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October 13, 2023

Advice from 2023’s Bike Advocate of the Year

By: Ashley Seaward, director of state + local policy, sustainability lead

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There’s a lot to be learned from the state with some of the biggest bike policy wins of the year. We spoke with Dorian Grilley, BikeMN’s former executive director, to learn more.

Minnesota has emerged as a standout state for cycling enthusiasts and advocates alike due to its commitment to bike safety, infrastructure, and e-bike incentives. In 2023, the Land of 10,000 Lakes witnessed a flurry of legislative successes that have positioned the state as a leader in promoting safe and sustainable transportation options. 

Some of the state's biggest bike-related wins from 2023 include:

1. Revolutionizing Bike Safety with the Bill Dooley Bicycle Safety Act

William (Bill) Dooley was a passionate and tireless advocate for cycling safety and active transportation in Minnesota. In recognition of his commitment to improving bicycling, Minnesota State Legislators introduced the Bill Dooley Bicycle Safety Act. Now signed into law, this important legislation mandates bicycle and pedestrian safety education in schools, promotes safer cyclist positioning, allows for right-turn lane use without turning, and legalizes the "Idaho Stop." These measures, along with others included in the bill, reflect Minnesota's commitment to safer and more accessible biking.

2. Securing Unprecedented Funding for Bike Infrastructure and Education

Minnesota's investment in bike infrastructure and education reached historic levels in 2023, resulting in $95 million in state and federal funding for active transportation and safe routes to school (a $50 million increase from previous years). This substantial financial commitment underscores Minnesota's dedication to building safer and more bike-friendly infrastructure.

3. Investing in E-Bike Adoption

Minnesota joined the ranks of 10 states promoting e-bike usage with the creation of the Electric-Assisted Bicycle Rebate Program. This innovative initiative, funded at $4 million over the next two years, offers substantial rebates to encourage e-bike adoption. The rebate program covers up to $1,500 or 50-75% of the total cost of a new e-bike and safety accessories, with the rebate amount varying based on individual income levels. Notably, 40% of these rebates are reserved for individuals with incomes under $41,000, ensuring that e-bike accessibility is equitable and inclusive for all Minnesotans. 

To learn more about how Minnesota was able to pass these historical initiatives, we interviewed Dorian Grilley, the recently retired executive director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota (BikeMN), the state’s lead bicycle advocacy organization. 

As founder and executive director of BikeMN, Grilley led bicycle advocacy efforts in Minnesota for the last 15 years. BikeMN strives to make walking and biking a frequent means of mobility within communities throughout Minnesota. Grilley founded the organization with a vision to provide leadership and a unified voice for bicycle education, advocacy, and efforts to make Minnesota a place where walking and biking are easy, safe, and fun for people of all backgrounds and abilities. 

This year, the League of American Bicyclists recognized Grilley’s contributions to bicycle advocacy by naming him Advocate of the Year.

What made the 2023 legislation session different from previous sessions? What ingredients were required to achieve this level of success?

In 2023, for the first time in more than a decade, the Minnesota House, Senate, and Governor’s Office were led by Democrats. But that’s not the end of the story. BikeMN spent its entire 15 years in business building the base of support and knowledge that allowed the transportation committee chairs, Democrats Senator Scott Dibble and Representative Frank Hornstein, to make the case to their colleagues and Governor Tim Walz to finally go big with active transportation. 

Every corner of Minnesota is home to many active and engaged bicyclists but their level of engagement significantly increased with a statewide organization like BikeMN coordinating efforts. This coordination allowed BikeMN to engage legislators from both sides of the aisle and let them know with first-hand knowledge that biking, walking, and safe routes to school are something that their constituents support. 

How has BikeMN been able to increase its advocacy network over the years?

For years, we’ve done statewide engagement with schools around state and federal safe routes to school funding, as well as with communities using funds from the state Department of Health’s Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP). BikeMN’s advocacy network is also strongly supported by the major players in the Minnesota bicycle industry, other businesses, individual donors, and a major grant from The Mcknight Foundation. The stars were aligned.

What was BikeMN’s advocacy strategy going into 2023?

BikeMN's 2023 strategy was the result of years of preparation. BikeMN worked tirelessly with their lobbyist, staff, and members to engage legislators from both sides of the aisle. This persistence paid off, with incremental policy victories, including the creation of state-level active transportation and safe routes to school programs. Furthermore, BikeMN has a track record of forming valuable partnerships in the realms of transportation, public health, and environmental advocacy. In 2023, BikeMN dedicated their efforts to the Transportation Forward Coalition, a collaborative effort with Move Minnesota, the Sierra Club, and other members. This coalition helped secure the 3/4 cent Minneapolis/St. Paul Metro Area sales tax, primarily earmarked for transit, biking, and walking. This victory complemented the historic funding allocated to active transportation and safe routes to school in the statewide omnibus transportation policy and funding bill.

What lessons from this past session will BikeMN take into future legislative sessions?

Keep building a base of support at the local level that includes engaged citizens — or ones willing to learn — and community leaders, including elected officials. BikeMN has a network of about ten chapters that are simply committees of the BikeMN board but engage locally on behalf of BikeMN.

What advice would you give to advocates in other states looking to increase funding and safety measures for bikes?

Keep plugging away, building your base of support, gathering knowledge and stories about what is needed at local, regional, and statewide levels, and making incremental legislative gains. 

Build strong relationships with state and local implementing agencies, who generally welcome support — or if they don’t, you can use your base of support to let them know they should welcome it. 

Never give up and be in the right place, at the right time (professional lobbyists are really helpful here) with the engaged and informed network of advocates and supporters you have built. 

Remember to reach out and partner with public health leaders focused on prevention. Prevention is a smart investment in lowering healthcare costs, many of which are born by the states. 

Also, it is hard for conservatives to oppose safe routes to school and children’s safety. In Minnesota, there have been many safe routes to school funding bills with Republican chief authors.

What’s next for Minnesota? What's the next big goal on your policy agenda?

Looking forward, Bike MN will be focusing on enhancing pedestrian safety by collaborating with the Advisory Council on Traffic Safety, public health advocates, state agencies, and local advocates to address pedestrian safety issues. We’ll look to better define out-of-class e-bikes and their operation throughout the state and lastly, we’ll continue to focus on strengthening our local advocacy to efficiently utilize funds, document demand, and enhance the value of active transportation investments.

In 2023, Minnesota has set the bar high for bike advocacy and funding, making it a standout state for cyclists. With these legislative achievements, the state is not only enhancing safety but also investing in a brighter, more sustainable future for biking enthusiasts across the state. 

None of these achievements would have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. Are you a resident of Minnesota? If so, please consider supporting their work and signing up for their e-news to stay on top of the latest issues. 

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