minneapolis frequently tops the lists of the best cities for bicycling in the United States, but that’s no reason to rest on our laurels.
The Twin Cities could aim even higher. Imagine world cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Berlin — only better — where people of all ages and backgrounds flood the streets on their bicycles each day, where it’s safe and comfortable to ride, where bike paths and protected bike lanes are seamlessly interconnected and where bike lanes are plowed all winter long.
How close are we to Bicycle Utopia? Suffice it to say that we have a ways to go, but here are some ideas to get us on our way.
Make commercial streets more bike-friendly. Minneapolis’ designated bike boulevards, such as Bryant Avenue S., offer safe and pleasant thruways for cyclists compared with major streets, but it’s not always convenient to bike on side routes. If your destination lies on, say, Lake Street or Lyndale Avenue, those busier streets need to be safe for bikers, too.
“We need to provide safer and better access to routes with destinations,” said Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. Most major commercial streets in the Twin Cities are “not bike-friendly at all,” he argued. “If we want people to be able to bike and be safe, we need to provide safer and better access to routes with destinations.”
Fill in the gaps. While the Twin Cities area has some great bicycle paths, we need to do a better job of connecting them, Fawley said.
“We’re not really looking at connections that need to be made between communities and between neighborhoods,” he said. “We need to fill some gaps into and through downtown. If we want to continue to attract people to downtown, we are going to have to do something about that.”
Protected lanes. According to Minneapolis Public Works, bikeways in the city doubled in mileage from 80 to 166 from 1999 to 2011. We’ve tried different versions of protected bike lanes, such as 1st Avenue N. downtown, where parked cars act as a buffer between bikes and moving cars. Coming soon, Minneapolis will try a bike lane with a physical barrier on Washington Avenue downtown, which will serve as a pilot for future projects.
Meanwhile in St. Paul, the tentative St. Paul Bicycle Plan proposes a 1.7-mile off-street track along St. Peter Street, 10th Street, Jackson Street and Kellogg Boulevard, with spokes that fan out from the main loop. The $18 million project would be a boon for St. Paul cyclists.
Address specific problem spots. A study by the Minneapolis Public Works Department from 2000-10 pinpointed the intersections that are the most dangerous for cyclists. These include E. Franklin Avenue at Nicollet and Cedar Avenues S.; Hennepin Avenue S. at 3rd and 7th Streets, and 26th Street and Hiawatha Avenue S.
In addition, the corridors with the worst crash rates include 26th and 28th Streets, Lowry Avenue N., Marquette Avenue S. and NE. Broadway and W. Broadway.
Andy Singer of the St. Paul Bicycle Coalition said one of that city’s biggest problem spots is Snelling Avenue, which goes through several half-mile stretches without a traffic light.
“People will stop for you at one lane, but the next person just goes around you,” he said. Despite a recent conversion from four lanes to three, W. 7th Street also is a problem, he said, as are E. 7th Street and University Avenue, which Singer believes is worse for cyclists since light rail was constructed.
Stop the blame game. Animosity between drivers and bikers comes from the two groups needing to share the road. Research shows that both bicyclists and motorists contribute to crashes, though motorists are responsible more often (44 percent to 30 percent, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ 2012 Crash Facts Report). That means we should stop blaming each other and work on educating both groups on how to coexist safely.
Better education for cyclists. According to Kelley Yemen, the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for Hennepin County, the various Open Streets events happening around the Twin Cities this summer, in addition to other festivals, are great opportunities to get information out about bicycle safety.
“Even for cyclists who are confident, there always are more opportunities to be a defensive cyclist, just as a driver needs a refresher every once in a while,” Yemen said. The county hopes to partner with other organizations to teach safe road cycling.
Better education for drivers. Sunrise Cyclery owner Jamie McDonald argues that the Minnesota driver’s test should contain a section about interacting with cyclists.
“There should be more questions that deal with right of way and how much space to give a cyclist,” McDonald said. He also thinks there should be a requirement to interact with a cyclist during the driving test so that new drivers would be familiar with the rules of sharing the road. Yemen said that Hennepin County is working on more driver education as well.
More bike cops. McDonald argues that there’s a need for more bike cops on the trails, which would allow for better safety in areas such as the Midtown Greenway. Right now, the police bicycle patrol only goes out when there’s space and time, but a more concerted effort would make cycling safer, he said.
Make it easier to bike to work. If you’re biking to work in the summer, you’re likely to get sweaty or wet on the way. Why not provide more capacity for employees to clean up before work?
“We need places where you can get off the road, get the dust off, change — do what you need to do,” said McDonald. Such places can be provided by employers but also could be investments that cities make, along with more bicycle parking, especially downtown.
Stress the importance of helmets and safety gear. The Nice Ride bike-sharing program doesn’t come with communal helmets (ew), but if you use Nice Ride, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t purchase your own helmet. Helmets are relatively inexpensive and have been proven in studies to reduce the risk of brain and head injuries.
More cyclists, more safety. Minneapolis bike ridership has doubled in the past 10 years, said Fawley, while the crash rate has dropped by half. The Minneapolis Public Works study also suggests safety in numbers. From 2000 to 2010, the proportion of regular bike commuters increased from 1.6 percent to 3.4 percent, and from 2008 to 2011, the number of bicycle trips rose by 47 percent, but the number of crashes hasn’t risen. So the more people get on their bikes, the safer all bicyclists will be.