When Hannah Klapprodt ’19 moved to St. Paul from a small Massachusetts town, an important part of her introduction to the Twin Cities took place on two wheels. That orientation came thanks to Cycling the Urban Landscape, a course she took with environmental studies professor Margot Higgins.

“I had no experience biking in an urban environment, but I thought there would be no better way to explore the cities than via bike,” says Klapprodt (Ipswich, Mass.). “I chose Macalester partly for its urban location—which was essentially the syllabus.”

That meant frequent field trips (by bicycle, of course) led by guest speakers from St. Paul’s transportation planning department and cycling advocacy groups such as Cycles for Change (led by Jason Tanzman ’06). Another field trip took the class to north Minneapolis and Theodore Wirth Park, guided by a staff member from the Loppet Foundation, which promotes outdoor activities for underserved youth and families. 

Giving students a better understanding of equitable forms of urban transit—and how bicycling fits into that picture—is among Higgins’s goals for the course. “I hope students see that bicycle planning is one part of transportation and environmental planning,” she says. “I want them to understand how bicycling connects to these larger conversations.”

Some students were already avid cyclists; others started the semester with little experience on a bike. They hailed from places ranging from Boston to Bombay. That range of perspectives proved invaluable as students discussed both local and international transit policy.

The course also looked at St. Paul’s bicycle plan, passed last year. In response to a restaurant owner’s concern about losing parking spaces to a bike lane, for example, students presented suggestions for how the restaurateur might appeal to bicycling customers. Their ideas ranged from offering a cyclist discount to adding cyclist-level signage. Higgins sent their ideas to the restaurant owner.

Cycling the Urban Landscape is being offered again this semester (winter riding!) and next fall. Higgins hopes her students gain a lasting sense for how bicycles can fit into their daily lives—and how more bikes can strengthen communities.

For Klapprodt, that dual approach made an impact. “This was a great introduction to urban planning,” she says. “Plus I’m now comfortable biking anywhere—I think I’ll be a lifelong cyclist.”

May 16 2016

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