Why don’t more Northfielders bike to work?

While riding my bike back home several days last week, I tried to determine how many employee bikes there were in the parking lots of the three medical-related workplaces clustered near So. Hwy 3 and Jefferson Parkway.   Answer: 3.  Total employees at the three facilities?  I’m not sure. 100?

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Above: the Northfield Hospital‘s operations facility at 1100 Bollenbacher Drive, formerly home to the Village School.  The facility is right on the East Cannon River bike trail. No employee bikes. No bike racks.

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Above: Allina Medical Clinic, 1400 Jefferson Rd.  The facility is in the middle of a network of bike trails, sidewalks, and a street with bike lanes. Two employee bikes, two bike racks.

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Above: Northfield Hospital’s Orthopaedic & Fracture Clinic and Center for Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation. The facility is in the middle of a network of bike trails, sidewalks, and a street with bike lanes. One employee bike, one bike rack.

I’ve selected these facilities because it was convenient for me.  I suspect the same would be true for employees of other larger employers in Northfield, example, Mom Brands, the colleges, the school district, the City, etc.

24 comments to  (Including 4 Discussion Threads) Why don’t more Northfielders bike to work?

  • 1
    rob hardy says:

    On Friday, you might have found my bike locked up outside Allina Clinic. I rode out to Target for something (carried in my backpack), then stopped at the clinic to get my son’s immunization records for college. Then I stopped at the co-op and filled my backpack with groceries. (Yes, I wore my helmet for the entire trip.) These days, I only drive the car 3 or 4 times a month, and almost never for trips around Northfield. Even a trip to Target (about 5 miles round trip for me) is done on foot or on bike. One result: I’m 25 pounds lighter than before I started doing this, and (according to my last check-up at the clinic in question) my cholesterol is no longer elevated, and my blood pressure is down.

  • 2
    Lisa Gaetjens says:

    How do you know they’re employee bikes? When I was a student at Carleton I used to bike to my appointments at Allina and CSMR. Maybe they’re patient/customer bikes. I agree with you though, I’m surprised more people don’t bike to work in Northfield. The whole city is relatively flat with wide streets, makes for pretty easy biking.

  • 3
    Iris Jastram says:

    I know a whole bunch of people (faculty, staff, and deans) bike to work at Carleton, but you’ll never be able to separate out the employee bikes from the student bikes from the bikes that various departments buy so that employees can get from place to place quickly. Then there are a whole bunch of people who drive to work because they don’t live in town. Then there are people like me who prefer to walk.

    If I worked at St. Olaf I probably wouldn’t bike. That hill!

  • 4

    It is relatively much easier for vandals to render a bicycle inoperative than an automobile, even if it remains locked securely. If the State is interested in promoting bicycling as a normal, legitimate, mainstream mode of daily transportation, I would make the suggestion that, legally, the theft and/or malicious destruction or interference with someone’s parked bicycle be treated with equal seriousness as comparable offenses involving a motorized vehicle. “Grand Theft Bicycle” sounds kind of stupid, until you leave your office late one afternoon and discover your wheels have been destroyed, leaving you to rely on the non-existent cab system to proceed homeward.

  • 5
    Beth Kallestad says:

    Right now getting the kids to daycare is my excuse. Not a good one but that’s what I’ve got.

  • 6

    I don’t think my wife would appreciate me riding down our stairs.

  • 7
    Patsy Dew says:

    Seredipidus that you would have this piece this week, the week I finally got back to using my bicycle to get to work. I’m very familiar with the excuses for using the car, even for short trips…stuff to carry, kids to pick up, no time, no time, no time. And then there’s the bike-hostile city streets I must travel on my route. Two summers ago I broke an elbow on that route…but I digress. Today I feel virtuous for have resumed this use of the bike in town.

  • 8

    I don’t work in town (sadly) but if I did the main deterrent for me riding my bike to work would be that I’d get sweaty from the ride, and I wouldn’t want to work in smelly, sweaty clothes all day. Most businesses don’t have a shower to use, and I wouldn’t want to extend my travel time by biking as leisurely as would be necessary to avoid sweating.

    • 8.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      Brenton, I’ve heard this ‘sweaty’ argument a few times now and while it makes some sense for those who’d have to ride a long way, I don’t think holds up for those who live and work in town:

      1) Except for St. Olaf, Northfield is pretty flat so exertion to get from A to B is minimal;

      2) the temperatures in the morning are generally around 60 degrees, not warm enough to create a sweat for a leisurely commute for most folks.

  • 9
    Griff Wigley says:

    Why don’t more Northfielders bike to entertainment and cultural events?

    This Strib article details what’s happening in the Cities: Twin Cities venues are hopping on the biking bandwagon

    As more people take to the streets by bicycle, cultural and entertainment institutions are courting riders such as Klyce who prefer to leave the car in the garage during their free time. Increasingly, these venues — and the Twin Cities themselves — are adapting to a vibrant bike culture that has become renowned since Minneapolis was named the nation’s most bikeable city by Bicycling magazine in 2010.

  • 10
    Jared Edwardsen says:

    I think the answer is pretty simple. Most people would rather just drive.

    For most it is going to be faster. Much easier to pick up or drink a cup of coffee on your way in, or supper/groceries on your way home.

  • 11

    Griff, I think the problem is simply that most people have developed the habit of driving, driving is convenient, and it takes effort to establish new habits. If someone is overweight, or hasn’t ridden in 20 years, or doesn’t have a bike, has never ridden in traffic, or has small children -- these are all additional obstacles.

    I bicycle most places in town, but I’m not particularly virtuous.

    Rather, I was fortunate to develop the cycling habit and the non-driving habit living in West Philadelphia (easier to take public transportation than find a place to park) right after college and in Syracuse as a grad student (teeny tiny grad student stipends do not allow living close to campus or paying for a pricey parking space). Northfield is a very easy place to bicycle and since we already bicycled, we made choices to help make that easier (we live close to downtown and work, we bought clothes to make riding easier in different weather, etc.).

    I do think cities and businesses can help make cycling easier (and driving less convenient and/or more expensive -- this has been the European model) with good planning. Also, schools, community groups, and parents can encourage cycling and teach bicycle safety (not just helmets, but how to ride in traffic -- it could be part of the Phy.Ed. curriculum even).

  • 12
    Bruce Wiskus says:

    Betsy, is it your position that Northfield’s city government should make driving more difficult and expensive for local citizens?

  • 13

    No, Bruce, not directly. Rather we should be planning our transportation system with bikes, pedestrians, transit in mind, too. We should also recognize that roads are very expensive to build and maintain, so trying to keep the system more compact helps cyclists and walkers (distances are shorter, obviously), but also saves money. On the Council, we’ve been trying to step up the pace of road repair, but I think most would agree that Northfield is still not keeping up. Attention to the network as a whole including encouraging non-motorized traffic can help the overall cost picture.

    The European less convenience and more expensive reference should be taken in the context of large cities -- London or New York City, for example. In London, congestion pricing means drivers have to pay to drive in the center of the city, for example. San Francisco charges more for parking closer to popular destinations. These are not solutions for Northfield.

    • 13.1

      I disagree that all (in)convenience things apply only to dense urban areas. There is no reason, for example, why the state should not charge for freeway access in rural areas in the same way they might charge congestion pricing in a city. Likewise, there is no reason Northfield should not be charging for its parking. Or, I should say, there’s no principled reason why: there is a huge practical reason, and that’s that the City has allowed (even required) massive lots at Target, etc that would beat out even modestly priced public parking.

      Nevertheless, demand can be regulated by price, even in Northfield. In fact, until the 1970s or 80s, Division Street had parking meters. Since the City has discussed spending millions in building expensive parking projects, managing demand with a price (as they did 30-40 years ago) is not exactly a wild idea.

  • 14
    Griff Wigley says:

    Just an FYI, Betsey has posted quite a few blog posts related to bicycling in recent months. You can see many of them just by clicking her Category for non-motorized transportation.

    Thanks for the ongoing info/perspective on this, Betsey.

  • 15

    Thanks, Griff. I’d also add that I’ve blogged a lot about infrastructure costs and I see the two subjects as deeply intertwined.

  • 16

    I agree with Nathan Kuhlman’s comments. In fact, we’ve gotten worse about bicycle theft: we used to have a statewide registry, but no longer offer that. There are private registries like Bike Shepherd, but an official public registry would be helpful — as would more active interest from police.

    I find these comments about the Manitou Heights (the St Olaf hill a bit silly). It’s steep, but it’s not that long — I rode up and down it 4-6x a day all last year and didn’t smell too terribly for it.

    Lastly, I’m going to say that I find it a bit ironic that there is zero bicycle parking at a City-owned facility (Village School), when the City’s recently enacted LDC has fairly stringent bicycle parking requirements — which I believe apply to a facility of that size.

  • 17
    Tim Peterson says:

    Seems Northfield is small enough where many may just walk to work. My wife does, my neighbor does, so another alternative to driving besides biking.

  • 18
    Jim Fisher says:

    A day late and a dollar short to comment but better late than never. Ride to work or other utilitarian use of a bicycle? if I lived in town I would , even with children feel comfortable quite comfortable living without a car. I cannot say for certain how many commuting trips I have made this year. Grocery trips? I can’t remember. I even use my bicycle to haul my bicycles (see attached photo). I know for a fact I logged 425 miles AT WORK in July. By the way where is this hill at St.Olaf

    • 18.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      Jim, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bicycle used to haul a bicycle. Thanks for that photo!

      As for the hill at St. Olaf that Iris and Sean have referred to here, I assume it’s the climb to various points from the west end of St. Olaf Avenue.

      For someone who does a lot of rural road bicycling or mountain biking, it’s not a big hill. But for people who only ride bikes on paved trails or around town, I can see how it would be intimidating.

  • 19
    Jim Fisher says:


    oops, forgot my attachment

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