Dreaming Is Free on Washington Ave

I first moved to the Twin Cities 10 years ago, 23 years old a fresh punk in Converse All Stars. I came from Boston’s twisted streets where I played indie rock shows and rode an old red Trek. Like the young dumb punk that I was, I was confident riding a bike in any space because I was convinced of my invincibility.

When I got here, Washington Avenue in downtown Minneapolis was terrifying for most pedestrians. It was wide like the Autobahn and drivers barreled down it at high speeds like they were teenagers drag racing. As a cyclist, I had to adopt a devil-may-care attitude to traverse the road. With my black hoodie on, a beater bike beneath me, and a Parliament cigarette hanging out of my mouth, I would fly along this stretch with the impunity and recklessness only youth can bring.

Photo by Suzanne Miggler 

Photo by Suzanne Miggler 

Ten years later has found me moderately wiser and much less invincible. But with the new bike lanes on Washington, I no longer have to ride like I’m running with the devil.

There are two distinct types of bike lanes on Washington Avenue: a traditional “bike lane” where riders ride next to car traffic in their own lane and a “raised cycle track” where riders are in a labeled bike path next to the sidewalk.

My first pass at riding on Washington felt loudly familiar. I started in the traditional bike lanes with the roar of cars beside me, my fast heart rate, and the quick push of my feet on my pedals trying to keep up. It felt like a video game and had a certain appeal, in the way that Frogger is fun as long as you don’t get squished.

Yet something dreamy happened when I reached the new cycletrack on the south side of Hennepin: My heart rate slowed down and my adrenaline started to cool. Instead of the tension and aggression I felt from riding as a young punk, I got lost in a daydream. My pedal stroke slowed and memories filtered into my mind under a fluorescent blue sky. I was no longer a rapidly firing machine amongst other vehicles but rather a human being exploring.

At intersections, the light turned early for me so I could get out ahead of cars. Instead of giving furious hand gestures, I could wave at people walking along the street. With the cycle track, Washington Avenue is no longer akin to a Van Halen song and doesn’t require that attitude to ride a bike there.

With the new bike lanes on Washington, I no longer have to ride like I’m running with the devil.

On my return trip along Washington, I didn’t want to merge back into the bike lane. The dream was too good and the sky too blue. I didn’t want the edges of my vision to blur and darken my perception into speed, traffic, and safety. It felt like the dial spun from jazz to hair metal.

I reached out to Alex Tsatsoulis at Our Streets Minneapolis to dig up some information as to why the cycle track doesn’t go the full length of Washington. He told me the organization plans to keep pushing for the lane to be replaced with a parking-protected lane, but the basic bike lanes are likely all that is to grace Washington for the foreseeable future.

Tsatsoulis attributes this mainly to the timing of the reconstruction, saying Washington Avenue was being scheduled to be rebuilt so the time for the community to organize for bike lanes became immediate. In regards to other lanes, Tsatsoulis says, “We're seeing a lot of bollard-protected bikeways spring up in Minneapolis because of the low expense in building those out, but long term, the plan is to replace these with safer facilities once streets are up for reconstruction.”

Though Washington Avenue didn’t receive a cycle track along the full length of its reconstruction, I think it’s still important to view these new facilities as a well-earned community maturation en route to an even more refined pedestrian metropolis.  

We’re building something beautiful here, and it’s just like Debbie Harry once sang: “I'd build a road in gold just to have some dreaming.” Our punk songs are growing up and we’re carving them into the streets of our city. We may not be invincible but we are keeping a sentiment alive for another generation of young punks: Dreaming Is Free.


Photo by Dan Choma

Photo by Dan Choma

Dan Choma