Rain, Snow and Cold? Not As Important As You Think

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An often-heard criticism of walkability, biking infrastructure, pedestrian amenities and other “get out and see your city” concepts of New Urbanism in Upstate New York is… can you guess?  That’s right… snow and cold.  Why create bike lanes if we can’t use them 4 months out of the year?  Why create a more walkable city if it’s too cold to go outside?  Why propose transit in a place where people just want to get into their warm cars to commute?

The answer?  Minneapolis.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

Minneapolis Minnesota is one of the coldest cities in the United States.  It is also rated third for bicycling and number two for bicycle commuting.  With over 120 miles of dedicated bike lanes and nearly 100 more of off-street bike paths, this frigid city is an alternative transportation Mecca.

How about transit?  Minneapolis, a city of 400,000 residents, boasts an ambitious network of light rail, commuter rail and bus routes that stress efficiency and ease of use for all citizens, not just urban poor.  Furthermore, this transpo network boasted a 2015 ridership total of 98 million.  To put that in perspective, I live in Rochester, a city with about half Minneapolis’ population (210,000).  Our bus-only transit system handles 18 million rides a year.  Minneapolis has twice as many people but five-and-a-half times the transit ridership.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

Minneapolis is also heralded as one of the most walkable, efficiently designed cities in the country.

And population?  While residents are fleeing cold northern cities for the warm comfort of the Carolinas or the Southwest, Minneapolis has added a whopping 17,000 residents in 7 years.  Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Utica, Schenectady, Troy and Rome have all seen their populations decrease in that time.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

True, Minneapolis receives about half of the snowfall we do here in Upstate New York, but their average low temperatures are lower than ours.  What is more important than any amount of snow and cold is the culture created by the urban amenities mentioned above.  Minneapolis is also the most literate city in the United States, with an abundance of local bookstores, libraries, and educational outlets.

Need more?  It is statistically one of the most charitable cities in the country, it has 11 acres of permanent art installations, and has the highest concentration of Fortune 500 Companies.

Get the picture?  Despite being a cold place to live, Minneapolis has jobs, transit, walkability, bikeability, strong education at all levels, a charitable culture and an artist-driven downtown.  It is a true testament to the fact that a commitment to this culture can “grow” all the urban amenities that satisfy today’s urban populations, no matter what the climate.

Think the snow and the cold are our biggest issues here?  Check out Minneapolis and be inspired by a city that’s done it all in spite of it.  Let’s overcome the barriers with smart cities that drive us into the future!