In these pages it has become fashionable to blame bike lanes for peak-hour traffic woes in Minneapolis (“The road less traveled,” Dec. 9 and Readers Write, Dec. 11, Dec. 15). Seldom do these authors or letter writers concede that their own presence in a car on that particular street (multiplied by all of the other drivers) is what actually causes traffic jams.
Streets with protected bike lanes and other traffic-calming measures are “Complete Streets.” For motorists, they flow freely most of the day (and often at peak hours as well). They often enhance the beauty of the neighborhood. They are safer for the most vulnerable users: cyclists and pedestrians. This isn’t based on anecdotal evidence. The crash data show far fewer injuries and deaths after these improvements have been made.
Bike lanes and other traffic-calming measures have made life better for so many in our city, especially children. Put yourself in the shoes of a child who lives on a street that used to be four lanes of 40 mile-per-hour traffic, often right up to the curb. Designed exclusively to move peak-hour traffic, they were a nightmare for neighbors at any hour of day: cars speeding, swerving, honking, jockeying for position, striking and killing cyclists and pedestrians.
After traffic calming, neighbors enjoy more green space, a protected bike lane, a new crosswalk and certainly less stress and more peace of mind.
Some writers accuse Minneapolis of trying to “socially engineer” with these improvements. No, building safe streets isn’t about forcing some change upon an unwilling populace. The people have already spoken. Driving culture has been in retreat for years. Vehicle miles driven have plummeted. Young people are famously opting out of car use. Complete Streets with protected bike lanes simply honor this change in our culture that has been germinating for years.
We now have bike-sharing, light rail, rapid bus lines and even those new scooters that appeared all over Minneapolis last summer. Noncar options have proliferated precisely because businesses and governments are responding to people’s demand for choices. It follows that our streets should reflect this same spirit of choice, rather than serve, exclusively, the needs of rush hour traffic.
The future is brighter, and people’s lives are better, because of Minneapolis’ investment in Complete Streets.
Jeff “Nacho” Carlson lives in Minneapolis.