly re-elected mayor was his commitment to alternative transportation, and his enthusiasm for bike paths in the city. But we’ve had our disagreements with Mayor Rybak on other issues. Now that he’s secured another four years of public service, we hope he’ll seriously consider putting more police officers on the street. We’d like to see more cops downtown, walking the beat. Put them on bikes; there’s two birds in the hand. A cop on every corner, and the petty thugs on a road trip to Splitsville.


Which for some reason reminds us of the Vikings. This year, we are all on the trail of tears with the—er, Purple People Eaters. We have nothing more to add to the huddle, other than to say it is much harder to get into trouble on a bike than on a boat. Even a bicycle built for two.


The other day, we listened to a public radio program about the modern “Minuteman” movement. It is made up of persons who are deeply disturbed about illegal aliens. Minutemen voluntarily patrol the nation’s borders with Mexico and Canada. They are suspicious of our government, and the feeling is mutual; President Bush has discredited them as “vigilantes.” If it survives to the next election cycle, the Republican Party actually prefers open borders and the cheap labor they ensure. That whole terror thing? It is merely a tool to whip up middle-class fear, not to actually motivate the rednecks to get out there and patrol the borders in a spirit of manly camaraderie.


We’re not sure where Katherine Kersten would come down on the issue of same-sex vigilantism. But we do know the Strib’s token exurbanite has drawn a line in the sand many times now as regards same-sex marriage. Obviously, the problem with drawing a line in sand is that it tends to keep erasing itself in the absence of any solid logic. The other day, Kersten wrote, “A proposal to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman in Minnesota’s Constitution is one of the biggest issues our state will face in the next legislative session,” and, “when marriage is redefined, other social institutions are likewise transformed.” By way of example, she notes that Canada passed same-sex marriage rights last year, and as a result Canadian society is on the brink of collapse. “If someone tells you same-sex marriage won’t affect your marriage, tell them to look north. The evidence is building.” (We wonder if the Minutemen have noticed from their post at the border.) Even if we wished to take her word for it, Kersten has the bad habit of impeaching herself. “Ironically,” she can’t seem to help herself from writing, “it appears that only a small fraction of gay Canadians have taken advantage of their new right.” An example (O rara avis!): “A church in Calgary offered a marriage-preparation course for same-sex couples but had to cancel it because only one couple showed up,” her sources tell her. Let’s see if we understand this correctly: Gay marriage is transforming Canadian society, though no gay Canadians are actually getting married. How odd. If Kersten’s prose were a trail, it would somehow manage to be both circular and end in a brick wall.


Or up a tree. This year, the DNR is so concerned about the proliferation of deer, and the extinction of the hunter, that it has increased the bag limit to up to five deer per hunter. That’s a lot of venison for one self-righteous, conservative columnist to haul out of the woods alone. Still, here is our prediction for this year’s hunt: We imagine the deer will lose, and one of the governor’s favorite concerns—the makers of ATVs—will win, with all those dead deer, and so few hands to haul them out of the woods. Put us down as people who feel this is a mild form of cheating. Hunting deer with an ATV is rather like golfing with a cart. If you can’t get out there on your own, the way the deer did, then you have an unfair advantage. We know of at least one person who does his deer hunting with a bow, and navigates the woods on his mountain bike. Now that’s the true path of manliness.