Minneapolis bikers, meet your man in City Hall.
The 2010 top bicycling city in the country has hired Shaun Murphy, a public works employee, to be its first Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator. He took the handlebars this year after last year’s brouhaha over whether the position was even necessary, given that the city was laying off firefighters around the same time.
The Iowa native isn’t new in the biking arena. His last position involved coordinating biking and walking projects funded by the federal government’s Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program.
Now he will be the city’s point man on biking and walking issues. Most often, that will involve advising engineers of best practices and the safest ways to approach the city’s infrastructure. Repaving a road to eliminate potholes, for example, may involve adding new bike lane stripes or crosswalks.
“It’s reviewing those projects and giving that review an expertise or being there as a resource for those project engineers,” Murphy said. He noted that pedestrian-related issues will be a key part of his job, since walking is, after all, “a more popular mode of travel.”
The primary stated goal of the new position always has been safety-related. The crash rate among city bicycle commuters has fallen steadily since the 1990s, a trend Murphy intends to continue. Still, there were 273 bicyclist-motorist crashes in 2010.
“The main goal is to reduce those fatalities and injuries that happen each year,” Murphy said.
After seeing the intense scrutiny of his role last fall, Murphy said he is keenly aware that there isn’t a lot of money to spread around.
“That’s a big part of my role: how can we do things with limited resources? This isn’t going to be always about spending great amounts of new money. It’s going to be about saving money.”
The number of bikeways in Minneapolis has been steadily growing over the last decade. A new city report on biking shows that Minneapolis now has 167 miles of bikeways, 37 of which were constructed in 2011. The city goal is to build 178 miles of bikeways by 2015.
Altogether, Murphy said motorists in Minneapolis are doing a good job of watching out for bicycles and yielding. “And I think it’s sometimes easy to get caught in our own microcosm of Minneapolis and think that things have gotten horrible, when actually things are probably a lot better here than they are in most places.”